Watch: Mataaho Collective discuss their monumental installation Takapau

Takapau is the centrepiece of Mataaho Collective’s show Te Puni Aroaro, a showcase the ever-changing nature of customary textile practices.


Sarah: In 2021, Nina Tonga came to us – who is an art curator here at Te Papa – and invited us to show in the Threshold space here on Level 4.

Erena: What was great about it was there wasn’t any kind of restrictions put in place for us.

We were brought to the space, the Threshold Gallery, which has this kind of suspended bridge above it.

And we were able to walk around, in between the installation of another exhibition - so the space was empty – and really dream big about what we wanted to create for that space.

Being given the creative freedom to approach something where there wasn’t any restrictions or perimeters was so, so cool.

And the space is big – it’s the widest space we’ve been offered and we were really excited to have the kind of multiple viewing areas.

But it’s so big, the first time we came in, we just kind of slumped against one wall and looked back and looked around going, ‘What are we going to do? What are we going to do for this one?’

I don’t think people really know that we don’t know what we’re going to do at that point.

And we all sat there a little bit stunned and nervous but as time went on and we talked about it more, ideas just begin to grow.

Bridget: One of the exciting extra things we did when we first arrived here at Te Papa was get our EWP [Elevated Work Platform] licences.

Terri and I were the chosen drivers and then we could come into the space and drive ourselves around and install it ourselves, which is something we’ve always really loved doing, is having that hands-on approach to install and being able to put up the works and weave it, and be in the space with each other, is integral to our practice.

Something that really grounded us was going just across the way to Rongomaraeroa, the marae, and looking at Kura Te Waru Rewiri’s mahi called ‘Papatūānuku’, the floor detail of the interior and exterior of the marae.

Erena: We knew that Kura was one of the only named wāhine that had worked on the project and then that kind of sparked our interest and our decision to look at whāriki within Te Papa’s collection, thinking about the way in which whāriki, taonga Māori, occupy space.

They take up space in the wharenui, one of the few taongas that do so.

Bridget: Cameron, one of the collection managers, showed us through Te Whare Pora and pulled out some really amazing whāriki.

Some of them were really fine and some of them were made out of harakeke and some of kiekie and that was really beautiful, to be able to see the patterns on those.

Terri: We were really attracted to the darker colours that crossed in a diagonal along, and I think that’s something we’ve tried to bring through in Takapau.

Bridget: And then how they were woven in sections, that was really beautiful to be able to see.

And just to be able to see these really fine mats that weren’t necessarily put on the floor.

We echoed that with Takapau, having it not touch the floor and be elevated.

Sarah: We always get excited by material and the patterns and looking at it through an art and design lens but also from a te ao Māori lens – these mats dictate space.

They can change the zone from neutral to ceremonial, or they can wrap precious objects, or they can really elevate and shift what’s going on in a room and that was something we wanted to play with, push, extend with Takapau.

Terri: We needed to kind of deconstruct them in our minds, I guess, to figure how the patterns were constructed and, so, spent some time trying to reproduce
some of those patterns.

One of them in particular was a small tauira whāriki that we reproduced using the reflective tape.

So that was nice to get a really good feeling for what it looked like with the reflective material.

And then when we did our mockup down south in Bridget’s studio, we tried to reproduce that on a larger scale and ended up flipping and reversing it and coming up with a different way of engaging with that nihoniho pattern, which is where you have a long strip that gets reproduced and makes these beautiful peaks.

Bridget: And then when we flipped it that’s when the kaokao started coming through as well, which was really beautiful because those are patterns that we know and recognise in the research that we’ve done, and then to be able to create it in a large-scale way was quite exciting.

Sarah: To create a symmetrical work, we needed some work in the gallery because it wasn’t square or symmetrical.

So, amazingly, Te Papa put in a new wall for us, and we got some pretty heavy-duty steel around the edge that we could hook our j-hooks on to, and start to weave this whāriki.

Terri: Each diagonal set has 120 strops and each one is of a different length and then we had to times that by four, and so it needed careful calculation as to the quantity that we needed, and I had a few sleepless nights wondering if we had ordered enough.

So we have six kilometres of reflective webbing, and if we didn’t have enough, there wasn’t another opportunity to get more.

I was really holding my breath for putting that first, longest, diagonal strop up because if that wasn’t long enough then that would’ve put everything else out.

And we all ran those out together, and it was fine! There was lots of extra.

Bridget: The lighting is incredibly important, and so Mike and Don have done a really beautiful job and were really lovely to work with because they listened to us and took on our vision and ran with it.

We always talked about, with the lighting, the dappled light underneath from the shadows being cast from the overhead lights but I don’t think we expected such an amazing pattern to be on the floor and for it to feel so immersive, the work being above and below you, and I think Mike really drew that out.

Erena: We looked at how whāriki can define sacred spaces, and how that applies to the Whare Tangata and the idea that we talked about with Ngahuia Murphy about Te Whare Tangata being the threshold between te ao atua and te ao mārama.

So, we look at the way in which the potential is seen in the dark, enclosed space below, as well as when you view it from the bridge, it lights up and acknowledges te ao mārama, and the potential that has come or been birthed from this space below.

The work kind of freezes a moment in the process of weaving the whāriki, so it doesn’t fill the entire space and it shows the process in the way in which it is usually woven from the central point and goes out – and then if you imagine this as being able to be added to and extended further and further to fill a space.

It’s again talking about potentials – it’s the beginnings of ideas.

Even though this was so much effort and energy to even just get to this point, there’s the potential for it to be extended and expanded.

Bridget: It will be interesting to see how people engage with it and where they hang out, whether it’s on the bridge or right underneath it or to the side walls.

Terri: And kids, because they’re often at a lower height. Not my kids. They’re taller than me. But yeah.

Bridget: And that recognisable aspect of using the j-hooks and the truck strops and the buckles, being able to relate to it in some way, I think is important.

Walking round the corner and then seeing a giant tarp, a mink blanket.

Terri: I would be really happy and excited to hear the things that are inspired for people, that are triggered for people by spending time with the work – hearing their stories.

It’s nice to be able to present a thing but really it kind of gets completed with the interaction with other people, and it’s not complete on its own, so I’m quite excited about that.

And quite often we have people contacting us and saying, ‘This did this for me.’

And that’s just so special. I love that.

Bridget: Something I would like people to take away from Takapau is the value of Māori art, taonga Māori and that uplifting these practices – and that that’s a continuation – is an integral part of te ao Māori today.

I hope that we create works that, whatever experience you’re bringing, from your own perspective, there’s some sort of ‘in’, whether it’s materials or the concept or even different layers of conceptual thinking that goes into it.

Hopefully, people can get something out of it, even if it just looks interesting or it’s a familiar material.

Yeah, I hope we create art that’s accessible.

Erena: I hope – I have to put my educator hat on sometimes – and I hope that young people and people who want to make art in the future, see our work and see that there are no boundaries to how they can connect to their Māoritanga or being a Māori practitioner.

That whatever they do and whatever they make is important.

That you can be inspired by the work of our ancestors and follow a continuum of art-making that is of value, and really is a way to talk about who you are.

Mataaho Collective on Collections Online