Artist merges Maori designs with tech

Toki design from Joe Te Wharau's Matihiko Taonga V1.0 exhibition. Supplied photo.

A Bay of Plenty artist is merging traditional Maori designs with cutting-edge technology to create new ‘digital treasures’, which are on display to the Bay of Plenty public at the Art of Technology exhibition in Tauranga until November 5.

Joe Te Wharau is an artist of Ngati Maru (Hauraki) descent. He is based in Pukehina in the Bay of Plenty, and works with modern technology such as 3D printing to create original taonga.

His exhibition features a series of artistic pendants inspired by tradition, titled ‘Matihiko Taonga V1.0’ (Digital Treasures V1.0).

Joe’s work includes artwork and jewellery created using a wide range of materials, including gold, platinum, silver, brass, copper and a range of advanced plastics. Accurate to a fraction of a millimetre and produced with the same technology used to make spaceships and build robots, these precision-engineered pieces explore Maori artistic concepts using cutting edge design and manufacturing technologies.

“Maori communication is visual and spoken. These pieces are a translation of Maori tradition through modern technology, and I think it’s a natural progression,” he says.

“The subjects I work with have been chosen for their meaning. The tiki resembles creation and the fertility that comes from new ideas. I chose the toki [adze] as a symbol for tools – for exploring new ideas and techniques to make and do things.”

Joe’s nylon tiki are 3D-printed and finished in a rich coloured dye, then detailed with ink ta moko inscribed by hand into the engraved inlays. Each nylon tiki is embedded with a programmable microchip that can be used to store information, or to interact with NFC-enabled mobile devices in a variety of ways, using a range of custom programs.

Other tiki designs are 3D printed and inlaid with brass or bronze, while toki are printed in precious metals. They possess a talismanic quality that fits the name taonga well, he says.

As part of the exhibition, he also provided a talk titled ‘Discovering 3D-printed Taonga’ on 20 October, exploring the inspiration behind his work and introducing 3D printing to others.

In addition to connecting cultures and communities artistically using digital technology, Joe Te Wharau is literally working to reconnect communities as site manager of a road production crew. After his presentation, he returned to his role with Downer Group moving mountains and reconnecting communities in the State Highway 1 rebuild following the 7.8 magnitude Kaikoura earthquake of November 2016.

“Coming from a background and training in industrial design I was exposed to a lot of techniques. But the subject matter was always so impersonal. I retrained to drive a digger so I could do something hands-on, and this is funding my artistic endeavours.

“I have always wanted to make beautiful things that meant something to me personally. Objects to be treasured, to inspire people to view things in new ways. Now I have found a way to do it.”

The two-yearly Art of Technology exhibition focuses on art that would not exist without technology, featuring artists from across New Zealand as well as Europe and the USA. Further information on the Matihiko Taonga V1.0 project is available at www.tewharau.com.




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