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Insights Into Creative Exploration

20 Nov 2023

As they prepare to embark on their creative careers, University of Auckland students reveal what they've learned about themselves - and their creative process - ahead of their final year exhibition this week. 

The next wave of creative minds is about to be unleashed on the sector - with thousands of students across the motu wrapping up their tertiary studies and ready to step forward and seek out careers from 2024.

But not before they cap their academic endeavours with a flourish.

University of Auckland's Faculty of Creative Arts and Industries will showcase the mahi of their graduating classes of 2023 with the annual Creative Futures Exhibitions (24-26 November), spread across three different locations in central Tāmaki Makaurau.

With projects ranging from deeply personal themes like East Asian Female identity in technology, raising awareness of daily battles many New Zealanders confront such as dyslexia and chronic illness, as well as major issues like hyper-production and consumption, climate change, land use and cultural dynamics - it's as diverse as the industries they all hope to make their mark in.

The Big Idea asked students from each of the three exhibiting schools about what they've learned about themselves and the creative process during their studies.

Elam Artists Graduate Show

Elam Fine Arts Studios, University of Auckland, 20 Whitaker Place, Grafton, Auckland City

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Peter Derksen. Photo: Supplied.

Artist/archivist and Master of Fine Arts student Peter Derksen has been through both undergraduate and postgraduate studies at Elam - climaxing with a final work utilising recycled, reclaimed or waste materials, metabolised into new masses that have symbolic, formal or conceptual stakes. 

"When I approach a year-long creative exploration, I have to kind of sneak up on it – if I start with too many preconceived ideas of a final outcome, the work becomes tired and repetitive. 

"I like to pick up the loose threads of experiments I’ve already done and push them further - maybe mixed media casts fusing strange materials together; maybe echoing sound and light works; perhaps that weird knobbly lump of leftover trash from 2018 that looks compelling. 

"Knowing that my output is usually slow, I begin to firm up ideas halfway through and fully commit to a desired outcome so I have some time to finesse. It still somehow ends up being a mad rush towards the end though. 

"And because the processes I enjoy are chaotic, the resulting body of work is often unexpected, but also exciting!

"I started out with a strong idea of what sort of artist I wanted to be, but that was quickly unravelled by the challenges of the coursework. 

"I’ve felt supported, encouraged, thrilled, questioned, distraught, celebrated – the full gamut of creative development needed to push an artist towards more ambitious and thoughtful work. I’ve found my artistic voice at Elam and the beginning of a life-long obsession."

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Rosanna Honey Szymanik Meikle. Photo: Supplied.

Rosanna Honey Szymanik Meikle (Te Rarawa) is completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts to further enhance her multi-disciplinary practice that focuses on textile, sculpture and text. She has produced an installation titled I’m not feeling so well, ask me again tomorrow -  a love letter to her sickness, one she cannot escape or hide from others.

"I am often an anti-planner - I find my energy is best focussed on mad creation. This leads me to something worthwhile in the end. Flexibility is the best thing to learn whilst in a creative degree, you have no idea where creation can take you. Don't be stiff, let your work guide you.

"Also, do not let yourself be alone, Elam thrives on its community. Art is made better by artists being together. Use the studios and common spaces - Let others critique and critique yourself. 

"You are unlikely to exit Elam the same artist you entered. I was sure I was going to be a sculptor, a photographer. I couldn't be farther from that, it is the time to try and grow and fail. We are being allowed a space to try and try again - what a wonderful thing." 

Modos+ End of Year Show

B201, University of Auckland, 10 Symonds Street, Auckland City (includes work by Architecture, Urban Design and Urban Planning students)

Isabella Muirhead. Photo: Supplied.

Isabella Muirhead is concluding her Master of Architecture (Professional) degree with an architectural response to the culturally and environmentally embattled landscape of the Tairāwhiti region by proposing a ‘forum for environmental knowledge’.

"Obviously in terms of creative process, everyone is different - so there’s no 'right' way to go about carrying out a long assignment. In saying this, setting the general direction of the research early on is critical - for me, this was deciding on a site as it allowed me to anchor my research, meaning that everything I made remained relevant in some way. 

"However, keeping an open mind is equally critical. With such a long project, there is a certain element of ‘trusting the process’ and staying flexible enough to follow the flow of the research even if it leads in unexpected directions. 

"More important than any of this is just to keep making things, relentlessly, for the whole year. Post-rationalisation can become an invaluable tool, and making sparks thoughts which can open up new research avenues. 

"My experience in the architecture school has been incredibly fulfilling, and a huge challenge. Without wanting to spout cliches, it’s a place where you get out what you put in."

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Ami Ishibashi working on her project. Photo: Supplied.
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Ami Ishibashi. Photo: Supplied.

Ami Ishibashi has spent the final year of her Master of Architecture (Professional) working on an urban research project about activating disused urban spaces in Auckland's CBD and reimagining them as scattered hotels - titled Where Am I?

"My thesis experience was like making a homemade pizza. There's no way of knowing how it will turn out of the oven, nor its taste before taking the first bite. Yet, the unique assortment of toppings leaves a mark on the palate. 

"Similarly, this project expanded ideas from many interactions and inputs and continuously evolved in the process. The final outcome remains a mystery, but this unpredictability is what excites me.

"In the world of creative arts, you're entering a domain that celebrates creativity and innovation. One of the remarkable aspects of pursuing a creative arts and industries degree is that there are fewer rigid boundaries or set rules in comparison to more traditional academic disciplines. 

"It's an open and dynamic field where you're encouraged to explore your passions to the fullest."

ReDesign Graduate Show

Design Studios, University of Auckland, 20 Symonds Street, Auckland City

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Kate Missen. Photo: Supplied.

Kate Missen, in the final throes of completing a Bachelor of Design, has produced a publication as a resource that shows what struggles people with dyslexia face, with strategies the workplace can use to make it easier for dyslexic individuals to create empathy and understanding.

"I would say it is essential to find a balance between planning and flexibility. As I have used a design process, there are a number of steps for each phase of my process. 

"I found I would have good weeks and bad weeks and I didn't exactly stick to the checkpoints I had set out. There were points when I would be behind and lacking inspiration, so I would move on and try something further ahead. 

"I worked hard in the good weeks so I could catch up and balance out the bad weeks.

"This assignment has meant a lot for me as I related it to many of the personal struggles I have faced before and struggles I feel I may face in the future. I've grown a lot and have learnt so much about myself. 

"The course wasn't always what I expected it to be - but I think as I am coming out of it, I'm so grateful for the experience I have had. The creative world is ever-evolving, which makes learning design even more exciting. 

"I am ready to get out into the world and gain more experience."


UX generalist Judy Jin has been working towards a Bachelor of Design/Bachelor of Commerce conjoint degree - with her project focussed on creating a supportive network that empowers East Asian Women in the Tech recruitment process.

Judy Jin. Photo: Supplied.

"Speaking from personal experience, I've learned the importance of planning and staying organised, while also recognising the need to stay flexible, to allow the creative thoughts to flourish. 

"Allowing extra time for ideation and iteration is important because it helps me make continuous improvement based on feedback and testing results. It's important to keep an open mind and not be too rigid with what the end result will be. Some of the greatest ideas often lie beyond our comfort zones.

"Studying has been a challenging yet rewarding journey, and I have found it to be quite different from what I expected. 

"Before entering the degree, I used to have the mindset that design is very talent-based and involves a spontaneous process. However, that has completely changed. 

"I now understand the importance of using a robust process of research, iteration, and collaboration to create meaningful designs, which I’m ready to apply to my future work and career. 


Written in partnership with University of Auckland. Check out over 300 art, architecture, design and built environment student projects at the Creative Futures Exhibitions 2023 (24-26 November).