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On the Necessity of Traditions

Steven Park. Image by Justyn Denney.
Steven Park. Image by Justyn Denney.
What do a pin-hole photographer, a mandolin maker, a forager, a shoemaker and a spoon carver all have in common? Emma Johnson finds out.


So, what do they have in common? One response is an ability to make what they need from what is around them. Another is the ongoing relevance of their practices in light of our future challenges, something that Juliet Arnott, founder of Rekindle, seeks to celebrate with the inaugural Necessary Traditions Festival set to kick off in Christchurch on 8 November.

‘This is not tradition for tradition’s sake’, Juliet says. In fact, there is a sense of urgency to her bringing together a range of craft practitioners from across Aotearoa and abroad, and not only in terms of craft’s potential as a counter-measure to wastefulness.

There is Richard Hare, for example, the traditional greenwood chair-maker who has been quietly practising his craft for over 30 years: ‘He is the last teacher of his kind in New Zealand. If we don’t support him to share what he does, then it will be lost.’

A greater awareness of the resources around us is critical to a planet under stress.

A public forum is crucial to the survival of most art forms. But, as I have come to appreciate through working on another project for Rekindle, a greater awareness of the resources around us and of the broader context in which works are made is critical to a planet under stress. Positioning craft within this wider framework is essential, according to Juliet, ‘both in terms of our wellbeing and the health of the ecosystems we rely upon’.

‘It’s becoming increasingly crucial that we realise that we are in a relationship with this planet, and that relationship is either healthy or it’s not. By being resourceful and able to create what we need from what have – having a vital relationship with the local resources of the place where we live – we can cultivate a caring and healthy relationship with earth.’

In fact, the festival’s kaupapa asks the practitioners to examine where their practice sits in the context of a healthy planet by posing the questions: ‘What knowledge and skills are necessary for our wellbeing and Earth’s?’ and ‘Which habits are essential for us as kaitiaki caring for the finite resources of this planet?’

Juliet gives the example of Tatyanna Meharry, one of the festival participants, and her work with local earth and ceramics: ‘We can see her exploring, learning and actively building her relationship with this planet and its nature. Her work reflects the possibility of a deeper sense of place that comes only through understanding and valuing the resources that are around her, and her role in relation to this. ‘

But is craft uniquely positioned to be resourceful? ‘There’s something about craft in its broader sense – in that craft is made up of the knowledge and the skills to directly interact with Earth to create what we need.’

That is not to say we shouldn’t all be considering how what we do contributes to a healthy future: ‘Whatever the practice, it is happening here in this natural world, inside an ecosystem. So how does what I am doing now contribute to a healthy future for this place?'

So how does what I am doing now contribute to a healthy future for this place? In the context of a healthy relationship with Earth, it is neglectful to produce work without considering this question.’ Taking a look at artistic materials and practices – from the origin of materials through to what ends up in storm water – is a good place to start.

Among those working with such awareness are the skilled practitioners who will transform materials that range from iron to paper offcuts at the festival’s main event. This is chance to see how a knife is forged, for example, and to chat with those participating in this collective demonstration of necessary traditions.

‘The necessary part – the inherent nature of this festival encourages people to explore what is necessary to them. And to gain a sense of why it is worthwhile to develop these resourceful skills. The ultimate aim is that we realise that we do this not only because it is good for the planet, but also because it essential for our wellbeing and purpose.’


Necessary Traditions runs from 8 to 17 November at the Arts Centre in Christchurch, with the main event on Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 November.
Image credit: Steven Park, photographed by Justyn Denney.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

2 Nov 2018

The Big Idea Editor