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01 February 2006 —

Michael Parekōwhai:
Atarangi II

Michael Parekōwhai, Atarangi II, 2005 (detail). Mixed media permanent sculpture. Commissioned by Te Tuhi, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Lett
Michael Parekōwhai, Atarangi II, 2005 (detail). Mixed media permanent sculpture. Commissioned by Te Tuhi, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. Courtesy of the artist and Michael Lett

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Atarangi II is a permanent sculpture by Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland artist Michael Parekōwhai, situated at the entrance to Te Tuhi. 

‘Parekōwhai's works are puzzling... they work as paradoxes, conundrums, machines for thinking through, talking points, conversation pieces. They engage and embody contradictions, drawing the viewer into a conceptual space where a variety of possible and often inconsistent readings can co-exist. Parekōwhai's works both exemplify the difficulty of our situation and offer themselves as tools with which we might clarify it’.

Curators Lara Strongman and Robert Leonard made the above comment in the 1994 catalogue for Kiss the Baby Goodbye, an exhibition by Michael Parekōwhai which, like Atarangi II, referenced children's toys and educational tools. In this breakthrough exhibition at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in 1994, Parekōwhai scaled up chess pieces, pick-up sticks and building blocks to gigantic proportions, the sculptures becoming super-sized symbols of learning and socialisation.

Atarangi II is a giant enlargement of a stack of Cuisenaire rods, an educational system originally used to teach young children relationships between numbers. This system was invented by Belgian teacher Georges Cuisenaire in the 1950s, and uses a visual language to describe mathematical equations, with each rod a different colour and length to represent a different unit value. New Zealand students of a certain era will have memories of Cuisenaire rods forming a staple part of the classroom equipment.

More recently Cuisenaire rods have been used in the teaching of languages, including teaching te reo Māori, a method known as Te Ataarangi, developed by Dame Kāterina te Heikōkō Mataira DNZM and Te Kumeroa ‘Ngoingoi’ Pēwhairangi QSM. An immersion style of learning which stands in direct contrast to a grammar-based, academic approach to language, Te Ataarangi is considered one of the most significant programmes in the revitalisation of te reo Māori.

Broken down into two words, Atarangi suggests new beginnings − ata meaning slow or deliberate but also morning or ‘the new start’, and rangi meaning sky or day. An epic beacon for Manukau situated in front of the contemporary art gallery and across the road from a shopping mall, Atarangi II suggests that art, language and culture could provide useful tools in the midst of rapid development.