Michael Parekowhai: Atarangi II

Permanent work

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

"Parekowhai'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. Parekowhai'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 Parekowhai which, like Atarangi II, referenced children's toys and educational tools. In this breakthrough exhibition at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in 1994, Parekowhai 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 Maori, a method known as Te Ataarangi, developed by Katerina te Heikoko Mataira and Ngoingoi Pewhairangi. 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 Maori.

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 situated in front of the contemporary art gallery for Manukau (the fastest-growing city in the country) and across the road from a shopping mall, Atarangi II suggests that art (and language, and culture) could provide useful tools in the midst of rapid development.

Atarangi II was funded with support from the New Zealand Lotteries, Sky City Community Trust, and the Friends of Te Tuhi.

Additional information:

Te Ataarangi

Michael Lett