Te Ahi Kōmau represents the meeting of time honoured practices – the reductive carving process and the reflective casting process. While bronze casting has its origins outside of Aotearoa New Zealand, Māori have always adapted to and adopted new technology, tools and processes. While materials may change over time, the thought processes that underpin Māori material culture define their connection to the past.
Te Ahi Kōmau – a workshop for primarily casting metal – was created in 2013 to diversify NZMACI’s interests including extending the skills and knowledge of NZMACI students, reflecting traditional carvings into bronze using long-established casting processes.
While many might consider bronze to be contemporary in terms of Māori culture, the skills and techniques have been used for more than 7000 years elsewhere in the world. Bronze also has a long history in New Zealand – even though it may not be well known – cast bronze patu (clubs) were traded with Māori on Captain James Cook’s second voyage to New Zealand between 1772 and 1775.
The Foundry is currently focusing on bronze casting but over time will explore other processes including the casting of glass and resins, and metals such as silver.
The lost wax casting process begins with a silicone mould taken of a carving, with wax then poured into the mould and, once set, removed and encased in a ceramic shell. The wax is melted and removed, the shell is pre-heated, and the bronze is then poured. Once the bronze is set, the ceramic shell is removed, revealing the new bronze artwork.
Making it a process distinctive to NZMACI, the casters use the unique natural environment in Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley, using water from the sulphur-chloride pools to patina the bronze.
A major role of The Foundry is the fabrication of a carved whatarangi (elevated storehouse) as part of a major initiative with the Māori tribes of New Zealand named Māori Tū. The wooden original will be installed in New Zealand while the bronze cast – created in The Foundry – will be installed at an offshore site yet to be formally agreed and announced.
NZMACI students from the Wood Carving and Stone and Bone Carving Schools will have the opportunity to learn the processes of The Foundry as part of their study with NZMACI.
Te Ahi Kōmau is currently not taking tauira in 2018.
View artwork by NZMACI casters at the Institute’s online Māori art gallery, Āhua.