Few materials speak more of Aotearoa and its history than pounamu and kauri copal. In the hands of Neil Adcock, these materials openly display the mana in which they are held. The rock and the organic resin sing. His pounamu constructions clearly reference both the human form and the long tradition of tiki within Māori culture.
Though not himself Māori, Adcock lives in northern Northland, where Māori culture and influence — particularly that of the local Ngā Puhi iwi — is all pervasive. As our society becomes more and more an amalgam of European and Māori, Adcock offers a symbolic alteration of the traditional tiki, extending it into modern society. To Ngā Puhi Māori this continuum of time is natural. There is no disconnect between the past and the present, and Adcock's sculptures are honouring the past while rendering the figures in a new form. In doing so, he is creating a dialogue of Māori cultural status within modern New Zealand society whilst simultaneously creating works which have their own strong personalities. The human figure is abstracted, the forms of the stone itself implying hair (as in Tangata Whenua [22-17] ) or costume (Tangata Whenua [22-15] ), or being memorably turned into powerful dancing limbs (Tangata Whenua [22-13] ).
The current exhibition contains some of Adcock's largest pieces - the scale and power of the Kaitiaki figures suggest a new move in the sculptor's work. These two human-sized pieces live up to their titles as guardians and protectors of the exhibition.
Adcock came to sculpture from jewellery, and the methods used in the construction of these works bear a strong influence from that art form. The pounamu is sliced to a translucent thinness, a nod to both a jeweller's techniques and the long history of Māori carving. The rock slivers overlap and interact, light passing through the stone creating patterns of brightness and dark and giving the works a strong three-dimensionality and luminosity. The interiors become semi-abstract, implying rock landforms and mountain ranges. The collapsing of state between the human forms and the vistas contained within turn the figures quite literally into Tangata Whenua, people of the land.
The copal rings also suggest the connection between Māori and Pakeha, historical and modern. This powerful material once generated a major industry for colonial New Zealand but was also a substance filled with great mana. It was and remains an important point of connection between peoples, and also between humans and the forests from which it came. The artist, one of the few currently working in this material, has sculpted the fossilised resin into forms guided by the features of the copal, and it is no surprise that the form of the ringed vessel, with its own powerful connotations of mixing and binding between individuals, predominates.
The materials have been worked splendidly by Adcock, who has respected their nature and mauri in his practice. The resulting pieces sit firmly within current dialogues of our country and its people, and of what it means to be a New Zealander in the 21st century.