Wardian Cases

I have decided to use the kōkōwai mound imprints as my final works to exhibit this semester. I want the actual mounds themselves, not just photographs, to be in the exhibition space. I will imprint within the space with whānau taonga. I want them open and uncovered at the opening as I see them as the living breathing taonga with which I imprinted them. Considering what to cover them with after the opening so that the kōkōwai remains intact was a bit of a debate with myself. I liked the idea that if the aircon blew some of the kōkōwai particles, or if a person sneekily touched it, that it some of the kōkōwai would secretly remain even after my works are removed. Also thinking of the mauri within these taonga I did not want them to be restricted or closed off from us. I considered jars, perspex boxes and $3 Kmart glass salad bowls. The jars and bowls didn’t feel right because of food taking making the taonga noa. The perspex felt disconnected and a quick fix. But then on having a conversation with a workmate I learnt about Wardian Cases.

The Wardian case was an early type of terrarium, a sealed protective container for plants. It found great use in the 19th century in protecting foreign plants imported to Europe from overseas, the great majority of which had previously died from exposure during long sea journeys, frustrating the many scientific and amateur botanists of the time. Joseph Dalton Hooker was one of the first plant explorers to use the new Wardian cases, when he shipped live plants back to England from New Zealand in 1841, during the voyage of HMS Erebus.

I think the Wardian case is a perfect way to still acknowledge the mauri of the taonga inside. Simultaneously it comments on indigenous taonga that remain in museums, disconnected from it’s people. I will try to build some Wardian cases myself with the help of Clayton our local MacGyver.


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