The Kuku Biochar Project, December 2022

Te Au: Liquid Constituencies

Govett Brewster Art Gallery, 3 Dec 2022 — 20 Mar 2023

Bonita Bigham, Megan Cope, Erub Arts, Ruha Fifita, Taloi Havini, INTERPRT, María Francisca Montes Zúñiga, Angela Tiatia, Te Waituhi ā Nuku: Drawing Ecologies, Arielle Walker

The Kuku Biochar Project is featured in Te Au: Liquid Constituencies at the Govett Brewster Gallery in Ngāmotu/New Plymouth. Part documentation and part proposition, this installation represents a moment in time for our project. Photos, drawings, prints, biochar assemblages, stencilled coffee sacks, stencilled weedmatt drawings and a biochar kiln are (hopefully) activating discussion about carbon sequestration and fresh water, ecological restoration. Some of the artworks are just resting here before their real job starts… printed coffee sacks will be filled with biochar and placed at regular intervals in the Waikōkopu stream bed. The stencilled weedmatt will be transported back to the farm to be installed (with several more) along the stream edge, then planted with appropriate native wetland plants.

Listen to Dr Huhana Smith talk about the project here:


+ Biochar Stencilling Workshop (February 2023). As part of the GBAG public programming for Te Au: Liquid Constituencies, Monique did a hands-on, public workshop; grinding charcoal, making biochar paint, cutting stencils and printing on to hemp weedmatt samples and/or coffee sacks. During the workshop Monique talked about biochar, how to make it at home and how to use it in your garden or stream restoration projects.  

Special thanks to Greg Thomas and Luca Nicholas from the Auckland University of Technology, School of Art & Design Printmaking Lab. The best and most fun printmaking lab in the country! You guys are awesome.

Sincere thanks to the entire Govett-Brewster Art Gallery team for making us feel so welcome.

Thanks to Advance Landscape Systems and Dark Horse Coffee for their enthusiasm for this project.

Undying gratitude to the dream team; Huhana, Maija and Ceiran!

Photo credit Bryan James (GBAG) – for exhibition photos

Words and detail photos by Monique Jansen

The Kuku Biochar Project, February 2023

Biochar Burn Demonstration, Parihaka Māra

A highlight of the Kuku Biochar Project so far has definitely been the biochar burn at Parihaka in February. Te Waituhi ā Nuku: Drawing Ecologies artist collective joined with Phil Stevens from Slow Farm and Urs Signer and Tuhi-Ao Bailey of Parihaka Māra (Parihaka Garden) for a day-long demonstration of a biochar burn. This event was part of the public programming for Te Au: Liquid Constituencies exhibition at the Govett Brewster Art Gallery.

We were reminded yet again, how much we love standing around the biochar kiln, sharing stories and ideas, while slowly adding wood to the fire over a period of 4-5 hours. It brings out something innate in us. Humans have co-evolved with fire – the ability to make fire and use it purposefully was a major a part of human evolution. Cooking food meant that less energy was required for foraging, chewing and digesting, leaving more energy available for brain development – our brains grew! Importantly though, cooking and eating around the fire pit gave us a place and purpose to gather and share  – essential to cohesive social relationships, connections and understanding. Gathering around our biochar kiln feels fundamentally ‘human’ and somehow, ‘right’.

It was such an honour to be on Parihaka whenua and share our biochar process. Parihaka whanau are doing amazing things in their māra kai; feeding their whanau healthy, nutrient-dense organic food, regenerating soils, increasing biodiversity, and supporting and encouraging Reo Maori usage. Tuhi-Ao Bailey of Parihaka said they were working hard to restore ngahere and wetlands, and establish sustainable agriculture, energy production and waste disposal methods that regenerate Taiao. We hope that biochar will be a useful addition to this important mahi.

Listen to Dr Huhana Smith, Phil Stevens and Monique Jansen talk about the project here:

Radio interview with Mikaela Nyman from Sugar Loaf Arts Cast, community arts podcast on Access Radio Taranaki.

“We are really excited to be sharing the benefits of biochar with our Parihaka whanau - being on the same west coast we also honour the ancestral ties between Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Raukawa (including Ngāti Tukorehe) and Toa Rangatira. We share this process with them and Taranaki whānui as part of simple but powerful changes that must be made with the uncertainties of a changing climate.”

Dr Huhana Smith from Te Waituhi ā Nuku: Drawing Ecologies and Head of Whiti o Rehua School of Art at Massey University.

Thanks to Mikaela Nyman from Sugar Loaf Arts Cast, Access Radio Taranaki.

Special thanks to Urs Signer, Tuhi-Ao Bailey and Parihaka whanau.

Sincere thanks to the entire Govett-Brewster Art Gallery team.

Photos by Maija Stephens, documentary photographer for Te Waituhi ā Nuku: Drawing Ecologies group, working alongside the Deep South National Science Challenge, Phase 3: Manaaki i ngā taonga i tukua mai e ngā tupuna: investigating action-oriented climate change transitions to water-based land uses that enhance taonga species 2020-2022.