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The mother of invention

As number eight among his siblings, and quite wiry, artist Conor Jeory was in his element when he created his work The Passed for this year’s Fieldays No.8 Wire National Art Award.

The annual award challenges artists to create sculptures from No.8 wire and other agricultural materials. Jeory’s entry of a small section of fenceline held together by three puriri posts and snagged with shreds of wool is one of 28 artworks to have been selected as finalists in the annual award.

Apart from some light shaping of the posts’ tips to hint at a pa palisade, the work is as raw as the land the kilometres of fencing is erected on. The title has two layers of meaning. The Passed is suggestive of the ancient, pre-European land the fencelines are planted on, and something of the pioneering spirit, of breaking the land. It also captures Jeory’s childhood memory of looking out of the window of the family car as fenceposts, and lines of wool-snagged No.8 wire, flickered and streamed by. In this sense, Jeory’s work is a snapshot of that stream.

“I always thought of them as dental braces stepping down the land,” said Jeory.

“When I was out at my sister’s place trying to find the wire I needed, the fenceline beside the bunch of wire had snags of wool in it. That made me smile because I had already incorporated that into my work.

“When I was overthinking the piece, I was going to carve the wire.”

Instead he let the elements do their work.

“During the whole lockdown period I parked it outside and it weathered up beautifully and the wool is even more matted. It’s all come back to life again”.

Off the wire

No.8 wire has long been a metaphor for New Zealanders’ ingenuity and make-do attitude for finding down-on-the-farm solutions for design challenges. The phrase “a number 8 wire mentality” refers to the skill required to create or repair machinery with whatever scrap materials are available.

The No.8 wire mentality has given rise to inventions that range from the energy-saving Wellington Motor to a rock taped against an Auckland pedestrian-crossing button to permanently activate it.

Invention of No.8 wire itself could be said to have arisen from the a No.8 wire mentality before the product had come into being.

Englishman Henry Bessemer patented a process in 1855 that made steel available in industrial quantities, at an affordable price, said Department of Conservation ranger Chris Wootton in a Stuff article.

“The availability of wide areas of land for grazing sheep and cattle coincided fortuitously with Henry Bessemer, his process and the cheap production of fencing wire in many forms.

“Fence wire enabled the subdivision of land and paddocks. Farming practices were transformed as a result.”

Jeory has since been invited to take part in an exhibition at the Kauri Museum in Northland.

For this project he is creating a face mask — not from No.8 wire but from woven threads made up of human hair.

DON’T FENCE ME IN: Gisborne artist Conor Jeory’s work The Passed is among 28 artworks selected as finalists in the Fieldays No.8 Wire National Art Award, an annual event managed by Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato. Picture supplied