Teresa Peters: Volcano Punk

By Philippa Hadlow

Reading time: 15 minutes

“Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.” - Chuang Tse.

Teresa Peters was born into a giant household of hippy artists and a bunch of chickens at the top of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland’s Khyber Pass. Art surrounded and enfolded her, and her elders and influencers were a flux of 1970s early greats stemming out from Elam School of Fine Arts: Jim Allan, Phil Dadson, Bruce Barber, Kim Gray, Malcolm Ross, Fiona Clark, Geoff Chapple - all talents streaming to and fro’ an innovative world. Art was Teresa’s core reality from day one.

By Philippa Hadlow

Reading time: 15 minutes

“Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.” – Chuang Tse.

Teresa Peters was born into a giant household of hippy artists and a bunch of chickens at the top of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland’s Khyber Pass. Art surrounded and enfolded her, and her elders and influencers were a flux of 1970s early greats stemming out from Elam School of Fine Arts: Jim Allan, Phil Dadson, Bruce Barber, Kim Gray, Malcolm Ross, Fiona Clark, Geoff Chapple – all talents streaming to and fro’ an innovative world. Art was Teresa’s core reality from day one.

The ‘70s were a time of political upheaval and ecological crisis. Teresa’s parents, Roger Peters and Maree Horner, were New Zealand forerunners in Post-object; conceptual, experimental, and land art. Their heyday work was celebrated retrospectively in Groundswell: Avant-Garde Auckland 1971-79, Auckland Art Gallery 2018-19 – a show which reflected on the seismic waves of cultural and political activity of the era.

In the 1980s, flatmate artist Marianne Muggeridge led the family to a simpler life in rustic Taranaki.

Leaving a dynamic, creative cosmopolitan space to spend a childhood under the drama of Mount Taranaki was no less artistically persuasive. There, Teresa absorbed and played with nature; geology, natural science, and natural history; practiced bronze casting, printmaking, and clay making while figuring out philosophy and life and pushing aside the status quo.

“Growing up in South Taranaki, I had to embrace being a freak to survive; I also decided embarrassment doesn’t exist, which has served me (most of the time).

“My parents were my fine art/holistic life teachers – from Duchamp to dirt. Both parents are very perceptive perfectionists, and self-driven. For myself – as an artist and a production designer – these are prerequisites,” says Teresa.

Emulating parental critical mindedness meant young Teresa and her sisters unexpectedly took out the school cow-judging up against all the farmer kids. It also became the natural precursor to her life as a professional creative, nurtured by a weird and wonderful rural community which encouraged original spirit and a presentience of the power of future technology.

“I am of the generation that maintained the innocence of growing up playing with dewdrops and frogs while transfixed to the decadence of the eighties via the porthole of television. Music videos shaping so much of my daydreams and projected realities. Then as adults, we find ourselves encompassed by a world of screens, where not being online for a minute can feel uncomfortable,” she claims.

Life on a much bigger screen beckoned Teresa, inspired by her uninhibited youth dressing up, acting, dancing, singing, always creating. Fashion and film rocked her world and later evolved into a career as a production and wardrobe designer with filmmaker Florian Habicht. Meeting Florian at Elam School of Fine Arts when both were students in the ‘90s saw him create LIEBESTRAÜME – a film especially written for her to take the lead role alongside his dad, photographer Frank Habicht … and so Florian could ask her out. It was a quaint gambit that paid off in all ways, setting the scene for the two to work as professional collaborators and partners in life.

Florian’s work as film director and hers as production designer, lead actress, and graphic/poster designer culminated in cult movie WOODENHEAD 2003, featuring at film festivals in New Zealand, Australia, England, Spain, New York, Hungary, and Marché du Film in Cannes, France. Teresa describes making WOODENHEAD as an exercise in “just doing it” – one of the most important learning curves in art and life “despite all the odds and teaching yourself via experience”.

“Your biggest teachers are sent to you from the universe; mine have all been forms of artists, respectively teaching me even more about what it means to be radical, determined, 200% hard-working, extraordinary, generous, cosmic and true,” she declares.

Black and white WOODENHEAD was touted as: “A truly unsettling, visually inventive, stylistically thrilling and quite marvellous diamond in the rough.” – Melbourne Film Festival 2003. [In 2021, following the release of James & Isey and in conjunction with Habicht’s Art Foundation Laureate, WOODENHEAD 2003 underwent full technicolour restoration as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival.]

In 2010, Florian Habicht accepted the Harriet Friedlander Residency in New York City. Teresa accompanied him there and spent the next few years as a contemporary nomad between America, Germany, and the UK, collaborating on Habicht’s movies, Love Story (2011) and Pulp: A Film About Life, Death & Supermarkets (2014).

She lived in Berlin for five years, working in the art Konditorei (cake shop) Mr Minsch Torten (“a cosmic Wunderkammer European dream world with nods to Ernst Haeckel in sugar, chocolate and cinnamon”), while her friends attended environmental artist Olafur Eliasson’s Institut für Raumexperimente (Institute for Spatial Experiments)and founded the team for American conceptual artist Mark Dion (a pioneer in art as archaeology and the theatre of science).

Teresa returned to Aotearoa in 2015 and completed a post-graduate diploma in fine arts at Elam. In 2018, she was the 40-year-old model and fashion campaign designer for Miss Crabb’s Romantica and Kate Sylvester’s The Red Balloon in partnership with Florian Habicht. Teresa’s commercial history began with Helena Brooks’ Nothing Special, which made Cannes Official Selection 2005, to her first TV commercial with Habicht, the AXIS award-winning NZTA campaign “The Unsell” 2018. In the same year, Teresa was appointed the Studio One Toi Tū creative ceramics resident of 2018-2019.

Miss Crabb ROMANTICA 2018. Model and creative director with Florian Habicht.

“Currently, my [ceramics] work is haptic (derived from the Greek ‘touch’). It relates to the use of tactile sensations in interfaces and mapping human touch to raw clay. It explores the space between prehistoric and futuristic. Pressed or folded into contemporary ‘totems’, artefacts or fossils, clay seems like a fitting medium for exploring the human impact of the Anthropocene, ecological and geomorphic interconnectivity, and Earth matters.

“Art is once again responding to ecological crisis; as history repeats, we experience how complacent and adaptable we can be as a species,” she observes.

Teresa’s artistic retort to the pandemic and climate crisis resulted in an unprecedented position at Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery in Titirangi, Auckland. The gallery hosts the finalists and winner of the 2021 prestigious Portage Ceramics Awards, featuring creations made from stoneware, clay, terracotta, and other mixed media elements, such as shells, stones, and even electronics.

Her entry comprised a photograph: Folded totems created from raw clay, each one crafted as a unique exploration of the elemental properties: earth, water, air, and fire. The collection of pieces evokes natural entities. They look like ammonites, corals, sponges, rocks, and crystals, but also bear semblance to human genitalia. They’re tiny, squidgy-looking; their clay bodies having been pleated and curved, pocked with indentations, or smoothed with a finger.

“They have an innate fetishistic quality that extends to desire or our needs as a driving capital force. The language is one of touch, pushing, squeezing, pressing, poking; my relationship with the material, curious and playful,” explains Teresa.

The totems are reminiscent of the compartmentalised contents – perhaps bedded on tissue paper – of a wide, shallow, smooth-gliding drawer, pulled open at a museum to reveal a collection of natural taonga. Artefacts of a forgotten time they echo bits of archaeological history; enigmatic, non-sensical, and intriguing.

When creating her work, Teresa “… depicted grey and black clay digitised onto black. You can see the drying tones of the clay. When you see it close up, you can see the hot pink traces of the digitising process that draws this strange combination of worlds together,” she describes.

Upon archiving, printing, and framing it, Teresa entered her photographic oeuvre, ECHOES, in the Portage Ceramics Awards.

“It is interesting to think of 1970s performance or transient art forms like land art being archived or only existing as photography. My work reflects on this as a phenomenon in art, in a world of screens and devices. These days, photography and the digital invade our every day and archive our lives. A friend recently suggested Instagram posts as a funeral eulogy! Blending the digital into the museum aesthetic is important to the work,” says Teresa.

In a surprising win, ECHOES took first prize – as the first photographic entry to do so in the Award’s 21-year history. Juxtaposed amid a full house of three-dimensional embodiments of ceramic craft entries, ECHOES held its dignity, sitting flatly against a pristine wall, easily resisting viewers’ temptation to touch.

The New Zealand studio pottery world was at once aghast and impressed. The audacity of entering a ‘photo’ not a ‘piece’ inflamed many; conversely, Portage judge Raewyn Atkinson nodded at Teresa’s innovative and relevant “… use of clay, an ancient archival material, and digital technology to respond to our current predicament, in a time of Covid and climate crisis.”

MOLTENENTITIES.COM – Notes on moving mountains 2021. Clay and ceramics archived on Interactive iPad.

The disruptive win typifies Teresa’s drawing on ‘rupture’ and the subsequent navigation of disaster as the mother of revolution. ECHOES acknowledges and celebrates her DISASTROUSFORMS.COM 2020 and her more recent MOLTENENTITIES.COM – Notes on moving mountains (exhibited via an interactive iPad and as an audio-visual quartz-sound journey).

DISASTROUSFORMS.COM 2020 explored “collections to collective consciousness” via a faux sci-fi archive, positioned online, archived at Auckland Museum Collections Online and launched on the Auckland Live Digital Stage as a manifesto of ideas and experiences from the last ten years, including New York, Berlin, and a ‘field trip’ to Pompeii with Mark Dion and team.

Teresa calls the evolution of her work “a serendipitous pivot and evolution for my practice, already rooted in pseudo-archaeology. I love the relationship between contemporary digital platforms and ceramics as an early technology. Artist Katja Novitsova has been a point of reference; her practice moves from primal natural motifs into a futuristic technological vision.”

Teresa’s own primordial/present/futuristic pieces are curious items preserved in silica quartz, calcium carbonate, and feldspar glaze, and there’s no irony in the influence of a childhood spent beneath the ancient slopes of Mount Taranaki. Teresa uses glazes that have origins in fossils and bones, broken down into sediment, crystals, and gas over millennia, sometimes combusting and triggering earthquakes and volcanoes. Quartz in ceramic glazing activates in the kiln at 1200°C, the same temperature as it triggers volcanic eruptions. It’s a mineral at the heart of many forces – communication devices, television, timepieces, radio, even our bodies.

“We resonate with the frequencies of quartz crystals, as every cell in the human body has a geometric crystalline structure. The crystalline prevailing and transforming, molten entities in intimate combustion – echoing ooze of ammonites to ammolite – breaking new ground,” articulates Teresa.

Geo-symbolism breaking new ground in the contemporary world of ceramics is absolutely evocative of ECHOES’ win at Portage: “When you are following your gut and creating what feels relevant, it can sometimes feel quite mad and alienating. The work is self-reflexive and, in its nature, includes questioning its medium. Pottery is about function, domestication, preservation, beauty, and decoration,” Teresa says.

ECHOES, Portage Ceramic Award Premier Winner 2021. Raw clay archived as framed photography 1500 x 700 mm.

“I was very touched with the [Portage] recognition. It seems the piece is challenging to traditional makers/potters within the ceramics community. Art asks questions to reflect on the human condition and institution to enable evolution and growth. My work is interested in blurring the boundaries of categories. The response and subsequent discussions become interesting as they reflect and embody the concepts of the original project in the real world. These discussions have also led to further interest in contemporary ceramics and clay.”

Trusting heart, intuition, and vision is paramount to Teresa’s work process. She suggests, “Be open to what people and life offer but be aware: advice is often based on traditions and HIStories.”

“Everything is evolving, and new voices are important, especially those of women, minorities, the nonhuman, and alternative communities, though in saying that, I will add, alternative to what? Which is a pretty important observation too.”

“A butterfly in flight stimulates my imagination. By freeing myself from discourse, I lose myself in time and I start making holes.” (Holes in reality) – Lucio Fontana.

To immerse yourself in more articles like this, Subscribe or Log in