Baroque Star

These Christchurch sisters don’t do anything by halves. Natasha English and Tatyanna Meharry have entered WOW together three times, and they’ve given their all to each garment, with a rich and complex story behind their creations.

The Exchange, a complex meditation on the Treaty of Waitangi made with car boot fabric, pottery, and feathers, won them the Supreme Award in 2013. With their prize money they travelled to Europe, where they found inspiration for this year’s garment in the religious iconography of St Petersburg.

“That was staggering and it’s something we don’t see in New Zealand; that opulence to do with religion,” Meharry says. “You associate that type of stuff with Italy but that Russian experience was amazing.”

Last year, they targeted the Weta Workshop Costume and Film Section, all about the baroque and rococo period, and made a garment that they say is a social comment on New Zealand’s new dominant religion: American pop culture and the mass media machine.

“New Zealand seems to be heavily influenced by what’s happening in the US; we’re fascinated by this machine that feeds youth and dictates a lot of what happens in everyone’s lives,” English says.

“I’ve always been quite focused on concepts of consumerism,” Meharry says. “We are living in an era where we are surrounded by media and influences which aren’t tangible, and it does have that strange correlation with the phenomenon of religion; something that is not necessarily tangible but is all-present.

“I’ve always been quite fascinated in those roles and desires that people have and how they lead their lives, as well as history and how it can be echoed in contemporary scenarios.”

 English and Meharry come from an art background – Meharry is an artist and teaches art as well, and English is in interior architectural project management. Consequently, they don’t like making something just for the sake of it.

“There’s no sense of history or memory in that, and that’s what’s really important to us,” English says. “We think if you instill that in something you make, then someone who doesn’t know you has a better connection to it. It’s not just something that looks pretty, but also hopefully has a subtle impact.”

They also like to experiment with new materials and techniques in their WOW entries. This year they picked up a flocking gun, which meant working in pink rubber gloves, a surgical facemask, goggles, an apron, and very little else.

“The electromagnetic flock gun statically charges the flock so that when you turn it on everything within a 600m radius gets covered in a prickly 3mm velvet fluff,” Meharry says. “Itchy doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling.”

To add to the mess, they chose another microscopic material to work with: glitter, which also went everywhere.

“There is nowhere that stuff doesn’t get,” she says. “Still, it’s only fun being creative when you play with something you know nothing about.”

Working with a sibling is challenging at the best of times, but English says they manage to get through any disagreements about the direction of their pieces by recognising that each provides a necessary check and balance for the other’s ideas.

“It’s never comfortable having someone criticise your ideas and you like to think you can take criticism from your family,” she says. “But arguing works to our advantage rather than each of us working on our own. I’ll come up with something and then Tatyanna will say ‘That’s rubbish’, or ‘You’re not thinking about X’. I get really ratty and say ‘No! It’s good!’ and then I go back later and see her side of it and say ‘OK, right, that’s rubbish’. I like to think I do the same thing for her as well.

“Sometimes we get really cross and might not talk to each other for the rest of the day, but then we try to bang it out and solve it together,” English says. “I know if I’d gone ahead and done it on my own, I’d become quite insular, so focused on looking at everything on a microscopic level. You have to stand back to look at it objectively, and we do that for each other.”