Matthew Cowan is a New Zealand artist, based in Berlin and Helsinki, working in the realm of traditional European customs. His works are photographs, videos, installations and performances, which play with the inherent strangeness of the continued popularity of long established folk customs in a contemporary world.

These works can be viewed as mock folk performances in themselves, playing with the elements of folk rituals that give people a link to the past. In contemporary European societies, people have a peculiar relationship with folk traditions that is part uneasiness about the past and part fascination with spectacle and long established ritual. In investigating the celebration and performance of folk traditions, a primary theme is the presence of humour and subversion of the usual social order. This comical reversal is a key to understanding the point of people’s enjoyment of folk and ritual traditions. Recent work has focused on the mythical fantasy-land of Cockaigne, a paradise not just built on this topsy-turvy structure, but possessing wild fantasies of sexual liberty, freedom from exertion, bountiful supplies of food, and escalated celebration and festivity.

Recent exhibitions have included artistic responses to artefacts and folk objects in museum collections, delving into structures that guide perceptions of the past and re-examining what is suggested as evidence in the historical presentation of identity.

 

Education  Background

2015

Doctoral Studies candidate, Academy of Fine Arts, University of the Arts, Helsinki, Finland

2004‐5 

MA Fine Art, University of Northumbria, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK (AHRC Funded)

1992‐96 

BA English & Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand

1996 

Senior Prize in Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand

 

Competitions, Prizes and Awards

2017 

KONE Foundation grant for Doctoral Research Project “The Lessons of Folklore”, Academy of Fine Arts, Helsinki

2014 

The Ministry for Science and Culture of the State of Lower Saxony grant for BS Projects, Braunschweig, Germany

2013 

Asia New Zealand Artist in Residence Grant for S-AIR Sapporo, Japan.

2009

English Folk Dance and Song Society ‐ Artist in Residence, 12 month residency supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation and based at Cecil Sharp House, London, UK

2008 

Arts Council England, Individual Grant for Fabryka Sztuki Bialystok Artist Residency, two month residency in North East Poland.

2007 

Arts Council England, ‘Artist Placement Programme’, Xsite Architecture, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

2006 

Arts Council England, Grant for ‘Novellus Castellum’ project, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

2004‐5 

AHRC Postgraduate Scholarship for MA in Fine Art, Northumbria University

1996 

Senior Prize in Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand

 

Solo Exhibitions

2018 

para field notes, Hyppolyte Gallery, Helsinki, Finland

2016 

Wandle auf Rosen und Vergissmeinnicht / Walk on Roses and Forgetmenots, Braunschweigische Landesmuseum, Braunschweig, Germany

2015 

Equinox Men, Kunstverein Langenhagen, Hanover, Germany

2015 

Thresholding, Audio Foundation, Auckland, New Zealand

2015 

Another Face, B-galleria, Turku, Finland

2014 

Cosmic Weight, Corner Gallery, curated by Rob Garrett, Auckland, New Zealand

2013 

Flowerbeard, Te Tuhi, Pakuranga, Auckland, New Zealand

2013 

The Trees are Thick With Butter, NURTURE Art, New York, USA

2012 

The Island of the Day Before, Agency Gallery, London, UK

2010 

Overdown Rise, Coachwerks, Brighton, UK

2010 

the Beams and Joists are Made of Butter, curated by Maria Hawkins, the Bunhouse, London, UK

2010 

the Foggy Dew, Swiss Cottage Gallery, curated by Jonathan Murphy, London, UK

2009 

To Lubberland, Cecil Sharp House, the English Folk Dance & Song Society, London, UK 

 

Selected Group Exhibitions

2017 

Artistic Research in Political Occultism - THE STORY OF HOW NICHOLAS II AND MAGICIAN PAPUS SECRETLY CONDUCTED A SPIRITIST SEANCE AIMED TO PREVENT THE REVOLUTION, AND FAILED, Hiekka Art Museum, Tampere, Finland

2017

 inSPIRACJE, TRAFO, Szczecin, Poland

2017 

Antitheses, group project, Research Pavilion, 57th Venice Biennale

2016 

Sacred Economies, Malcolm Smith Gallery, Howick, Auckland, New Zealand

2015

loose control, Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Braunschweig, Germany

2015 

Visiting Asia, Te Tuhi, Pakuranga, Auckland, New Zealand

2015

 Imagine Asia, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua, New Zealand

2015 

VANHALLA POSTITIELLÄ, group performance, Olhuone Performance Festival, Turku, Finland.

2014

Terminalia, Charlie Smith London, London, UK

2014

News From Nowhere, Transition Gallery & the William Morris Society, Kelmscott House, London, UK

2014 

Unstuck in Time, Te Tuhi, Pakuranga, Auckland, New Zealand

2014

Harbourview Sculpture Trail, Auckland, New Zealand

2013 

Body Rock, curated by Rebecca Hobbs, New Zealand Film Archive, Auckland, New Zealand

2013 

Travelling Art, 500m gallery, Sapporo, Japan

2013 

Rituals are Tellers of Us, Newlyn Gallery, Cornwall, and at ATOI & Cull, London, UK

2013 

Videorover 5, Nurture Art Video programme, Brooklyn, New York, USA

2012 

Collective Observations: Folklore & Photography, Towner Museum and Gallery, curated by Simon Costin and Mellany Robinson, Eastbourne, UK

2012 

The Gathering, Gallery Yukiko Kawase, Paris, France

2012

Experiments in Ritual ‐ Matthew Cowan and Tereza Buskova, Beaconsfield, London, UK

2012 

Cultural Transference, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, curated by Sara Riesman, New York City, USA

2012 

Never Never, Aberystwyth Art Centre, Wales, UK

2012 

The Courtship of the People, Simon Oldfield Gallery, London, UK

2012

 Equinox, Transition Gallery, London, UK

2011 

The Trivia of Eccentric England, film & live art commission by the Lincoln Art Programme, UK

2011 

Objects of Desire, Freud Museum, curated by Lili Spain, London, UK

2010 

The Journey of a Wodewose & his Companion Stanley over the River Tyburn, Salon Contemporary Live Art Programme, Selfridges Department Store, Oxford Street, London, UK

2009 

Flash Company, A Handkerchief Show at Cecil Sharp House, EFDSS, London, UK

2009 

What Surrounds Us: Finding and Making Home, Ernest Rubenstein Gallery, New York, USA

2008 

Fabryka Sztuki, Galleria Arsenal, Bialystok, Poland

2008 

“I’ll Sweep Your House”, an installation of ritual brooms, Waygood Boutique, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK     

2007 

Harry Smith Anthology Remixed (collaboration with James Johnson‐Perkins), curated by Rebecca Shatwell, Alt

Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, Sheffield & CCA Glasgow, 2008, UK

2007 

Harker Herald, Waygood Gallery Billboard project at Harker’s Building, Byker, UK

2006 

Novellus Castellum, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

2005 

MA Degree show, University of Northumbria, UK

2005

Bookburning, Performance at Bookville, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

2001 

one glove, Saint Agatha Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand

2000

update//the active eye, New Zealand photographic survey, Sarjeant Gallery/Photoforum, New Zealand

 

    Active Texture - between Text and Textile -

    Mar 16th 2019 to Apr 13th 2019, Berlin