Matthew Cowan - Morris Bellman

Matthew Cowan

New Zealand 1974

Installation, Performance Art, Photography

Matthew Cowan
Matthew Cowan
New Zealand
June 3, 2016
Andreja Velimirović is a passionate content writer with a knack for art and old movies. Majoring in art history, he is an expert on avant-garde modern movements and medieval church fresco decorations. Feel free to contact him via his Linkedin profile:

Seemingly never running out of ideas, Matthew Cowan is a visual artist from New Zealand that focuses his workings on the endless realm of popular European customs and traditions. As the tools with which he chooses to create, Cowan goes with a large variety of mediums, such as photography, video art, installations and performance pieces – although he does not really limit himself to just these four techniques, instead turning to any one that seems to be a fit at the given time. Through his art, Matthew plays with the inherent strangeness we all take from our ancestors without any questions or hesitations, prolonging the length of folk customs that do not really seem as they belong in the modern world of science and technology.

Matthew Cowan - Cosmic Weight, 2013
Matthew Cowan – Cosmic Weight, 2013

A Relationship Formed Between a New Zealand Artist And… Europe?

Matthew Cowan’s work can be shortly described as a collection of mock folk performances. He toys with elements of folk rituals that give people an intangible link to the past, or at least makes them think that they are somehow connecting to things that already happened. Matthew is interested in European incarnations of the carnivalesque because so much of our understanding of Western culture and power comes from European societies. It is interesting how people like to think that they are a part of something grander than they are and many aspects of our society are built on these ideas, from religion to nationhood. 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 – these are the differences that made Cowan chose Europe over some other continents.

When it comes to his art, Matthew Cowan uses all the mediums at his disposal, choosing the one that seems to be a perfect fit at the time

Matthew Cowan - Beacon, 2014
Matthew Cowan – Beacon, 2014

How Cowan Thinks When He Creates His Artwork

Whilst investigating all the celebrations and performances that go along with the European customs, Matthew focuses on the ever-lasting presence of humor through subversion of the usual social order. This comical reversal serves as a focal point of Cowan’s portfolio and it simultaneously presents an ultimate key to understanding the point of people’s enjoyment of folk and ritual traditions, why we do it in the first place. It’s funny how we somehow need to turn things upside down to fully grasp and understand their nature – Matthew’s work does exactly that. To give you a glimpse at how this artist works, one of Cowan’s more acclaimed projects was based around the mythical fantasy-land of Cockaigne, a utopia that is heavily concentrated on wild fantasies of sexual liberty, freedom from exertion, bountiful supplies of food, and escalated celebration and festivity. It should also be noted that Cowan was the artist in residence at Cecil Sharp House, the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. Cowan has been exhibiting his work in many different shows, both of the solo and group natures – his art has been most notably and extensively displayed at the galleries of London, Sapporo, New York and Auckland.

Cowan draws his inspiration from the folklore of the European nations, giving it surprising twists and turns

Matthew Cowan - Straw Nuuttipukki, 2014
Matthew Cowan – Straw Nuuttipukki, 2014

Witty and Amusing

If we had to describe Matthew Cowan’s art with just one word, it would be fun. His work is entertaining, intelligent, humorous and utterly charming – what more can we ask from one person? Luckily for Cowan (and for us, frankly), Europe is a limitless source of material, so it does not seem that Matthew’s art will soon come to a stop. Societies of the Old Continent are so fundamentally built on the traditions that Cowan will certainly be one busy artistic bee in the years to come – and we look forward to it every step of the way.

Matthew Cowan lives and works in Berlin, Germany.

Featured Image: Matthew Cowan – Morris Bellman – Image courtesy of Matthew Cowan
All images courtesy of Matthew Cowan

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2015Another FaceB-galleria, Turku, FinlandSolo
2015Imagine AsiaPataka Art + Museum, Porirua, New ZealandGroup
2014Cosmic WeightCorner Gallery, Auckland New ZealandSolo
2014TerminaliaCharlie Smith London, London, UKGroup
2014News From NowhereTransition Gallery & the William Morris Society, Kelmscott House, London, UKGroup
2014Unstuck in TimeTe Tuhi, Pakuranga, Auckland, NZGroup
2014MannequinLopdell House Gallery off site project, New Lynn, Auckland, NZGroup
2014Harbourview Sculpture TrailAuckland, NZGroup
2013FlowerbeardTe Tuhi, Pakuranga, Auckland, New ZealandSolo
2013The Trees are Thick With ButterNURTURE Art, New York, USASolo
2013Body RockNew Zealand Film Archive, Auckland, NZGroup
2013Black MarketRM, Auckland, NZGroup
2013Travelling Art500m gallery, Sapporo, JapanGroup
2013Rituals are Tellers of UsNewlyn Gallery, Cornwall and at ATOI & Cull, London, UKGroup
2013Videorover 5Nurture Art Video programme, Brooklyn, New York, USAGroup
2012The Island of the Day BeforeAgency Gallery, London UKSolo
2012Collective Observations: Folklore & PhotographyTowner Museum and Gallery, Eastbourne, UKGroup
2012The GatheringGallery Yukiko Kawase, Paris, FranceGroup
2012Experiments in Ritual - - Matthew Cowan and Tereza BuskovaBeaconsfield, London, UKGroup
2012Cultural TransferenceElizabeth Foundation for the Arts, New York City, USAGroup
2012Never NeverAberystwyth Art Centre, Wales, UKGroup
2012The Courtship of the PeopleSimon Oldfield Gallery, London, UKGroup
2012EquinoxTransition Gallery, London, UKGroup
2011Whelk Man for Vernacular FolkFolkestone Triennial Fringe, UKGroup
2011The Trivia of Eccentric EnglandLincoln Art Programme, UKGroup
2011Objects of DesireFreud Museum, London, UKGroup
2011EL ARTE SOBRE LA MESAInstituto Cervantes, London, UKGroup
2011400 WomenEdinburgh International Festival of the ArtsGroup
2010Overdown RiseCoachwerks, Brighton, UKSolo
2010the Beams and Joists are Made of ButterThe Bunhouse, London, UKSolo
2010the Foggy DewSwiss Cottage Gallery, London UKSolo
2010The Journey of a Wodewose & his Companion Stanley over the River TyburnSalon Contemporary Live Art Programme, Oxford Street, London, UKGroup
2009To Lubberland, Cecil Sharp HouseThe English Folk Dance & Song Society, London, UKSolo
2009Mumchance & GuiseCecil Sharp House London, UKGroup
2009Flash Company, A Handkerchief Show at Cecil Sharp HouseEFDSS, London, UKGroup
2009What Surrounds Us: Finding and Making HomeErnest Rubenstein Gallery, New York, USAGroup
2008Fabryka SztukiGalleria Arsenal, Bialystok, PolandGroup
2008BellsuitWaygood Boutique, Newcastle upon Tyne, UKGroup
200850 Foot Long HorseDurham International Festival of the Arts, Durham city, UKGroup
2008I’ll Sweep Your HouseWaygood Boutique, Newcastle upon Tyne, UKGroup
2007Harry Smith Anthology RemixedAlt Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, Sheffield & CCA Glasgow, 2008Group
2007Harker HeraldWaygood Gallery Billboard, Byker, UKGroup
2006ConjunctionRedgate Gallery, London, UKGroup
2006Novellus CastellumNewcastle upon Tyne, UKGroup
2005IF3Side Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UKGroup
2005MA Degree showUniversity of Northumbria, UKGroup
2005BookburningPerformance at Bookville, Newcastle upon Tyne, UKGroup
2001one gloveSaint Agatha Gallery, Auckland, New ZealandGroup