Whanganui High School students enjoyed hearing from visiting Wellington-based artist Michel Tuffery at the Sarjeant Gallery on Taupo Quay last week.

The students have been studying Tuffery's 2007 work First Contact a collaboration with Anton Carter, Michael Bridgeman, Daimon Shwalger and students from two Wanaka primary schools that produced a giant multimedia work that was projected onto the outside walls of Te Papa, Wellington in 2007.

WHS art teacher Stacey Hildreth said the students are completing a written assignment on the work and were excited to get the chance to meet Tuffery and hear him talk about First Contact and other works.

Tuffery treated the students to slide shows of his work and talked about the recent projects he has been involved with.


An enterprise that strongly captured the students' interest was a community project in West Sydney, Australia in 2014 - Transforma.

The artist completed a seven-week residency working with the local young people, local council and authorities to produce Buru Transforma Kangaroo - a massive bust of a red kangaroo made from the bodies of cars abandoned then salvaged from the Upper Georges River.

Tuffery also ran workshops with local youth, including live performances, video projections, and woodblock prints.

The aim of the project was to raise local awareness of the links between river health and behaviours such as arson, dumping and littering.

The kangaroo not only impressed locals with its aesthetic value, but it is also functional - housing a community barbecue.

Ms Hildred said the Whanganui students were "in awe" of Tuffery's work. "They were impressed with the use of art to provoke and unsettle many but then that same art became the saviour for the important few. They loved his social comment and his social worker attitude to communities in need."

Students also gave feedback about how they liked the lack of "preciousness" that Tuffery has towards his pieces (he has burned and dismantled some), and his clever use of recycled materials. They were particularly impressed with his ability to give them function and the installation of a barbecue into the kangaroo sculpture.