Peter Robinson

Defunct Mnemonic
230 x 50 x 50 mm
felt on aluminium
Courtesy of the artist and Coastal Signs,
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland

Estimate: NZD 6,500 — 8,500

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Defunct Mnemonic is part of an installation made of one hundred and twenty-six sculptural elements. Based on totemic forms of indefinite origin, each sculpture is made up of a central wooden dowel encased by felt, a favoured material of German artist Joseph Beuys.

Installed ceremonially and appearing as if designed for some unknown ritual, the shamanistic-like sculptures made by Peter Robinson can be defined as memory devices. In a New Zealand context, they can be linked with toko toko or rākau kōrero, carved wooden staffs, symbols of authority and status that are used in whaikōrero or Māori ceremonial speech making. Encoded with data and activated through touch, toko toko and rākau kōrero are prompts for memory recall, most often the recollection of elaborate whakapapa (tribal genealogies and histories).”

Quotation from Megan Tamati-Quennell, originally published in relation to the acquisition of Peter Robinson’s work into Te Papa Collection. This text appeared in New Zealand Art at Te Papa in 2018.

Artist Biography & History
with Artspace Aotearoa:


Syntax (solo), 5 June — 11 July 2015

ACK (solo), 16 September — 28 October 2006, curated by Brian Butler. The Walters Prize 2008 was awarded to Peter Robinson for ACK. The winner was announced by the international judge, Catherine David, at a gala dinner on 31 October 2008

After Killeen: Social Observation in Recent Art (group), 13 November — 15 December 2001, curated by Anna Miles

One Love (solo), 11 March — 28 March 1998, originally conceived as Peter Robinson's contribution to the first Seppelt Art Award exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Land of the Bidjigal and Gadigal peoples of the Eora Nation Sydney, in 1997


The publication Ack and Other Abdications was co-published with Clouds, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland on the occasion of Robinson’s solo exhibition ACK (2006). The bulk of this 164-page book is devoted to full-colour documentation of this sculptural work in its various iterations and a body of unexhibited paintings. The remainder features writing by Dan Arps, Matthew Crookes, Fiona Gilmore and John Ward-Knox, Gwynneth Porter and Laura Preston. Ack and Other Abdications was edited by Brian Butler, and sub-edited by Gwyenneth Porter.

Work by Robinson was illustrated in After Killeen: Social Observation in Recent Art: Flying over the Dominant Culture, edited by Anna Miles and published on the occasion of the exhibition After Killeen: Social Observation in Recent Art at Artspace

On the occasion of Robinson’s 2015 solo exhibition Syntax, Artspace supported the production of a short documentary about the artist’s studio practice titled How does Peter Robinson work?. This film was filmed and edited by Theo Macdonald.

Peter Robinson


Peter Robinson (born Hakatere Ashburton, 1966) studied sculpture at Ilam School of Fine Arts (1985 – 1989), and now lives and works in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. Robinson’s work has been exhibited extensively in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally. He was Aotearoa New Zealand’s representative at the 49th Venice Biennale (2001), participated in the 13th Istanbul Biennale (2013), 11th and 18th Biennale of Sydney (1998/2012) and the 8th Baltic Triennale of International Art, Vilnius (2002). He presented Recreation Centre in the Nouveau Festival 2015 at Centre Pompidou, Paris, France.

Robinson’s work has been included in major international touring exhibitions including: Continental shift, Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen (2000); Toi Toi Toi: three generations of artists from New Zealand, Museum Fridericianum, Kassel (1999); and Cultural safety: contemporary art from New Zealand, Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt am Main (1995).

Robinson was nominated for the Walters Prize in 2006 for The Humours at Dunedin Public Art Gallery, and again in 2008 when he won for his exhibition ACK, originally exhibited in 2016 at Artspace Aotearoa, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.