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.


Solo Exhibitions

2020 Wildness Makes This World, Seinäjoki Kunsthalle, Seinäjoki, Finland

2019 The Scream of the Strawbear, Kunsthalle Giessen, Germany

2018 para field notes, Hyppolyte Gallery, Helsinki, Finland

2016 Wandle auf Rosen und Vergissmeinnicht / Walk on Roses and Forgetmenots, Braunschweigisches 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

2020 Das Eigene im Anderen – das Andere im Eigenen, Städtische Galerie KUBUS, Hannover, Germany

2019 I Experience as I Experiment – I Experiment as I Experience, Uniarts Exhibition Laboratory, Helsinki, Finland

2019 The Maiden, The Neck and The Mare - Harvest Traditions and Beliefs, Weald & Downland Museum, Chichester, UK, curated by the Museum of British Folklore

2019 Active Texture - between Text and Textile -, curated by Stephan Klee, XC.Hua Gallery, Berlin, Germany


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

Residencies & Projects

2017 invited artist, Saaren Kartano 8 month Artist in Residence Programme, supported by the Kone Foundation, Finland

2015 Braunschweig Projects, 12 month stipendium at The Braunschweig University of Art, Germany

2013 S-AIR Artist in Residence Programme, supported by ASIA New Zealand Foundation, Sapporo, Japan

2013 Saaren Kartano Artist in Residence Programme, supported by the Kone Foundation, Finland

2012 Estnordest, Artist Residency Programme, Quebec, Canada

2012 Pekarna Maribor, European Capital of Culture Residency Programme, Maribor, Slovenia

2012 Visiting Artist Residency, Scientific College of Design, Oman

2011 Club Shepway, Research project, Folkestone, UK

2011 Aberystwyth Art Centre, supported by Laura Ashley Foundation. Wales, UK

2011 Omi International Arts Centre – International Artist Residency Programme, New York, USA

2010 Coachwerks, Brighton UK

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 Fabryka Sztuki Bialystok, Bialystok, Poland supported by Arts Council England

2007/2008 Centrifuge, Northern Edge Programme Documenta 12, Kassell, Germany/UK

2007 Arts Council England, ‘Artist Placement Programme’, 4 month residency at Xsite Architecture, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

2005 Bookville Performance Residency, Bookville, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

Curated Projects

2009 – 2012 Annual Artists Halloween Procession, Primrose Hill, London, UK

2009 Mumchance & Guise, Exhibition and Live art programme, Cecil Sharp House, EFDSS, London

2009 James Johnson‐Perkins & Sarah Foque, New site specific installation at Cecil Sharp House,

London, UK

2009 Flash Company, A Handkerchief Show at Cecil Sharp House, EFDSS, London, UK

2007 Curatorial Biennial, Apexart, New York, USA

2007 Artist Placement Programme Show, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

2007 Exsertus, Curated Program of seven monthly artist's studio projects for Novellus Castellum Project Space at Waygood Studios, Harker’s Building, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

2006 Novellus Castellum, group show across five venues, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK


2017 new commision of Wudewasa in “MARSEILLE JE T'AIME”, published by Simon Porte Jacquemus, Paris. 192 pages, colour. ISBN 979-10-699-0696-9

2016 “Wandle auf Rosen und Vergissmeinnicht / Walk on Roses and Forgetmenots solo exhibition catalogue, published by Braunschweigische Landesmuseum, Braunschweig. 96 pages, colour. ISBN 978-3-927939-80-6

2016 “Wudewasa” artists book published by Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg. 96 pages, colour. ISBN 978‐3‐86828‐700‐4

2016 “loose control” catalogue with Jana Müller and Schirin Kretschmann, published by Revolver, Berlin. 18 pages, colour. ISBN 978‐3‐95763‐320‐0

2012 “Vernacular Folk” Club Shepway publication for Folkestone Triennial 2011

2012 “Eccentric England”, Lincoln Art Programme publication of its Live Art season

2009 'Matthew Cowan & Peter Clare' in "Art Prize", a published catalogue of the Centrifuge Project, commissioned by the Salford Restoration Office, Manchester UK

2008 “Double Agent or Double Crossed?” commissioned review for Axis Dialogue

2008 “Maiko Kobayashi”, commissioned selection and review for Axis MAstars

2007 Rag & Bone Folk Art Magazine, Issue 1, London, UK

2007 “Essay”, introduction for 'I Won the Maths Prize at School', James Johnson-­‐Perkins and Dr Conor Lawless, Red Nile Project Space, Sunderland, UK

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


Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum, State Historical Museum, Lower Saxony, Germany

English Folk Dance and Song Society, London, UK

National Library of Wales, UK

Art OMI International Centre for the Arts, New York, USA

Private Collections

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