The Art of Renewal - Travel Communicators

The Christchurch earthquakes were
devastating. But with characteristic resolve –
and much innovation – Cantabrians are finding
artistic ways to show their resilience.
“Without the
pressure of the
coming centuries, the
built-in obsolescence
of the structures
is enabling the
city to take risks it
previously hadn’t.”
Clockwise from opposite page: Gregor Kregar’s “Reflective Lullaby”; new public spaces; the Transitional Cathedral; Tony Fomison’s “No”.
the art of
utting into the bright blue of the Canterbury sky, the Transitional Cathedral’s
sleek, angular mother-of-pearl shell is a startling sight. The Shigeru Bandesigned A-frame cathedral, with its remarkable cardboard beams and shipping
container buttresses, exemplifies something of the sense of playfulness and
adventure in the new Christchurch, and presents a striking change to the small stone
church of St John’s that had occupied this spot before the 2011 earthquake.
Once famous for being “more English than the English”, Christchurch is a place
that was created by hardy settlers, who cleared plains and reclaimed swamps.
That pioneering spirit is evident once again in the city as a response to the series
of rapid, drastic and painful changes that have occurred in the aftermath of the
city’s earthquakes. For long-term residents, there are disconcerting moments when
a familiar street cannot be recognised or a loved landmark has disappeared, but
alongside this is the hope and excitement that the rebuild has brought with it. With
many of the heritage buildings in the city now gone, the empty spaces they have
left behind are being temporarily occupied by something entirely different. Even the
new cathedral’s name highlights the changes in the way Cantabrians are viewing
their city.
This switch to building and sites as temporary, rather than permanent, means
the people of Canterbury are taking chances with the new structures and art
works in their midst. Without the pressure of the coming centuries, the built-in
obsolescence of the structures is enabling the city to take risks it previously hadn’t.
That whatever is created is temporary seems to have inspired a new approach and
the city is not shying away from utilising transitional spaces and materials. A new
breed of art is taking over where previously rows of old-fashioned planter beds
were interspersed with traditional bronze statues of Queen Victoria and Sir Robert
Falcon Scott.
Much of the central city was cordoned off until mid-2013 due to the danger
caused by the instability of the buildings. The “Red Zone”, as it became known,
is still a highly charged place. Facing the Transitional Cathedral is “185 Empty
a i r n ewzea l a n d . co . n z
Clockwise from bottom: Pete Majendie’s “185 Empty Chairs”; inside the Transitional Cathedral; Tess Sheerin’s “Giraffing Around”.
Chairs”, an installation by artist Pete Majendie. Covering an empty lot, 185 chairs
of every shape, size and era, from wheelchairs to bentwoods, ergonomic stools
to armchairs, are painted a uniform white. They sit in neat rows as though seating
an audience, representing those who died in the earthquakes. Currently situated
where another demolished church used to sit, they reflect solemnly over streets
near the site of the CTV buildings, where a number of earthquake victims died.
Although “185 Empty Chairs” is more sombre than many of the works scattered
about the city, the installations all share a feature – the unorthodox use of spaces
that have only recently become vacant as Cantabrians begin to take back these
parts of their geography.
Running diagonally over the site of what was the Crowne Plaza, a series of large
crossed arches form The Arcades Project. Ten bays of glue laminate and steel
create an arcade walkway that leads the viewer’s eye from Victoria Street down
towards the bridge over the Avon, leading to Victoria Square. They sit beside
the strikingly blue Pallet Pavilion, a local performance venue and focal point of
community passion for these temporary spaces. Partly crowd-funded, the pavilion
offers the kind of communal outdoor urban space that has been missing since the
Arts Centre has been unavailable.
The Arcades Project is designed to be a temporary structure, one that can
be relocated and reused in different ways. The open space between each bay
invites a stroll, and against the boxy buildings in various states of construction
and demolition that surround them, their curves suggest something organic and
friendly. In autumn of 2014, Lonnie Hutchinson’s temporary work, “I Like Your
Form”, will transform The Arcades Project by suspending a large eel trap, or
hinaki, under the arches, running the length of the arcade.
One major factor in the reclamation of the city is the Christchurch Art Gallery.
“The installations
share a feature
– the uncommon
use of spaces that
have only recently
become vacant
as Cantabrians
begin to take back
these parts of their
a i r n ewzea l a n d . co . n z
“The work both
mimics the
many cranes in the
central city, and
draws the viewer’s
attention to the
missing tall
Its mission has been to turn the inner city into a gallery and it won the Award for
Exhibition Excellence at the New Zealand Museum Awards in 2013, despite its
current lack of a dedicated exhibition space. The Outer Spaces project comprises
numerous works, and its 10th anniversary programme “Populate” was designed
to, in the words of director Jenny Harper “bring the people back in”. The gallery
identifies itself as “crucial to the heart of the city”, and even without a physical
base, it returns a sense of life to central Christchurch. The works in the Outer
Spaces programme are whimsical and fun, and encourage a new perspective on
the spaces they occupy.
Harper talks about how negotiating the use of these spaces has been difficult.
Staff have had to tread the fine line between working with land owners and still
delivering a dynamic display. Although not every site the gallery would like to use
has managed to walk this line, where it has, something spectacular has happened.
One such place is the very top of the old High Street Post Office building on
the corner of Tuam and High streets. Rising from the art deco roofline, Ronnie
van Hout’s sculptural self-portrait, “Comin’ Down” presents a 3.5m-tall man in a
rumpled suit and sneakers, his right arm, strangely elongated, raised, pointing
skyward. Not immediately noticeable, the work both mimics the many cranes in the
central city, and draws the viewer’s attention to the missing tall buildings.
The Gallery has a focus on bringing faces to the city, and almost immediately
below “Comin’ Down” is an enormous copy of Tony Fomison’s “No”. On the nowexposed side of a terraced building, “No” is a dark and thoughtful image that
confronts the viewer with a man’s face and his hand, held palm out, as he casts
his eyes away. Described by the gallery as “unexpected company”, the work
has had its own unexpected visitor. Spray-painted on the lower portion in jagged
white lettering, the tagger whose mark was covered by the piece has suggested
to the city that it should “Save your s*** art for the gallery”. Initially the gallery’s
impulse was to remove this, but Harper enjoyed both the tagger’s humour and the
authentic response it provided.
Other street artists such as Tess Sheerin are transforming blank walls into
Clockwise from opposite: Ronnie van Hout’s “Comin’ Down”; Cafe Woohoo is tucked into the Pallet Pavillion; Smash Palace.
a i r n ewzea l a n d . co . n z
The Arcades Project, looking towards Victoria Square.
Explore the famous High Street
of Christchurch, unrecognisable since the
Earthquake. The High Street Story app is
downloadable to smart phone or tablet, and
offers a way to simultaneously view the street as
it was and currently is.
Be guided through the central city with
Christchurch Rebuild Tours. This tour replaces
the Red Zone Tour as the city moves into a new
phase of its existence. With a focus on the future
of the city, the tour also includes many of the
city’s transitional projects such as the Re:Start
Mall and Gap Filler.
Exemplifying temporary architecture,
Smash Palace sits proudly in a skin of
scaffolding and containment wrap on the
corner of Bealey Avenue and Victoria Street.
Currently decorated in graffiti as part of the
Rise exhibition, a celebration of street art,
Smash Palace is an excellent place to find an
early-evening beer and burger, all the while
sitting in repurposed buses and garage space.
Possibly one of the best-known temporary
spaces in Christchurch, the Pallet Pavilion
( sits on the site of the old
Crowne Plaza Hotel, using some of its concrete
foundation as an anchor for the steel poles
that hold up the towering walls of blue wooden
pallets. On the interior, hundreds of plants spring
from the walls, and the Pavilion is a focus for a
number of food caravans which come and go.
Operating out of a little, but well thought out,
caravan, Cafe Woohoo is a permanent place to
locate a good cup of coffee.
beacons of hope. She has created two murals in the city, “The Hope Bear” and
“Giraffing Around”. She sees her works as part of the new Christchurch and has
described the way she hopes that her art will enable the community to “reconnect
with the central city again”.
Elsewhere, at one still-unusable entrance to the gallery building, two large, cheerful
and relentlessly shiny garden gnomes beam out from their spot above the pavement.
These gnomes, Gregor Kregar’s “Reflective Lullaby”, with their traditional purpose
of protecting the garden, seem a perfect piece of art for the Garden City. Their
conventionality is now cloaked in something unexpected and wonderfully surprising,
like much of what is occurring throughout the city.
Christchurch is not a place to succumb easily. Having shown its stoicism in the
aftermath of the quakes, the city is now demonstrating another admirable side of
itself. Vibrant, innovative and fun: Christchurch is full of surprises, both for locals
and visitors.
STORY Laura Borrowdale
Photographs David Straight
Air New Zealand offers nonstop
flights to Christchurch from
across the domestic network.