Today is the fifth anniversary of the February earthquake of 2011 which devastated Christchurch. During that time, we and our city have been through so many different phases.
In the months that followed the earthquake, our Gallery became the headquarters of Civil Defence and CERA operations. Works of art from three newly-installed exhibitions were packed away to allow for people and makeshift work spaces. A stream of soldiers, journalists, politicians and other workers flowed through the foyer; our wavy glass façade became a symbol of Christchurch, as news reports were screened world-wide.
Initially, we imagined we'd able throw open our doors once more when they left; we planned no fewer than three reopening programmes in 2011 alone. But slowly it became clear that more needed to be done. Engineers were assessing this building for damage; and clearly the Gallery Apartments behind us needed to be demolished. We had to move more than 6,300 works of art into the exhibition spaces closest to Worcester Boulevard and move out ourselves while this was done.
However long we were closed, we decided we must to find ways to stay relevant, and to ensure art was part of the recovery. We chose to take our Outer Spaces programme city-wide. Collaborating with artists and organisations like GapFiller, we inserted moments of surprise, humour, colour and wonder into post-quake Christchurch. We showed art in three consecutive spaces: above NG on Madras Street; in the ArtBox complex on St Asaph Street and above C1 Espresso at 209 Tuam Street. In addition, we showed Reconstruction: Conversations on a City on billboards along Worcester Boulevard and made exhibitions for the Central Library on Peterborough Street, in the Wigram Skies development and in various empty lots, on walls and buildings around the city. We even organised the touring exhibition, The Hanging Sky by Shane Cotton, thinking we may be open in time to be the final venue.
For me the personal highlight of the Outer Spaces programme was showing Michael Parekowhai's Venice Biennale presentation On first looking into Chapman's Homer, in an empty lot in Madras Street (we had to get red zone fences moved) with the beautiful red, playable, Steinway piano hoisted into the space above NG and played constantly for 30 days. No wonder there was a call for Christchurch to buy its favourite bull on a bronze piano – comfortably now in the foyer, having visited several city sites in the interim.
We also became increasingly active in cyberspace while we were closed, putting our entire collection online, applying Getty tags and creating My Gallery. We wrote and photographed and published and expanded into social media. Our efforts culminated in the creation of this new website and its rich content.
All art galleries rely on trust and reputation, and we knew that we needed people to trust the structural integrity of the Gallery building, particularly if we wanted to host major exhibitions again. During 2012 the City Council agreed to fully retrofit the Gallery building with base isolation as part of it repair. This will give lenders confidence and ensure less operational downtime should the area suffer another major earthquake.
In October 2013 repair works finally started. Once again the Gallery was filled with people in hi-vis clothing, but this time we welcomed them as symbolic of our own recovery and left to find other places to work. A big thank you to Canterbury Museum which housed some of us.
Throughout countless project meetings, we became determined to open our doors at 10am on 19 December 2015—a mere week after project completion—and we stuck to that deadline. It was one of the best moments of my time as a gallery director when our staff and their families gathered in the foyer to welcome our first visitors on the dot of 10am. We clapped them and they clapped us back!
During our first weekend just over 10,000 happy citizens returned to the Gallery, with well over 100,000 visitors in our first two months. Our reopening will help transform the city west of the river – and we recognise more than ever how Christchurch needs its gallery.
As I think over the last five years then, it is with gratitude for the continuation of city funding during our closure. It is with sorrow, as I think of all that has been lost, that we will not see again. But finally, it is with excitement, as I consider our plans for the future. We are self-assured and ambitious as we face the future; we want to be the most visited and best-loved art gallery in New Zealand. We see ourselves as the pulse of a new city, and we hope that you can visit the fully open spaces of Te Puna o Waiwhetu Christchurch Art Gallery often.
The Lines That Are Left
Of landscape itself as artefact and artifice; as the ground for the inscribing hand of culture and technology; as no clean slate.
— Joanna Paul
The residential Red Zone is mostly green. After each house is demolished, contractors sweep up what is left, cover the section with a layer of soil and plant grass seed. Almost overnight, driveway, yard, porch, garage, shed and house become a little paddock; the border of plants and trees outlining it the only remaining sign that there was once a house there.
Aaron Kreisler is Head of the School of Fine Art at the University of Canterbury. He talked to Bulletin about challenges and opportunities for the arts in our city and what art can contribute to the future of Christchurch.
Sparks that fly upwards
Curator Felicity Milburn remembers five years and 101 installations in a gallery without walls.
Everything is going to be alright
The cover of Bulletin 181 in September 2015 featured a miscellany of crates in storage, several marked fragile, one weighing 156kg, some with arrows indicating which way up they should be, others instructing the reopener to lay it flat first. Some bear an image of what’s inside. Ralph Hotere’s Malady Panels and Julia Morison’s Tootoo are there, one with a label, the other with an image of the installed piece. As I write this our collections remain in storage. A few new works and some which have been on loan are awaiting return from storage within other institutions.
Regional revitalization with art
Rei Maeda, coordinator of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, writes on art’s contribution to the regeneration of a remote rural area of Japan.
Martin Trusttum, project manager for Ōtākaro Art by the River, and founder of temporary gallery space ArtBox, writes on the role of art in Christchurch.
A technology that allows a building to effectively 'float' on its foundations during an earthquake is about to be applied to the Gallery.
Curator Ken Hall writes about his experience of working with artists Chris Heaphy and Sara Hughes, as part of a small team with other city council staff and Ngāi Tahu arts advisors, on the Transitional Cathedral Square artist project.
The idea of peppering the vestigial city centre with portraits from the collection became part of the Gallery's tenth birthday POPULATE! programme, intended to remind all of us that the collection is, indeed, still here and in good shape.
The latest issue of Photoforum's MoMento journal (issue 14, January 2014) focuses on the work of three photographers with strong ties to Christchurch and their haunting images of this battered city post February 22, 2011.
Street urchins, blue moons and rare visions
Even in a city where surreal scenes have become somewhat routine, the sight of the Isaac Theatre Royal's eight-tonne dome, suspended like a great alien craft, had the power to turn heads and drop jaws. Preserved inside a strange white shroud while the theatre was slowly deconstructed around it was a jewel of Christchurch's decorative arts heritage – a 105 year-old Italianate plaster ceiling featuring a circular painted reverie on the theme of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The dome, along with the rest of the theatre, is currently being restored as part of an ambitious rebuild that is expected to be completed in 2015 at a cost of over $30 million.
The fault is ours: Joseph Becker on Lebbeus Woods
There was a packed auditorium at CPIT in Christchurch this August when visiting San Francisco Museum of Modern Art curator Joseph Becker delivered a lecture on architect Lebbeus Woods. And it wasn't hard to guess why. In addition to many other achievements, Woods is renowned for his highly speculative project, Inhabiting the Quake. Senior curator Justin Paton spoke to Becker about Lebbeus Woods, and what Christchurch might learn from him.
Repair work has started on Christchurch Art Gallery, with the re-levelling tender that will relieve stress in the building's foundations having been awarded.
With the removal of the final cordon around the red zone in the central city last weekend, I came in with my family to have a look around the newly reopened areas of the CBD. We stopped to watch the parade of soldiers who were being thanked by the Prime Minister, the Mayor of Christchurch and Kaiwhakahaere of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu for their work in controlling the central city red zone and with community welfare in the immediate aftermath of the February earthquake.
Christchurch Art Gallery is ten: highs and lows
In recognition of the anniversary of the move of Christchurch's public art gallery from its former existence as the Robert McDougall in the Botanic Gardens to its new more central city location (now eerily empty), I've been asked by Bulletin's editor to recall some highs and lows of the last ten years. So here goes — and stay with me during this reflection, which takes the place of my usual foreword.
Gregor Kregar: Reflective Lullaby
Justin Paton: As everyone who has seen your works at Christchurch Airport will know, you often make big sculptures with a geometric quality. Gnomes, however large, aren't the first things viewers might expect you to be interested in. What's the appeal of these figures for you?
Gregor Kregar: I'm interested reinterpreting mundane objects, shapes, situations or materials. In my large geometric works I do this by creating complex structures out of basic shapes—triangles, squares, pentagons and hexagons. And with the gnomes I am interested in how something that is usually made out of plastic or concrete and is associated with a low, kitsch aesthetic can be transformed into an arresting monumental sculpture.
It’s our party and we’ll cry if we want to
On 10 May 2013, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu turns ten. Which is fantastic. But it's probably fair to say that there's a bittersweet quality to the celebrations around this particular anniversary, as it also marks two years and eleven weeks of closure for the Gallery, and catches us staring down the barrel of another two years without our home.
It's frustrating. And then some.
However, we're not going to let these little, ahem, inconveniences get in the way of our party. Populate! is our birthday programme, and it's our attempt to bring some unexpected faces and figures back to the depleted central city. Bulletin spoke to the Gallery's senior curator Justin Paton about what he really wants for the tenth birthday, what he finds funny, and what he really doesn't.
English artist Sarah Lucas was installing her show in Two Rooms, Auckland, when the 22 February earthquake struck.
Lunchtime on a shining summer's day and you head for the ruin of Christchurch Cathedral. If you get there by twelve you can usually nab one of the bench seats along the back wall, where sun buckets down through the long-gone roof and warms the stonework behind you.
We recently received this generous gift - from one quakeprone country to another
A Dark and Empty Interior
In B.167 senior curator Justin Paton documented his walk around the perimeter of Christchurch's red zone, and we featured the empty Rolleston plinth outside Canterbury Museum at the end of Worcester Boulevard. In this edition, director Jenny Harper interviews English sculptor Antony Gormley, who successfully animated another vacant central-city plinth—the so-called Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London. Gormley filled the plinth with 2,400 people, who occupied it for one hour each, night and day, for 100 days. Here, Jenny asks him about his practice, the value of the figurative tradition and whether he has any advice for Christchurch.
Laying out Foundations
Looking broadly at the topic of local architectural heritage, Reconstruction: conversations on a city had been scheduled to open at the Gallery but will now instead show on outdoor exhibition panels along Worcester Boulevard from 23 June. Supplementing works from the collection with digital images from other collections, curator Ken Hall brings together an arresting art historical tour of the city and its environs.
Cities of Remembrance
Nothing was more fascinating than ruins to me when I was growing up in one of the newest parts of the New World—new, anyway, to extensive buildings and their various forms of lingering collapse and remnant. The native people of California had mostly built ephemeral structures that were readily and regularly replaced and left few traces. Anything old, anything that promised to reach into the past, was magical for me; ruins doubly so for the usual aura of romance and loss that, like death, is most alluring to the young who have not seen much of it yet.
The possibilities for a city in transition will be considered in Re:actions for the city – a new series of public events that we are launching.
Well before the earthquakes, Christchurch had a reputation as a tough town for public art. The city's public spaces are haunted by the ghosts of several major sculptures that never made it to completion. And several local sculptors still carry some psychological scar tissue from their forays into the public realm.
Here and Gone
In the last issue of Bulletin, senior curator Justin Paton wrote about the way the Christchurch earthquakes 'gazumped' the exhibitions on display at the Gallery – overshadowing them and shifting their meanings. In this issue, with the Gallery still closed to the public, he considers the place of art in the wider post-quake city – and discovers a monument in an unlikely place.
Sydenham-based photographer Doc Ross and his camera have been investigating the Christchurch urban environment for the past 14 years.
Reconstruction: Conversations on a City
In acknowledging architectural heritage loss in this city's present and past, this visually rich outdoor exhibition unfolds the ways in which dreams and values have been given form in our built environment.