This action has been repeated thousands of times, house by house, across the Red Zone, and has turned a large portion of east Christchurch into a de-urbanised, semi-wild green belt – an area that includes my old family home on New Brighton Road. The nature of the Red Zone can only be grasped by a walk through it. Broken streets and signs mark empty suburban blocks, disused power poles lean in wonky directions, flocks of birds (korimako, bellbird, silvereye, Canada geese) noisily erupt from trees and riverbanks. On foot, it goes on for hours. From the Avon Loop and south Richmond near the city, along the banks of the Ōtākaro Avon, to Bexley and the wetlands on the shore of the Ihutai Avon/Heathcote Estuary, it is a quasi-urban/natural environment unlike much else.
Nobody yet seems to know what will happen with the Red Zone. Nature reserves, urban farms and water parks have been suggested by community groups. Some residents already see the area as a park, taking their dogs for walks along the bumpy, overgrown footpaths. Keen foragers make trips into it in search of fruit trees and vegetable patches. Other residents stay away.
And of course, local artists have found themselves drawn to the Red Zone and making artwork in response to it. Here, I want to look at two of them, Holly Best and Daegan Wells, who have been making artwork within the Red Zone for the past few years.
Best is a photographer and Wells works with found materials and installations, typically in site-specific locations. Although they use very different methods, there are links between Best’s and Wells’s practice beyond the Red Zone environment they both, at times, work within. Their artwork uncovers traces of culture and memory, and they touch on themes of relocation, absence and continuity. Subdued observation and collection inform their practices; their subject is given room to speak for itself.
These notions echo Walter Benjamin’s idea of history as emerging from flashes of memory and everyday objects, an ‘endless series of facts congealed in the form of things.’2 Benjamin’s opus, Das Passagen-Werk or The Arcades Project, a massive, incomplete collection of writings on Paris’s shopping arcades, was obsessively worked on for decades, seemingly without hope of forming an end. He saw in the arcades of Paris dramatic (Marxist) themes on the nineteenth century’s economic and technological changes. But these ideas are only gestured at in The Arcades Project. He is more content to dwell in fragments and glimpses, leaving behind a work as sprawling and labyrinthine as Paris itself.
Within the Red Zone, Wells has been steadily drawn to the former home and studio of artist W.A. Sutton, one of the few houses that still stands in the area. The Sutton house was a central point for Christchurch’s arts community from the early sixties. Wells came across the house in early 2014, and realised its significance, by chance, when he found the Historic Places Trust plaque on the ivy-covered, cinder block wall outside. Since then, he has visited regularly, taking an approach similar to Benjamin’s. Wells takes photographs of objects such as garden pots, writes notes and collects plant cuttings to mush into pigments; he stays within the garden, and does not remove any objects from the section. More recently, he has done research in the Gallery’s Sutton archive, finding further, overlooked pieces related to the arts community around the Sutton house. These kinds of sources lie outside established narratives and their everydayness often says more about the people who moved through the places he documents.
For the past few years Best has also been a witness to the Red Zone. Walks through the area are frequent, on the way taking photographs and foraging for fruit; often with her daughter Claudia alongside in a pram. In this way, the area is not an exceptional environment, but an everyday one. To Best, what could be seen as disorientating or unnervingly dystopian in the landscape is not unusual. In a series published in Enjoy Public Art Gallery’s journal,3 she studies trees in the Red Zone. Her approach is playful, sometimes with slight abstraction; trees awkwardly wrapped in a tarpaulin or DANGER DO NOT ENTER tape, thriving triffidesque weeds, contorted hedges unsure of where to grow. Because the Red Zone is a normal part of Best’s life, as a subject it fits with her photographs taken at home, like those of a song thrush that regularly visits to be fed or her family in the garden. These photographs are a kind of reimagining of domesticity; scenes and memories from the homes that have since moved on from the Red Zone, leaving only fence lines in the short grass.
The Sutton house was one of several residential locations Wells initially worked from, a part of a larger project titled Lodgings.4 Several installations emerged from Lodgings; a joint exhibition Kissing the Wall with Michael Lee at North Projects artist-run space, and installations in Wells’s studio and the Red Zone itself. These installations emphasise absence, and advance a critique around the upheaval of residents from their former homes. By collecting found objects (and afterwards returning them to where they came from), Wells acts as curator, archivist and a kind of caretaker; carefully selecting each object and placing it in the empty space of a gallery, studio or house. These objects are sensitive material, and this could explain why Wells stays within the garden of the Sutton house, and does not take objects from it. He notes that in the time he has been visiting, the front gate and the guttering have been stolen, and the doors screwed shut.
The remains of fence lines around each section in the Red Zone are noted by Best. Left-behind trees are often markers of these lines, and in Best’s words ‘they suit a corner or make a line; construct fine barricades.’5 They dot the landscape, solo or in clumps, with no sense of endemic normality; cypress, tī kōuka cabbage tree and magnolia settle as odd neighbours. The area has become a sanctuary for the gardening whims of former residents. Along with these fence lines, in the time Best has spent in the Red Zone, new fences and roadblocks (albeit easy to climb over or walk around) have been erected around it. Best sees these lines as traces of the segmentation that continues to form and re-form Christchurch city life. The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman believes that one main feature that defines all cities over time is that they are spaces where strangers stay and move close to one another.6 That this is despite a common insecurity of strangers. Best’s photographs are a reminder that, despite the gradual regrowth of nature in the Red Zone and the upswell of community-led projects in Christchurch over the past few years, these fence lines are deeply ingrained.
Before writing this, I visited the street where my family home used to be. My dad came along – he wanted to see how the trees he planted were doing. We climbed over the fence and walked up the remains of our old driveway. Standing out in the open, where our yard used to be, he gave me a rundown of each tree and when he had planted it: paperbark maple, tarata lemonwood, houhere lacebark (his pride and joy). I told him about the places to forage nearby. Our neighbour’s walnut tree, a giant pear tree a few sections north, scattered apple trees, a feijoa and lime tree right next to each other further north-east. How, quite often, I would see kārearea, New Zealand falcon, flying overhead. When my parents left this house, they took from their garden whatever they could dig up and replant at the new one. His trees had to stay.
Why artists such as Holly Best and Daegan Wells are drawn to the Red Zone is difficult to answer satisfactorily. Put bluntly, the Red Zone is considered because it is here in Christchurch, there is a lot of it, and it is strange. Historically, New Zealand has been continually interpreted through depictions of place: Pākehā’s uprooting of Māori from their land, the isolation of rural life faced by vast landscapes on every horizon. But the Red Zone is something else. It is an urban environment taken apart, made bare. In the Red Zone, Best and Wells observe and find traces of the suburban, habitual ways of life that remain in this cleared, post-urban landscape. Their artwork suggests the streets, houses and rooms we move between every day; the new places we find our feet.
The nineteenth-century technique of wet plate collodion photography, and the tintype process in particular, is undergoing something of a renaissance at the moment as digital photography prompts people to explore older analogue methods. Artist photographer Isaac Foster presents a brief history on the wet plate collodion photographic process (an early photographic process) along with a demonstration.
Laurence Aberhart has been at the forefront of New Zealand photography since the late 1970s.
Aberhart Starts Here
Iconic and unseen early photographs of Christchurch by Laurence Aberhart
The Devil’s Blind Spot
Te Puna o Waiwhetu Christchurch Art Gallery has a long-standing tradition of curating exhibitions of emerging and early-career artists. We do this in order to contribute to the ecology of the local art world, as well as because – quite straightforwardly – we’re interested in the practices of artists at all stages of their careers, and would like to bring the work of outstanding younger artists to wider public attention. The Devil’s Blind Spot is the latest in this ongoing series, but unlike earlier exhibitions, it’s concerned with a single medium – photography.
The Devil’s Blind Spot: Recent Strategies in New Zealand Photography
Recent photography by an emerging generation of New Zealand artists.
The Camera as a Place of Potential
To Māori, the colour black represents Te Korekore – the realm of potential being, energy, the void, and nothingness. The notion of potential and the presence of women are what I see when I peek at Fiona Pardington’s 1997 work Moko. And I say peek deliberately, because I am quite mindful of this work – it is downright spooky. Moko is a photographic rendering of a seeping water stain upon the blackboard in Pardington’s studio, taken while she was the recipient of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship in Dunedin in 1997.
Joyce Campbell: Flightdream
Joyce Campbell’s immersive video work takes the viewer on a journey into the ocean’s fathomless depths, exploring processes of creation and annihilation.
Death, sex, flesh and the female gaze are among the many themes explored in the Gallery’s newest exhibition, Fiona Pardington: A Beautiful Hesitation.
Fiona Pardington: A Beautiful Hesitation
A survey exhibition by a leading New Zealand photographer explores sex, death and the female gaze.
Kamala, Astral and Charlotte, Lyttelton, March 1983
Laurence Aberhart's 1983 photograph of Lyttelton children is displayed on our Gloucester Street billboard.
Selwyn Toogood, Levin
I spent much of my adolescence in hospital, confined to bed due to a chronic illness. With a 14" TV beside me, I’d travel to imaginary places via the controller of my Nintendo games console. At the time, I couldn’t imagine walking to the letterbox, let alone experiencing the more exotic places of the world.
A Perspective on Pacific Art in Christchurch
Pacific art is one of the more internationally successful and innovative sectors of New Zealand’s art industry, but Pacific artists in Ōtautahi have struggled to be a visible part of the city’s cultural landscape. Due to our small population and distance from the Pacific art capital that is Auckland, our artists have often developed in relative isolation, relying on our Pasifika arts community to maintain a sense of cultural vitality, belonging and place within the city.
City of Shadows and Stories
If cities are the ground into which we plant stories, the soil of Ōtautahi – later Christchurch – is undergoing a protracted tilling season. Five years is a long unsettlement in human terms; on a geological (or indeed narratological) scale, time moves more gradually. Christchurch exists today as a rich aggregation of narratives, propping up physical edifices of crumbling stone and cardboard.
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.
The hungry gap
We invited artists, academics, city makers, curators, health specialists and gallerists to comment on the challenges and opportunities for the arts in our city and what art can contribute to the future of Christchurch.
A generous, multimedia selection of animal-themed works, both lively and thoughtful.
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.
The recent furore around Eleanor Catton's comments in the wake of the NZ Post Book Awards, and the tone of the subsequent debate that ensued, has prompted us to think again about the role of the public intellectual in New Zealand. In our role as visual archivists of this city, and this country, critical reflections on the contemporary are something we frequently expect of artists. But to what degree do artists exercise their individual freedom to radically question community values? And who claims this role for artists and in what situations?
The wisdom of crowds
In recent years, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing have become big news in the arts. By providing a funding model that enables would-be-investors to become involved in the production of new works, they have altered traditional models of patronage. Musicians, designers, dancers and visual artists are inviting the public to finance their projects via the internet. The public are also being asked to provide wealth in the form of cultural capital through crowdsourcing projects. The Gallery has been involved in two online crowdfunding ventures – a project with a public art focus around our 10th birthday celebrations, and the purchase of a major sculpture for the city. But, although these projects have been made possible by the internet, the concept behind the funding model is certainly not new. The rise of online crowdfunding platforms also raises important questions about the role of the state in the funding and generation of artwork, and the democratisation of tastemaking. How are models of supply and demand affected? Does the freedom from more traditional funding models allow greater innovation? Do 'serious' artists even ask for money? It's a big topic, and one that is undoubtedly shaping up in PhD theses around the world already. Bulletin asked a few commentators for their thoughts on the matter.
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.
Sculptural surprises and architectural double-takes by renowned contemporary artists. De-Building is inspired by a moment usually hidden from viewers – when an exhibition ends and the 'de-build' begins. View it online
Taryn Simon's known unknowns
In 2003, the American photographer Taryn Simon embarked upon a four-year heart-of-darkness journey. In response to paranoid rumours of WMDs and secret sites in Iraq, she turned her gaze to places and things hidden within her own country.
Laurence Aberhart: Nature Morte
Nature Morte is an exhibition of 105 photographs, taken between 1971 and 1989 by New Zealand photographer Laurence Aberhart.
Miles: A life in architecture
Best known for the Christchurch Town Hall and Wellington's Michael Fowler Centre, Sir Miles Warren is the doyen of post-war New Zealand architecture, the first New Zealander to be knighted for services to architecture, an Icon of the Arts Foundation of New Zealand, and a leading figure in the arts in Christchurch. The garden at his Governors Bay home, Ohinetahi, beautifully crafted by Miles with his sister Pauline Trengrove and her husband John, has also secured for him a reputation as one of our most remarkable garden designers.
The Garden of Cosmic Speculation
Over several years I have worked on a Scottish landscape called, immodestly, the Garden of Cosmic Speculation, speculating with scientists and others on the fundamental laws and forces behind nature and what they might mean to us. Using growing nature to conjecture on what is basic to the universe is an old practice common to gardeners, but it raises some unlikely questions.