An exhibition exploring the impact of architecture, imagination and memory.
Architecture may be bricks and mortar, but it also provides a psychological framework in which we live. Our built structures contain cultural memory and are inhabited by rich, multi-layered personal associations. The authorised erasure of so much of this city’s built heritage has exposed a sense of cultural amnesia. Above Ground is dedicated to memory and loss and is a tribute to the human ability to rise beyond adversity.
I go into the Gallery. Haven’t been there in a while. Building closed. It was open to begin with. Civil Defence HQ in the weeks following the shock that laid the city low and who knew glass could be so strong, so resilient? Then the Gallery closed. It was cordoned off, behind wire netting. Something was going on in there. Someone said something had cracked in the basement. Someone said they needed to insert a layer of bouncy forgiving rubber beneath glass and concrete, ready for any future slapdown.
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.
This article first appaeared as 'Up North' in The Press on 27 July 2012
This article first appeared in The Press on 25 January 2013.
New to the Gallery: an etching dated 1922 by John Mills Thomasson (1893–1969) was purchased recently for the collection.
When the SS Gothic docked in Auckland on 23 December 1953 with the Queen and Prince Philip on board, New Zealand went completely mental.
Bishop Victoria Matthews announced this afternoon that nearly all of ChristChurch Cathedral is to be demolished. Often described as the heart of Christchurch this is a huge loss as the building has been an icon to those living and visiting the city since its completion in 1904.
In the next issue of Bulletin, Christchurch writer Sally Blundell talks to artist Julia Morison about her post-quake sculptures and 'liqueurfaction' paintings, which go on show on Friday in Christchurch Art Gallery's latest Outer Spaces project. Here's a little of what Julia has to say:
Ugly beauty came over me like a thrilling rash.
Ugly beauty warmed me like a slap on the face.
Ugly beauty helped me rise above the crowd
and even if it meant sitting on the face
of the hunchback of Notre Dame
I quickly got over the obsolete shame.
The Rustle of Silk is showing at Everybody's. Foolish Wives, starring Eric von Stroheim, is screening at the Strand.
Cycling into work along Ferry Road each morning I pass one of those new ads perkily announcing that 'The Christchurch We Love is Still Here'. And each morning I imagine getting off the bike and performing a firm correction. Something along the lines of, 'The Christchurch we love is still here, but some very big bits of it are being knocked down.'
This article first appeared in The Press on 13 October 2004
Laurence Stephen Lowry painted Factory at Widnes in 1956, at which time he was Britain's most famous living painter. Lowry's fame increased in that year as he became the subject of a BBC television documentary, though his work had already been popular in British homes and schools as reproductions since the end of the war. If appreciation for his individualistic painting style was widespread, there was also fascination with L.S. Lowry the artist, who had projected in the press the image of a lonely recluse.
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.
Peter Trevelyan’s choice of 0.5mm mechanical pencil leads as a sculptural medium, although unlikely, suggests three-dimensional drawing, thereby connecting his work to drawing’s traditionally defined role. The structure recalls topographical landforms as seen from a distance; the shipboard sketches of late-eighteenth-century European explorers. It also speaks of historical mapping systems; the recording of trigonometric points to describe geology and landforms.
(Above ground, 2015)
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.
This article first appeared in The Press as 'An Ode to Yertle the Turtle' on 13 May 2015.
For many years, the piercing whistle of the railway workshops off Blenheim Road was Addington's alarm clock.
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.
It's where we live: the encrusted surface of a molten planet, rotating on its own axis, circling round the star that gives our daylight. Geographically, it's a mapped-out city at the edge of a plain, bordered by sea and rising, broken geological features. Zooming in further, it's a neighbourhood, a street, a shelter – all things existing at first as outlines, drawings, plans. And it's a body: portable abode of mind, spirit, psyche (however we choose to view these things); the breathing physical location of unique identity and passage.
Andrew Drummond is a Christchurch-based artist who works across different media, best known for his large-scale kinetic sculptures and installations. A major survey of his work was held at Christchurch Art Gallery in 2010.
Drummond takes a transformative approach to materials, and has sometimes incorporated meticulously hand-polished pieces of coal into his sculptural work. His photograph of this elemental material in its jewel-like, modified state utilises double exposure, and is from a series exploring the subtle, varying effects of rotation, reflection and light. (Above ground, 2015)
The tent, one of the most basic architectural structures, is also a symbol for temporary shelter and a metaphor for the body. Pip Culbert has investigated its essential form by removing everything but the reinforced stitching, laying out its structure like an isometric plan. The tent is denied perspective but retains a spatial sense.
Culbert was a British artist based in France who graduated from the Royal College of Art in London in the early 1960s. Culbert showed her work extensively in solo and group shows internationally, and first exhibited in this country in 1993.
Christchurch Art Gallery acknowledges with sadness the recent passing of Pip Culbert.
(Above ground, 2015)
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.
Here's a little from behind the scenes. Shifting Lines opens tomorrow, 9 November, and runs until 19 January 2014. It's a show about drawing as an idea, which is permitted here to take very different forms. It includes work by six artists – Andrew Beck, Peter Trevelyan, Katie Thomas, Pip Culbert, Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano – all of whom use line to investigate space and structure in unexpected ways.
Six artists use line to investigate space and structure in unexpected ways.
As a supplement to the article in today's Press GO section, highlighting the recent purchase of Ivy Fife's Untitled (Towards Worcester Street from St. Elmo Courts), here's a modest selection of paintings of rooftops, backyards and urban scapes from the collection...
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.
This article first appeared as 'Hello and goodbye' in The Press on 5 October 2012.
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 Waiwhetū 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.
Capturing a time and place that remains familiar for many, William Dunning’s photorealistic painting of Christchurch’s Cathedral Square pictures the window-reflected Regent Theatre and southeast corner of the 1960s modernist Government Life Building. Both were demolished after the 2010–11 earthquakes, as was the building in which they were mirrored.
Dunning is a Christchurch artist for whom local history is an ongoing concern. Reflection is a significant early work, and was presented by the artist in 2011. (Above ground, 2015)
Julia Morison’s 'Some thing, for example' is like a broken life-support system for the waiting, blob-like entity which, although securely caged, seems more traumatised than dangerous, and without anybody to administer aid.
Like all who experienced the 2010–11 earthquakes in Canterbury, Morison, living near the edge of Christchurch’s cordoned ‘red zone’, was delivered a frequent heightened dose of adrenaline. With this, she encountered new aesthetic possibilities in found, discarded objects; sculptural media of a kind that the physical environment had never previously supplied. From a situation of dislocation and abandonment, she has created work of an unexpected material and formal beauty. (Above ground, 2015)
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.
Glen Hayward’s towering Yertle had its origins in a collection of twenty-eight abandoned paint tins he spied in a back-of-house Christchurch Art Gallery storeroom, containing the residue of wall colours from past exhibitions. Meticulously recreating these tins out of wood, Hayward then painted his carved replicas, faithfully reproducing every smear and drip of forgotten paint.
Stacked up like its namesake, Dr Seuss’s vainglorious turtle king, Hayward's Yertle is a feat of painstaking fearlessness. (Above ground, 2015)
R. P. Moore ascends the cathedral’s spire to put his swivelling Cirkut camera to its familiar task. Up the narrow spiral stone staircase, a breezy ladder, past the bells, he reaches the balcony with its clear view facing west. A heavy morning frost means it is cold; the coal smoke of home and office fires lend partial soft-focus to the view.
The Square below has a single horse carriage and thirteen motorcars neatly parked. A tram beside the Clarendon Hotel curves right towards the Square. Tram tracks cut sweeping lines in the frost. None below have noticed the elevated cameraman, who turns the switch. it's five past nine as the camera begins its mechanical roll.
(Above ground, 2015)
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.
In 2010, the ex-Auckland, Los Angeles-based Fiona Connor produced nine precise replicas of the bedroom windows of a group of art gallery attendants. Connor’s flexible installation plan sees these replica windows fitted into cavities in a building’s walls, allowing views into the fabric of its hidden structure.
'What you bring with you to work' tests out various ideas, implicit in its title, including the imprint of a person's home environment, and the meeting of private and public space. In a local, post-earthquake context, Connor's window structures may gather a different set of associations. (Above ground, 2015)
For many passers-by, Christchurch art Gallery is identified by its dramatic glass façade—the public face it presents to the world. but De-Building is an exhibition that offers a very different view. bringing together the work of fourteen artists from new Zealand and farther afield, this group exhibition draws inspiration from the working spaces gallery-goers seldom see: the workshops, loading bays and back corridors; the scruffy, half-defined zones.
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
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.
The Paris-born Louise Henderson (née Sauze) arrived in Christchurch in 1925 after marrying a New Zealander, and began her career here teaching design and embroidery at the Canterbury College School of Art. Henderson’s highly skilful, elevated view of Manchester Street, east of Cathedral Square, shows a streetscape that until the 2010–11 Canterbury earthquakes had remained largely intact.
(Above ground, 2015)
Ronnie van Hout’s installation recreates his childhood home in Aranui, a suburb of eastern Christchurch, and his primary school in nearby Wainoni. A looped video replays his daily bike ride between the two locations. Together, these elements present the story of van Hout’s beginnings.
Familiar architectural structures, however, are taken beyond the ordinary by the presence of a hovering, makeshift UFO, whose surveillance results appear on a nearby monitor. Can we read this as a picture of suburban childhood experience as an alien might see it, or as the artist’s memorial to the need for imaginative survival and escape? (Above ground, 2015)
Prominent Christchurch painter Bill Sutton was an influential teacher from 1949 to 1979 at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts. Sutton has chosen here a restricted palette – ochre, brown and black – to portray this aged wooden façade under streetlight glare, with a reflected neon glow of red.
The Manchester Private Hotel, already rundown when Sutton painted it in 1954, was a somewhat disreputable boarding house on the corner of Manchester and Southwark Streets on the outskirts of central Christchurch. Belonging to a series of paintings that Sutton made depicting old, inner city buildings, it conveys the imprint of memory and the local past.
(Above ground, 2015)
Christ Church Cathedral, a defining symbol of this city since its consecration in 1881, was designed by the English architect George Gilbert Scott, with input from the local supervising architect Benjamin Mountfort. In its present earthquake-damaged state it represents a significant challenge for this city’s church, civic and cultural leaders.
James Fitzgerald and the younger John Mills Thomasson were both British-born commercial artists who settled in Christchurch: Fitzgerald in 1923, after twenty years in Auckland, and Thomasson after serving in Mesopotamia (Iraq) during World War I. Both produced etchings of local Christchurch views and exhibited with the Canterbury Society of Arts.
(Above ground, 2015)
Giovanni Battista Piranesi The Drawbridge, Plate VII (second state) from the series Invenzioni Capric di Carceri
Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s The Drawbridge is one of sixteen plates from a folio of prints depicting imaginary prisons that has repeatedly haunted and inspired writers, artists and architects for over two and a half centuries. Three of Piranesi’s Carceri engravings, for example, were included in Alfred H. Barr’s exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1936.
First issued in 1749–50, but attracting little attention to begin with, the series was republished with heavily reworked plates in 1761, yielding darker, more detailed and more resolved prints that brought an attendant increase to their public reception and acclaim. (Above ground, 2015)
Many artists have depicted this city’s urban spaces, including Ivy Fife, who studied at the Canterbury College School of Art from 1920 to 1931 and taught there from 1936 until 1959. Fife’s studio apartment was in the nearby St. Elmo Courts, from where the bird’s-eye view was painted.
Fife also captured the clamour of Christchurch’s railway station on Moorhouse Avenue during the new Queen’s royal visit. Opened in 1877, the station had been a handsome structure, but by 1954 its Venetian gothic arches were under lean-to additions and its brick warmth covered in paint. Demolition came five years later; its replacement, a landmark modernist building, was itself demolished after the Christchurch earthquakes.
(Above ground, 2015)
Giovanni Battista Piranesi, son of a Venetian stone- mason and master builder, trained in architecture and stage design before moving to Rome and training there as an engraver. Producing many picturesque Grand Tour views of Rome, he was hugely influential on the classical revival in European architecture. In Rome in 1755 he befriended the visiting architect Robert Adam, who praised Piranesi in a letter to his brother in London:
'[S]o amazing and ingenious fancies as he has produced in the different plans of the Temples, Baths and Palaces and other buildings I never saw and are the greatest fund for inspiring and instilling invention in any lover of architecture that can be imagined.'
(Above ground, 2015)
Based on a view of Tuam Street on the outskirts of central Christchurch, some 500 metres from his studio in Cambridge Terrace, Archibald Nicoll’s Industrial Area was first exhibited in Wellington in 1941. While existing as a record of local urban landscape, it also effectively illustrates a comment made by Nicoll in 1923 that “a man became an artist because he suffered from the incurable complaint of making shapes and recording visual impressions”.
(Above ground, 2015)
James Fitzgerald moved from England to Auckland in 1903, and then twenty years later to Christchurch, where he established his own commercial art studio. His watercolour view captures Christchurch’s Cathedral Square at its most architecturally cohesive and complete. Many will remember the United Service Hotel at left, built in 1884–85, demolished 1990; fewer will recall the neoclassical Bank of New Zealand building at right, designed in 1866, demolished 1963. While it is possible to lament our general cultural attitude to architectural heritage, it is also difficult to imagine anything here, even if it had been protected, as capable of surviving the 2010-11 earthquakes that hit the city.
(Above ground, 2015)
One of England’s most-loved painters, Laurence Lowry’s depictions of grimy, overpopulated urban and industrial environments were representations of the Lancashire region where he lived. His vision of industrial England saw his canvases filled with factories, tenements, steeples, smokestacks and, typically, rhythmic, spilling crowds. Factory at Widnes is one of Lowry’s least-populated industrial landscapes, and one of his tightest, most minimal compositions; an unexpectedly deserted space within his brimming tribute to the industrial north.
(New Dawn Fades, November 2018)
Arriving in Christchurch from Paris in 1925, having recently married a New Zealander, the young Louise Henderson (née Sauze) began teaching embroidery design at the Canterbury College School of Art in the following year. Painting was one way in which she began familiarising herself with a new environment. Befriending local artists, she also began to exhibit her work.
This painting proves Henderson’s innate ability with colour and ongoing interest in structural form. Picturing the vast railway carriage construction workshops in the suburb of Addington in Christchurch, this is one of very few New Zealand modernist paintings dealing with urban industry in this period.
(Above ground, 2015)