After Shock

By Adrienne Rewi

Passing Time by Anton Parsons at Christchurch Polytechnic

Auckland artist, artist Anton Parsons had already loaded his sculpture for 2010 SCAPE Biennial onto the back of a truck in Auckland ready for shipment to Christchurch, when the 7.1 earthquake struck the city on September 4, 2010. On Sunday, September 5, he unloaded it again and it remained in storage until January 2011.

I came upon “Passing Time” by Anton Parsons, now installed in the Wilson’s Reserve area of Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT), when I was out cycling recently, trying to come to grips with the broken remains of inner city Christchurch – as much of  the devastation as we can currently see at least. The work was commissioned by the CPIT Foundation and the Christchurch City Council Public Art Advisory Group and was installed was installed just before the second devastating earthquake on February 22.  It was due to be officially unveiled on March 5, as part of the revised SCAPE Biennial program. That’s now been put on hold says SCAPE organiser, Deborah McCormick.

“The decision to postpone SCAPE 2010 until March 4-April 17, 2011 was made quickly – just days after the September earthquake – and in hindsight, “it was a good decision,” she says.

“We were just three weeks out from staging the event, which had been a year in development and although all seven participating artists were in advanced stages of their work, we had no hesitation in postponing. The board made the decision based on feasibility, the state of the physical environment and the practicality of delivering such an event,” she says.

The ruins of demolished Manchester Courts, Manchester Street. After Sept.4 earthquake.

Having to cancel the revised SCAPE event completely was difficult – especially as when the February earthquake struck, all the works were under construction and some were already on site in the city.

“It has been tough. You create a vision for an event of this scale and you work towards it. To have it interrupted twice by major earthquakes has been hugely disappointing,” says McCormick

“But we’re very committed to working with the seven SCAPE artists to see their work through and we’re continuing to look for opportunities for public art to be part of the Christchurch rebuild. Our 6th SCAPE is not practical or feasible in the city now but we’ll be announcing other events at the end of May, that will include this year’s artists.  As part of other Christchurch arts community, we’re now working out of the newly-formed, collaborative Arts Hub at CPIT and despite the damage to the city, we’re all feeling positive about a comeback for the arts. We want the arts to be central to the city’s future.”

Damaged church on corner of Bealey Avenue & Victoria Street

Like SCAPE, the 2010 Body Festival was cancelled after the September earthquake when four of the festival venues were destroyed. Festival coordinator, Adam Hayward also lost his own home and weighing up the unknowns in the city back then, it was considered wisest to cancel.

 It was a common theme and similar stories reverberated around the cultural community. We all heard the tales – significant losses to museums and libraries, damage to theatres and design groups, and people generally dazed but rapidly adjusting and preparing to move into 2011 with enthusiasm.

Since the February quake of course, it’s been so much worse. The  historic Arts Centre buildings, the Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and the Canterbury Provincial Council Chambers all severely damaged. Court Theatre, now without its Arts Centre home; the Isaac Theatre Royal, only moderately damaged in the September quake, now closed until 2012, its performance programme in tatters. And the artists – so many of whom had gravitated toward the older, more interesting buildings in the city to establish studios, now weighing up their losses.

Civil Defence workers inside Christchurch Art Gallery foyer

Many have lost everything. Galleries too have been destroyed, or have had to close because of their location in the Red Zone. Some have relocated to temporary premises but others may take years to reopen, if in fact they ever do. And at the heart of it all, the modern, almost fully-glazed Christchurch Art Gallery has stood strong – which is just as well given that it’s been the Civil Defence headquarters for the duration of both quakes.

I visited the gallery last week and could barely comprehend the transformed spaces – no longer an art gallery per se, but a giant office space housing Christchurch City Council workers unable to work in their own premises across the street; and overflowing with orange-jacketed Civil Defence workers and their masses of equipment. It was like being on a movie set – complete with enlarged photographs of earthquake damage dominating the spaces not long ago reserved for a stunning exhibition of world by Van der Velden.

Neil Dawson’s Chalice standing tall beside the ruined Christchurch Cathedral and above, Phil Price’s work on the corner of High, Manchester and Lichfield Streets.

But for all the sadness and destruction there have been dozens of positive stories. The public sculptures that stood firm while everything crashed around them; the artists who banded together to stage exhibitions and raise funds for their struggling friends; the teams who set about saving as many artworks throughout the city as possible. Those are the things I like to focus on and I’ll be visiting all of those subjects on this blog in the coming weeks.

The opinions expressed in this blog and comments are the authors’ and may not necessarily represent the views of National Services Te Paerangi or Te Papa.