Collaborating with Spirit

SCAPE: from a different angle


Planning for the next New Zealand Community Trust Art & Industry Urban Arts Biennial is well underway. The Christchurch-based biennial evolved in 1998 when Deborah McCormick and Warren Pringle teamed together to develop a public programme that would unite creative and industry based communities. The inaugural 2000 event was a collaborative venture involving key art organisations, local and international artists, and sponsors; the level of support gained an acknowledgement of Art & Industry's value, and validation of McCormick and Pringle's winning concept. Riding on the success of the 2000 biennial, Art & Industry built upon their vision, once again bringing together artists, curators and local businesses in 2002.

The One Thousand Other Things 2001-2004
Cold-toned silver-salt photographs
on salt-preserved duck eggs (emptied)

In 2004, SCAPE: from a different angle established Art & Industry as a vital player in the local art community. For three months, installations at various central city sites promoted creative partnerships. While the brand name 'Art & Industry' largely defines the parameters of the biennial, the placement of artworks in public spaces encourages the public to reconsider or assess the urban landscape. In doing so, alluring and complex interpretations of identity, memory and history emerge. SCAPE serves up a rich assortment of engaging art events and exhibits, while offering a forum for artists and curators to produce new work.

Home/Ground, curated by Felicity Milburn and arguably the highlight of the 2004 biennial, occupied the empty building that was once the Robert McDougall Art Gallery. Local and international artists from the Asia Pacific region explored what Milburn refers to as 'the tensions and possibilities of cultural collisions in this complex and changing environment'.(1) Aaron Seeto, Niki Hastings-McFall, Luise Fong, Sofia Tekela-Smith, Waroonwan Thongvanit, Lonnie Hutchinson and Sangeeta Sandrasegar attempt to make sense of dual identity through the personal exploration of self.

'Why can't we befriends now?',
said the other ....
Mixed media

Aaron Seeto, an Australian artist and curator of Chinese descent presented a delicate display of old family photographs applied to preserved duck eggs. Photographs were 'developed' using a salt and silver nitrate process. Seeto refers to this process as 'fickle' for silver oxidises, leaving images faded or patchy, much like his memory of the people he finds in family albums and their 'elusive histories'.(2) The installation of several hundred eggs, The One Thousand Other Things displayed on a waist height bench running around the gallery considers Seeto's identity, the relationships that bind us to the past and the deconstruction of stereotypes surrounding migration. Seemingly born from within each egg, faces of children, women and men emerge from a sepia ground. Each delicate egg bears a haunting portrait to convey the complexities that surround Seeto's mixed Australian-Chinese heritage. Seeto's collection of eggs exhibited in Christchurch remains a work in progress and, with a grant from the Australia Council, Seeto hopes to collect 1000 images to complete this genealogical exhibit.

Paradiso II, Niki Hastings-McFall's bed of glowing artificial tropical blooms triggers images of paradise: dusky maidens, magnificent sunsets, deserted islands and clear blue waters. Fragrance free, Hastings-McFall's bed of flowers presents the western view of paradise to be superficial, a constructed reality. These fabric flowers tell the tale of urban living and migration to New Zealand, a country that for many Pacific Island migrants was thought to be paradise.

Sista Girl 2004
Black builders' paper

Lonnie Hutchinson's series of black builders' paper cut-outs, Sista Girl pays homage to the black veiled women at Sunday mass, Pacific craftswomen, her ancestors and the land. A continuation of her larger cut-out series Sista 7, the mixture of cut-out patterns represent a fusion of cultures, closely interconnected, bound and pieced together.

Sangeeta Sandrasegar's paperworks are seemingly fragile yet surprisingly durable, a duality the artist values. Australian-born and of Malaysian descent, Sandrasegar examines the complexities of cross-cultural living, relationships, and the hybrid body. Her cut-outs of couples and singles convey both intimacy and barriers. Each body carries a marking of the world, abstract maps, globes, landforms and contour lines, their design projected on the gallery wall. The space between the cut-out and the ever present shadow is a sacred place, wearing ethnic scars and cultural tattoo. This land of shadows is continually shifting, evolving and in a constant state of flux. Pinpointing a shadow proves arduous. 'Why can't we befriends now?', said the other... is a body of work created specifically for SCAPE but belongs to a wider collection of cut-outs. Sandrasegar never exhibits the cut-outs together believing that the separation of works, affirms the 'constantly shifting sense of place and displacement that occurs in couples in cross-cultural relationships, or that resides in people from an inter-cultural origin-always one half elsewhere'.(3)

The success of Home/Ground resides with the inclusion of a dynamic group of international artists whose concerns are shared by Hastings-McFall, Fong, Tekela-Srnith and Hutchinson. Milburn admits that she planned to 'percolate' ideas about local identity and hoped the link between Home/Ground and other SCAPE exhibitions, in particular ECHO, an installation at Riccarton Reserve would be realised.(4)

Paradiso II - detail 2004
Artificial lei, lightbox, perspex

Riccarton Reserve is located three kilometres from the inner city and includes parkland, native bush and buildings. The Maori referred to the Bush as Putaringamotu, meaning the 'severed ear' or 'the place of an echo'. At a certain clearing, a trained and skilled person could place their ear to the ground and hear the footsteps of approaching friend or foe.

Putaringamotu was once a rich food-gathering area where eel, fish, kaka and kereru were hunted. In 1843 William Deans arrived from Scotland and settled at Putaringamotu. William was joined by his brother John Deans and in 1846 the brothers signed a 21-year lease with Ngai Tahu to farm the land. Two years later, the property was sold to the government under Kemp's Deed. The Deans managed the land and to this very day, the triumphs of this pioneering family are celebrated while the Maori history of the site is largely forgotten.

Reuben Paterson's installation Whakatata mai: Do you see what I see?, a decking assembled at the entrance way of Riccarton House, meanders and manoeuvres around the historic homestead, seemingly moving and shaking the buildings foundations. From the balcony, the vortex of Paterson's energetic design doubles as a portal to the past and a reflection of how obscure and distorted our perceptions of history can be. Curator Tessa Giblin compares Paterson's black and white design to the majestic kahikatea and native white pine forests that were once abundant on the Canterbury floodplains.(5) Beyond the house, a segment of dense bush stands behind a predator fence and we are reminded that the history of this land is not black and white.

What is lost of Putaringamotu is recovered by Fiona Pardington whose stunning suite of bird photographs was exhibited in the children's wing of the house. The taxidermied birds were photographed by Pardington at the Canterbury Museum. These photographs transport the viewer to mythical and imagined places, ancient forests and lost worlds linked to whakapapa, Pardington's tribal connection to the site and the magic we instil in creatures of flight.

Whakatata mai:
Do you see what I see?
Installation at
Riccarton House and Reserve,

The cultural significance of each bird is evident as is the persona constructed by the taxidermist. Working with this knowledge Pardington named the birds: ECHO, FEAR, VIRTUE, ZEAL, ABSENCE, GENTLENESS, FUGITIVE, and WITNESS, each accompanied with a Maori translation, ornithological name, origin and catalogue number. These birds inhabit a sacred place; they are the kaitiaki of the children's wing, visitors and messengers. A sound loop, Ka Koriki Te Manu awakens the senses to the sight and smell of the ancient Putaringamotu forest: constant birdsong, approaching footsteps, dense, damp bush. Pardington reminds us that 'what we hear today is very much an echo of yesterday.'(6)

Phil Price's kinetic sculpture Dinornis Maximus stands before the predator fence and the majestic kahikatea trees. A large black pole forms the base for two orange propellers which move furiously or gently depending on the weather. At no point do the propellers touch, but remain either swaying in unison or moving toward each other with almighty speed only to miss collision by a breath of wind.

Based in Glasgow, Graham Fagan interprets the site through the eyes of a foreigner. William and John Deans were born in the parish of Riccarton in Ayrshire, Scotland, a place where Fagan spent much of his childhood and adolescence. His bronze still-life placed on the verandah of the Deans' cottage recalls the experience of migration, ambition, survival and loss as documented in the Deans' letters read by Fagan. While each fruit represents the crops gathered from the Deans' farms and orchards, it also recalls the loss of mahinga kai for Maori.

ECHO adds new meaning to a Christchurch heritage site, familiar to many as the home of the Deans and now the place where spectacular bush once stood and native birds did sing. As Julie King, curator of ECHO has observed, heritage and contemporary practice can work well together to create striking visual juxtapositions.(7)

(Tui Prosthamedera n. novaeseelandiae (No.Av. 9783)
Canterbury Museum, G. R. Grey 1845)
Photographic print

Art & Industry encourages the public to explore the fabric of our city and consider the significance of buildings, monuments, parks and streets. LightSCAPE, curated by Jonathan Mane-Wheoki and Deidre Brown, transformed central Christchurch into a nocturnal gallery over several nights. Selected cultural sites were illuminated by projections at various points along the Avon River and Worcester Boulevard, areas grouped into Riverscape and Streetscape, each identifying natural and constructed landmarks. Glowing exhibits by Keith Armstrong, Linda Carroli, Paul Hartigan, David Hatcher, Peter Roche, Yuk King Tan, Rachel Rakena and Keri Whaitiri lit the 'pathway' for the public.

Beyond the concrete foundations of Cathedral Square lie remnants of a buried ancient world. While Cathedral Square is a reflection of Christchurch's pioneering past, Rakena and Whaitiri assert an indigenous connection to this area with their LightSCAPE installation, Ahakoa he iti.... A 17-tonne quarry rock placed directly in front of the doors of Christchurch Cathedral carries the projection of a woman, battered by the waves and clinging for her life. This is a provocative portrayal of spirituality, strength and survival. A soundscape of crashing waves and rhythms carries the viewer through the performance, and while watching the woman drag herself to safety, the debate surrounding the foreshore, seabed and resources is referenced.

Work it, curated by Tobias Berger and Tessa Giblin explores Art & Industry's mandate and the position of the artist in an increasingly global working world. Exhibits reveal direct connections between the artists and sponsors while others critique the labour force or challenge public perception through the placement of artworks in unassuming areas of the CBD.

A vacated shop in the Shades Arcade was the ideal setting for Factory, a flim by Chen Chieh-jen. The Shades Arcade, once a busy thoroughfare between Cashel Mall and Hereford Street, is now quiet, relatively empty; victim to the multitude of suburban malls that have been constructed over the years. This site defies viewer's expectations and was selected by the curators in the hope of enlivening an inner city space that was no longer a bustling business or retail centre. The Shades Arcade is the perfect setting for the artists' redundant scene. The closure of the Taiwanese Lian-fu Garment Factory seven years ago displaced several women who worked at the factory. Women featured in Chieh-jen's film, return to their former workplace and carry out their daily duties in silence.

Ahakoa he iti 2004
Film projection and soundscape on mauri boulder
in Cathedral Square, Christchurch

Work it moves beyond the Shades Arcade to include other sites and exhibits that explore the placements of artworks in close vicinity to 'working' spaces. Monica Bonvicini's huge Knotted chain ball dangled ominously from a dingy inner city alley behind 64zero3. Blink and you may miss it, yes, but what better place for this menacing installation?

The selection of what might be regarded as unusual and inaccessible sites was deliberate as Giblin reminds us, 'some of the most interesting incidences occur at the periphery of our perception.'(8) In essence, this is art at work.

While aspects of Work it focus on the politics of labour, other exhibits celebrate the partnerships between artists and sponsors. A favourite with visitors to the Christchurch Botanical Gardens, Rohan Wealleans' sculpture Planet Spore was made possible with the assistance of Resene who generously supplied Wealleans with enough paint to create this mammoth paintball. Giblin notes that while artists benefit in a material sense, sponsors are promoted as innovative players in their particular industry.

The support of partner galleries such as High Street Project, School of Fine Arts Gallery (SOFA), The Physics Room Gallery and the Centre of Contemporary Art (CoCA) is vital. The inclusion of partner galleries in the biennial programme ensures the event is far reaching and community focused. Rosalind Nashashibi's series of films at SOFA introduced local audiences to one of Britain's prominent young artists and recent winner of the prestigious Beck's Future Award. Nashashibi presents everyday scenes of ordinary people going about their daily tasks. In a documentary style, Nashashibi records diners in a Mexican cafe, people walking Nebraska streets, and scenes of destitution and domesticity in areas between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In Blood and Fire, Nashashibi observes the elderly sitting down to a meal at the Salvation Army. The filmmaker passes between tables, unnoticed by many and occasionally met with a vacant stare. Largely silent, the films offer the viewer a voyeuristic vantage point whereby we can look and consider the scenes before us.

The Peacock Fountain / Design no. 38 2004
Detail of installation at the
Centre of Contemporary Art, Christchurch
(Photograph: Ross Coombes)

Victoria Bell's playful and quirky sculpture of Christchurch's infamous Peacock Fountain at CoCA sits comfortably with the theme of civic identity. When Christchurch businessman, John Peacock died in 1905, he bequeathed £500 towards the beautification of the garden city. In 1911, the Peacock Fountain was unveiled and has been ridiculed by the public ever since. In 1996 the Peacock Fountain received a paintjob, though the mint and gold colour scheme did little to improve public perception of this garish Edwardian fountain. Bell's exuberant makeover of this iconic fountain comments on municipal pride, indigenous influences and cross-cultural references, common threads of the wider SCAPE programme.

Art & Industry is a smorgasbord for the art-hungry and is many things to many people: stakeholders, sponsors, curators, artists, the art community and the general public. Meeting the needs of such diverse groups is challenging and with the closure of each biennial. a period of review follows. It is expected that Art & Industry will continue to redefine, sharpen and shape the original brief to become a major player in both a local and international context. Undoubtedly, the Art & Industry model proves that creative and industrious communities work well together and when enhanced, the possibilities are boundless.

1. Felicity Milburn,'Home/Ground'. SCAPE: from a different angle. Christchurch, 2004. p. 14.
2. Aaron Seeto in conversation with the author, 9 February 2005.
3. Sangeeta Sandrasegar in conversation with the author, 9 February 2005.
4. Felicity Milburn in conversation with the author, 3 February 2005
5. Tessa Giblin, 'Echo'. SCAPE: from a different angle. Christchurch, 2004. p. 8
6. Fiona Pardington in conversation with author, 24 February 2005.
7. Julie King in conversation with the author, 16 February 2005.
8. Tessa Giblin in conversation with the author, 23 February 2005.