The eighth iteration of Christchurch’s public art biennial SCAPE opened earlier this month, clustered around the CBD. Subtitled New Intimacies, it aims to bring people back into the centre of the rebuilding city with works from local and international artists. Is there a better way to analyse a complex collection of artworks than the Spinoff’s trademarked Power Ranking format? No. No there isn’t. So James Dann’s gone and done it.
1. Judy Millar – Call Me Snake
Popping up at the top end of New Regent St, the closest thing Central Christchurch has to a semi-functional retail street, Call Me Snake is a 2D work with the misfortune of being stuck in a 3D world. Millar’s magnified, distorted brush strokes wind their way away a mess of interlocking white planes, begging further inspection. Only when you get closer do you realise that the image is just on the front face. The underlying structure is as if a brutalist had attempted to recreate a crumpled-up sheet of A4 paper on a massive scale. Even viewed from across the river, where all you can see is white, it brings a much-needed brightness to the gravel-grey of the CBD.
Selfie-o-meter: High. Bright colours, child-friendly, asking for interaction.
2. Nathan Pohio – Raise the anchor, unfurl the sails, set course to the centre of an ever setting sun!
Back before he was a quake hero and national treasure, Sir Bob Parker, Mayor of Christchurch, lead a valiant quest against boy racers. Yes, those unkempt youths who terrorised the city with their lowered Skylines and blow-off valves. There is nothing more Christchurch than white people driving cars. In this work, Pohio takes an image from a 1905 edition of the Canterbury Times that shows that white people in cars has long been an important part of the Cantabrian lifestyle. In it, the Governor of New Zealand, Lord Plunket, is photographed with his wife, proudly seated in their car. They are flanked on both sides by Māori leaders on horses, who had gathered at the Kaiapoi Pa to meet him. The image is blown up and placed on a lightbox that shines out across Durham St, part of the one-way system that Christchurch residents are bizarrely attached to.
Selfie-o-meter: Low. Too high for most people to get a good shot, plus it looks best at night.
3. Pauline Rhodes – Mobile Tangles
In any normal SCAPE, this is the sort of work that would draw breathless press releases from the Taxpayer’s Union about wasting ratepayer money, and talkback would be filled with callers and hosts debating the finer nuances of what art means. Mobile Tangles does what it says on the packet – it consists of caged trailers, filled to overflowing with bright blue pipes, sitting stationary in parking spaces at three points around the block where CERA and the Council are. They look like they’re useful, but they ain’t. Wilfully provocative, they’re a big middle finger to the developers who periodically complain that there aren’t enough carparks in the central city.
Selfie-o-meter: Medium. Easy for people to take selfies, but they’ll just look like you’re standing in front of any old trailer full of junk.
4. Peter Atkins – Under Construction – Chaos and Order
Similar to Mobile Tangles, this work mulls on some of the more confusing and inconvenient aspects of the rebuild. An array of orange and white road signs, stripped of any place names of directions – it’s a reminder of the constant diversions and delays commuters face on the roads everyday. Like Rhodes, it’s also cheekily located. Right next to the Press, it takes up three valuable parking spots and is thus directly responsible for inconveniencing some of the people with the biggest platform to complain about it.
Selfie-o-meter: Low. Sculpture is very tall, and the reflective nature of the road signs will flare up with a flash.
5. Antony Gormley – STAY
This is the work that’s going to put Christchurch on the map – and it already has, with a brief mention in the New York Times. An iron figure standing pensively in the river, already collecting the rubbish floating down stream, it’s not that STAY is bad – it just isn’t that interesting. Expensive, conservative, clustered along the Avon River, and much more compact than you would expect, it may turn out to be the perfect symbol for the Christchurch rebuild.
Selfie-o-meter: Medium. You’d have to get in the river to get a decent selfie, but expect a large number of shots where it looks like people are hugging or patting the statue.
6. Fiona Jack – Ōtākaro Plant Parade
I confess to having missed the procession which was the main part of this work. The remaining artefacts from the parade, made by Jack after meticulous research into a number of groups involved in the gardening part of the garden city, are now on display in the lobby of the Ibis Hotel. The public can now view art as the artist surely intended it – hung on the wall behind a shared internet kiosk.
Selfie-o-meter: Medium. The staff and fluorescent lighting in the hotel lobby are both reasonably selfie-friendly.
7. Hannah Kidd – Avonside Drive
These four works are clustered together in the Re:Start mall, where they are sure to feature in a thousand selfies. Kidd’s sculpture works best when she does caravans, houses, chairs – pretty much anything inanimate. When she does things with eyes, they look like something from Dr Frankenstein’s Tuesday-night metalwork class. The cold, dead spaces where the eyes should be, the leopard skin tights, the crazy cat lady rendered in rusting iron – these are creepy, freaky, and bad, and thus guaranteed to be the most popular thing in the whole biennial.
Selfie-o-meter: High. You can keep a memento of you and one of these nightmarish maquettes on your phone forever.