Artists cap­ture emo­tional af­ter­math of quake

Kaikoura Star - - OUT & ABOUT - DAVID JAMES

On the night of the Kaiko¯ura earth­quake, pho­to­graphic artist Susie Baker was print­ing in her dark­room, a shed in the gar­den.

‘‘I fin­ished print­ing and wash­ing my pic­tures around 11pm,’’ Baker says. ‘‘As I went out­side to walk back to the house, I stopped and looked at the sky. The moon was large and there was an eerie feel in the air.’’

Baker says she didn’t think much of the un­com­mon sea change in the night. But it was only af­ter she re­tired to bed, that those spooky omens from mother na­ture be­gan to tell their tale.

‘‘Just as I laid down in bed a large boom echoed and the house started mov­ing vi­o­lently, my bed­side dresser in­stantly crashed onto the bed. We got down on the ground and I thought it would stop, but it just kept go­ing and got more vi­o­lent.

‘‘We thought the house was com­ing down. As we left the bed­room our grand­fa­ther clock came smash­ing down in front of us and the head of the clock hit the couch and flew off. We man­aged to jump over bro­ken ob­sta­cles and grab the kids. We ran out­side and gath­ered on the large tram­po­line. The ground was still mov­ing.

‘‘We then sped to high ground where we slept in the truck for two nights,’’ she says.

‘‘The change to our land­scape in the day­light was un­be­liev­able.’’

Baker woke up the next day to a new world, a bro­ken town and rav­aged land­scape. But what most res­i­dents awoke to that next day was a sense of un­ease, ap­pre­hen­sion about their safety and a deep con­cern for the fu­ture of their town.

What Baker prob­a­bly didn’t re­alise at the time was how in­flu­en­tial that trau­matic night, and the fur­ther re­cov­ery would be on her own art.

‘‘My art­work has been greatly in­flu­enced ever since,’’ Baker says.

‘‘First, I was repli­cat­ing the noise and move­ment felt that evening. Then, as the weeks passed I cap­tured the scarred land­scape and up­lift of the coast­line. This, then, pro­gressed to the changes to the town as dam­aged build­ings are brought down.’’

The ex­pe­ri­ences of that night would even­tu­ally cul­mi­nate in a se­ries of works that is part of a new ex­hibit at Blen­heim’s De­tour Gallery to mark the one-year an­niver­sary of the quake. The show opened on Fri­day and runs to Novem­ber 23.

‘‘We were very aware of how much fabulous pub­lic art hap­pened in the wake of the Christchurch earth­quake,’’ says Char­lene Scott, a di­rec­tor at De­tour.

‘‘And we have pro­por­tion­ately a huge pool of art tal­ent here in Marl­bor­ough, Kaiko¯ura, and Nel­son.

‘‘At the top of the south we are a lit­tle art-heavy. And so it was an op­por­tu­nity to see how artists here have re­sponded to the quake.’’

There aren’t many of us here at the top of the south who haven’t been af­fected in some way by the dev­as­tat­ing quake that still has Kaiko¯ura shak­ing off the dust and re­build­ing a year later. State High­way 1 re­mains closed, the eco­nomic im­pact is pal­pa­ble, and the deadly 7.8-mag­ni­tude quake was so pow­er­ful, that the 110km stretch of the Kaiko¯ura coast was up­lifted; parts of it by as much as 6m.

Baker’s works will hang along­side an­other tal­ented Kaiko¯ura artist, Jane Ri­ley, whose re­cent work also rep­re­sents the col­li­sions be­tween the en­ergy and beauty of our nat­u­ral world, and the some­times terrifying ex­pe­ri­ences that are part and par­cel with liv­ing on a planet with such de­struc­tive nat­u­ral forces.

One of Ri­ley’s works, ‘Quake Su­per­moon Kaik­oura Trip­tych’ de­picts the nights that fol­low Novem­ber 14, 2016 with the su­per­moon loom­ing high above over the dev­as­tated har­bour in Kaiko¯ura, where six war­ships that came to Kaiko¯ura’s aid were at an­chor. Ri­ley’s trip­tych shows how beauty, na­ture and de­struc­tion can be re­de­fined as a dy­namic part of our ex­is­tence.

The show proves that we are fas­ci­nat­ing an­i­mals, in­deed. As ex­pres­sive, and deeply cre­ative bi­o­log­i­cal ma­chines, our in­stincts to or­gan­ise the tur­bu­lence of our emo­tional re­sponses to tragedy into an aes­thetic ac­tiv­ity is al­ways sur­pris­ing and at times in­spir­ing. It al­most seems that within some of us there is a psy­cho­log­i­cal urge to en­counter tragedy, as well as enor­mous dis­rup­tion, with mean­ing­ful artis­tic ac­tiv­ity.

De­tour Art Gallery, 67 Mar­ket St, Blen­heim. Daily ex­cept Tuesdays, un­til Novem­ber 23.


Kaiko¯ura artists Susie Baker, left, and Jane Ri­ley at the open­ing of Shaken Earth at Blen­heim’s De­tour Gallery.

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