Artists capture emotional aftermath of quake
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.