Christchurch’s chang­ing Scape

Scape Public Art’s Deb­o­rah McCormick looks back at the last 19 years of in­stalling art in the city, with Warren Feeney.

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If one in­di­vid­ual can be sin­gled out for the dis­tinct and vis­i­ble pres­ence of con­tem­po­rary public art in Christchurch it is Scape Public Art’s di­rec­tor, Deb­o­rah McCormick.

In the past 19 years, more than 214 tem­po­rary and 12 per­ma­nent art­works have been in­stalled in the city by McCormick, her staff and board of trustees – and later this month , a fur­ther per­ma­nent art­work will be in­stalled in The Arts Cen­tre. Yet, she is hold­ing her mother to ac­count for the cur­rent state of Christchurch’s public art.

‘‘When I grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Canterbury School of Fine Arts in 1998, my mother said to me, ‘what are you go­ing to do with this ex­pen­sive de­gree?’ I came up with the con­cept of a one­off arts event and I took it to the Christchurch City Coun­cil where it was wel­comed by coun­cil­lor Anna Crighton and [com­mu­nity arts co-or­di­na­tor] Warren Pringle. That was in my first year out of art school. To­gether we set up a trust chaired by Sir Kerry Bourke and a found­ing board that in­cluded Dame Adri­enne Ste­wart. We set up our first ex­hi­bi­tion on a model based on art and in­dus­try in public spa­ces. The Art & In­dus­try 2000 Bi­en­nial Vis­ual Arts Fes­ti­val took place that same year and we made the move from a bi­en­nial to an an­nual event [Scape Public Art Sea­sons] in 2016.

‘‘For that in­au­gu­ral fes­ti­val, Pauline Rhodes’ Zig­gu­rat was in­stalled in Ha­gley Park and it set the foun­da­tions for Art & In­dus­try. Pauline made a small model of the work and we went to Ful­ton Ho­gan to present it. She wanted to make this 5 me­tre x 10 me­tre work of stones in gabions (from Canterbury river beds). Ful­ton Ho­gan em­braced it be­cause that was the ma­te­rial they worked with.

‘‘De­liv­er­ing on the pro­ject was the next chal­lenge and also re­tain­ing the in­tegrity of the artist’s con­cept. Pauline wanted it to be a cel­e­bra­tory piece mark­ing

2000, but it was also in­tended as a tem­po­rary work, al­beit mon­u­men­tal in con­cept and scale. It was a great ex­am­ple for us to go for­ward as Art & In­dus­try, bring­ing public art into daily life.

‘‘In that same year, we also sig­nalled as well as be­ing lo­cal we wanted to have in­ter­na­tional peo­ple and artists in­volved. We had Ilya and Emilia Kaba­cov’s

Mon­u­ment to a Lost Civ­i­liza­tion ,a sur­vey ex­hi­bi­tion of the Rus­sian artists’ in­stal­la­tions and work at CoCA Gallery.

‘‘Dur­ing those de­vel­op­ment years, we worked with a col­lab­o­ra­tion of an in­ter­na­tional and a na­tional cu­ra­tor de­vel­op­ing themes and se­lect­ing artists for the tem­po­rary art­works. The ex­po­sure that those cu­ra­tors [To­bias Berger and Tessa Gi­b­lin, 2004, Natasha Con­land and Su­sanne Jaschko, 2006, and Fuyla Erdemci and Danae Moss­man in 2008] have had with artists helped in­ter­na­tion­alise New Zealand art.

‘‘We’ve had all man­ner of re­sponses, but in the end, public art is a plat­form for a con­ver­sa­tion. In 2008, we pre­sented Tatzu Oozu’s

En­deav­our, a work in which the city’s statue of ex­plorer Cap­tain Cook was repo­si­tioned by plac­ing him in a bath­room set­ting. The in­ter­na­tional artist brought a very new public art in­stal­la­tion con­cept to Christchurch.

‘‘Early on, I learnt a lot about work­ing with the me­dia. When we pro­posed Michael Parekowhai’s

Cosmo and Jim McMurtry in 2002, two gi­ant sculp­tural rab­bits in­tended for Cathe­dral Square, I learnt about Christchurch’s re­sponse through the de­bates that formed around plac­ing sculp­ture in civic space. The artist’s con­cept be­came a plat­form for many dif­fer­ent voices and it was judged to be too au­da­cious for Cathe­dral Square.

‘‘There were also peo­ple try­ing to cull rab­bits de­stroy­ing farm­land at that time who sought me­dia cov­er­age for their cause through the con­tro­versy around Cosmo and

Jim McMurtry. That is the strength of Parekowhai and his work to bring for­ward a range of re­sponses.

‘‘Scape Public Art’s pro­gramme has al­ways been a com­bi­na­tion of tem­po­rary and per­ma­nent works and about build­ing a public art col­lec­tion for the city. Phil Price’s

Nu­cleus on High Street in 2006 was the first legacy work. That pro­ject was seed-funded by the late Sir Robert­son Ste­wart and Dame Adri­enne Ste­wart, to­gether with Er­rol and Jen­nifer Clark – they wanted to make a con­tri­bu­tion to public art in Christchurch. After the suc­cess of that pro­ject, we made a sub­mis­sion to the Mayor and coun­cil­lors to con­trib­ute to a public fund that would be matched by pri­vate do­na­tions. That was the be­gin­ning of the part­ner­ship be­tween Scape and the City Coun­cil to pro­duce a public art pro­gramme.’’

Ger­man artist Mis­cha Kuball’s

Sol­i­dar­ity Grid in Ha­gley Park took three years to com­plete, from 2013 to 2015. En­com­pass­ing 21 street lamps gifted from as many ci­ties around the world, it re­quired sup­port from a wide range of in­di­vid­u­als and pro­fes­sions.

‘‘Cu­ra­tor Blair French de­vel­oped the idea for Sol­i­dar­ity

Grid in 2011. He took it to Scape’s board and it drew on all the spe­cialised knowl­edge that we have. Kuball said it was a con­cept, and with­out the hun­dreds of peo­ple touched by the pro­ject and in­volved, it would never have been de­liv­ered. It was the right work at the right time for Christchurch. Peo­ple from all around the world wanted to help.

‘‘It is ap­pro­pri­ate that Ha­gley Park be­came the site for Sol­i­dar­ity

Grid. It was the place peo­ple fled to for safety in Fe­bru­ary 2011 and the place where we at­tended the first an­niver­sary of the earth­quakes.

Sol­i­dar­ity Grid was a part­ner­ship with the city coun­cil and may­ors Bob Parker and Lianne Dalziel, along with Dame Adri­enne Ste­wart, in­vited ci­ties around the world to par­tic­i­pate.

‘‘All these projects brought to­gether spe­cial­i­sa­tions and that is what I en­joy about them. Find­ing out what is needed, how we de­liver out­comes and bring­ing in ex­perts to work with artists to achieve them.

‘‘For Antony Gorm­ley’s STAY, the driver was about re­build­ing Christchurch and want­ing arts and cul­ture to be at the cen­tre of the new iden­tity. To bal­ance the ar­gu­ments against public spend­ing on this sculp­ture, if we are go­ing to see the city come to life again and have tourists here, we also need to be able to de­liver some­thing that bring at­ten­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion to our city. STAY has made Christchurch a des­ti­na­tion for na­tional and in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors. It has been noted in news sto­ries in The New York Times and [else­where] in­ter­na­tion­ally.

‘‘Neil Daw­son’s Fan­fare orig­i­nated when the city coun­cil’s for­mer ur­ban-plan­ner Hugh Ni­chol­son was at Daw­son’s stu­dio and in­quired about a pho­to­graph of Fan­fare on his wall when it was in­stalled in Syd­ney. Neil said there was an op­por­tu­nity to have it back in Christchurch. The [then] mayor Garry Moore se­cured the gift from the Mayor of Syd­ney Clover Moore and in­vited Scape to be in­volved and the board said yes.

‘‘With the city coun­cil’s sup­port, it was brought back in 2007. We were look­ing for sites, then after the earth­quakes were able to work with the city coun­cil and NZ Trans­port Agency. We were then able to bring a new po­si­tion­ing to the pro­ject ‘wel­come to a new Christchurch’. We were look­ing for a mo­tor­way site, some­thing to sig­nal you were en­ter­ing Christchurch, so we built the cam­paign for Fan­fare around that. Leighs Con­struc­tion was a main spon­sor, build­ing the art­work. Grant Wilkin­son, Neil Daw­son’s en­gi­neer brought on other en­gi­neers – Holmes Con­sult­ing and Beca.

‘‘We needed so­lu­tions for prac­ti­cal prob­lems; traffic man­age­ment and how to en­sure peo­ple could en­ter the site safely. We also worked with a public re­la­tions spe­cial­ist, Pam Lind­say, for a fundrais­ing cam­paign and raised $250,000.

‘‘There was also an en­gi­neer­ing chal­lenge. We needed to slow the speed of the fans in Canterbury’s heavy nor’ west winds. There is an eddy cur­rent-brake mech­a­nism built in to slow the fans down. Ful­ton Ho­gan was in­volved with de­vel­op­ing the road­ing net­work, mak­ing changes to ac­com­mo­date the sculp­ture. As [for­mer chair] Bob Blyth said; ‘we take the twin­kle of an eye idea right through all these stages from the be­gin­ning to the cel­e­bra­tion and bless­ing at the end’.

‘‘As Scape’s di­rec­tor, I see my role as di­rec­tor of an or­gan­i­sa­tion that pro­duces per­ma­nent legacy art­works for the city’s col­lec­tion and a fes­ti­val di­rec­tor, who, with our team and sup­port­ers, brings a new ex­hi­bi­tion of public art an­nu­ally in Spring to Christchurch.

‘‘Hav­ing sus­tained this prac­tice for al­most 20 years, I feel proud that the artists’ works have been em­braced by a wide com­mu­nity. The de­liv­ery of the art­works has been achieved by the sin­gle mind­ed­ness of artists with great vi­sion, hard work, ten­sion and flashes of bril­liance from mem­bers of the team. It is about part­ner­ships.

‘‘My in­spi­ra­tion is that wher­ever you are in the in­ner-city you will see a public art­work. The fu­ture for Christchurch to be a city with a world-class col­lec­tion of public art that is known and vis­ited is be­com­ing a re­al­ity.’’

❚ Scape Public Art will in­stall its lat­est legacy work, Se­ung Yul Oh’s Con­duct Cu­mu­lus in the Arts Cen­tre of Christchurch later this month.


Michael Parekowhai’s Cosmo caused plenty of con­tro­versy when it was pro­posed for Cathe­dral Square in the early part of the cen­tury.

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