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.
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.