New Zealand Walk: Guided tour shows­cases Christchurch street art

Walking New Zealand - - Contents -

As build­ings came down in post-quake Christchurch, artists saw op­por­tu­nity through de­struc­tion and found places to leave their mark. As new walls emerge in the re­build, so too does more art – from in­spir­ing large mu­rals through to small, en­ter­tain­ing “in­ter­ven­tions” or paint­ings.

Christchurch’s vi­brant street art and mu­ral scene has be­come a strong el­e­ment of the city’s iden­tity, hav­ing gained wide ex­po­sure through pub­lic events and lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional me­dia. It’s now easy to fill an af­ter­noon with a self-guided tour of the city streets to take it all in – by foot or bi­cy­cle.

But if you want to go deeper and learn more about the in­di­vid­ual works and artists be­hind them, try a 1.5-hour guided tour through the CBD with Watch This Space.

Watch This Space aims to in­spire peo­ple to look at things a bit dif­fer­ently as they take in the ever-chang­ing cityscape. The tour uses some of the city’s big­gest mu­rals as mark­ing points, ex­plor­ing why, when and how they were cre­ated. “Of­ten the term street art is now tied into large-scale mu­rals – those mas­sive, beau­ti­ful, colour­ful, vi­brant sort of ad­di­tions,” says tour guide Dr Reuben Woods. “But the roots of this cul­ture come from a much more un­der­ground and sub­ver­sive en­gage­ment with the ur­ban land­scape.”

Woods, an art his­to­rian and art writer, is well qual­i­fied for the role of tour guide. Heck, he even has a PhD in the sub­ject. Ap­pre­ci­at­ing street art is not just about star­ing up at huge mas­ter­pieces, he says, but also look­ing “down and around”.

The act of leav­ing one’s mark on an area – from cave draw­ings to con­tem­po­rary mu­ral­ism, is “some­thing that has been oc­cur­ring ba­si­cally through­out time. You’ll find graf­fiti in some of the most out of the way and ob­scure places. Some­times we miss things if we are not look­ing”.

The walk­ing tour starts out­side Can­ter­bury Mu­seum – a neo-gothic build­ing by the Christchurch Botanic Gar­dens. Woods says it’s a fit­ting start­ing point, as it is “the site of per­haps one of the big­gest mo­ments in the city’s post-quake

street art ex­plo­sion”. RISE was a street art ex­hi­bi­tion held at the mu­seum in 2012-13, which pro­filed the best of street art from New Zealand and around the world. It was one of Can­ter­bury Mu­seum’s most suc­cess­ful ex­hi­bi­tions ever, with about a quar­ter of a mil­lion vis­i­tors through the door.

For Woods, one of the most strik­ing im­ages from RISE was the ban­ner ad­ver­tis­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion on the front of the mu­seum, which fea­tured a close-up of a can of spray paint dis­charg­ing a mist of blue aerosol. He was amazed to see “this artis­tic tool, that for the long­est time has also been com­pletely branded with the con­cept of van­dal­ism, be­ing cel­e­brated on this cul­tural in­sti­tu­tion”.

A mu­ral by Bel­gium artist ROA on the out­side of the mu­seum was also a big marker in the city’s em­brace of mu­ral­ism. Tucked away, ROA’s work ref­er­ences the mu­seum’s dis­plays with an im­age of a moa skele­ton.

From the mu­seum, the tour tra­verses the city streets stop­ping by large mu­rals by artists such as Ja­cob Yikes, BMD (An­drew J Steel and D-Side), Owen Dip­pie and Askew. The art­works were com­mis­sioned in var­i­ous ways – some by lo­cal gov­ern­ment or cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions, oth­ers as part of street art fes­ti­vals and one by a ma­jor in­sur­ance com­pany.

It is clear that big or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing com­mer­cial en­ti­ties, see the value in be­ing as­so­ci­ated with “a hip and pop­u­lar form of art”, Woods says. But de­spite the art­form’s new-found pop­u­lar­ity, street artists them­selves see ev­ery piece as ephemeral.

Woods says the works will fade, be­come ob­scured or dis­ap­pear – ei­ther by forces of na­ture, au­thor­ity or com­pe­ti­tion be­tween artists.

Just re­cently, a mu­ral by BMD de­pict­ing hun­dreds of pen­guins melt­ing with the ice shelf was painted over and Owen Dip­pie’s much-loved bal­le­rina is now mostly ob­scured by The Piano. “There’s sort of a nat­u­ral abil­ity to let go of this when you work in a guerilla style. [Street artists] don’t search for per­ma­nence,” Woods says.

Watch This Space’s tour ends in a carpark on Here­ford Street, which is like an out­door gallery for Christchurch’s graf­fiti scene. It is one of the more ex­per­i­men­tal spa­ces in the city and fea­tures work from a range of well-known lo­cal mem­bers of the street art com­mu­nity as well as up and com­ing artists.

Woods says while street art was once some­thing found in “out of the way, tucked away spa­ces”, the quakes af­forded it a new promi­nence. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see what hap­pens as a more tra­di­tional, “clean” ap­pear­ance emerges with the re­build, he says – es­pe­cially to places like the Here­ford Street carpark. “It feels like an im­por­tant ex­pres­sive cre­ative space for the city but what does of­fi­cial­dom think?”

Watch This Space started about a year ago and as well as walk­ing tours, of­fers a free in­ter­ac­tive map which works on a phone, iPad or com­puter. It also runs a blog with reg­u­lar up­dates and ar­ti­cles delv­ing deeper into the street art scene.

Tours are ev­ery Fri­day and Satur­day from 11am to 12.30pm. Watch This Space re­quires a min­i­mum of five peo­ple to go ahead.

Tick­ets are $25 per per­son, avail­able on­line through Eventbrite. For group book­ings or any other ques­tions, email [email protected]­pace.org.nz.

Above: A mu­ral by French artist Tilt, best viewed from a carpark near Christchurch Casino. Be­low left: A mu­ral by Beast­man and Vans The Omega, dis­played in Colombo St as part of RISE fes­ti­val.

Above: A mu­ral by Daek Williams that used to be on the cor­ner of Colombo and Peter­bor­ough Streets.

Walk­ing New Zealand, is­sue no 242 - 2018

Above: A work by Sofles as part of the RISE street art ex­hi­bi­tion at Can­ter­bury Mu­seum.

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