Saturday, October 25, 2008

Re published. First in CHCH Press 22 October 2008

Walking through the Square, I come face to face with the giant purple sperm, Darwin, now with my mind fertilised, I am ready to continue exploring all that SCAPE has to offer.
Over six-weeks, the sailing-in-the-sky boat, sharing intimate moments with Captain Cook, cycling in the Art Gallery, or pondering on any of the other exhibits, will surely revitalise not only me, but the public art debate we often have in Christchurch. Many laugh at our passionate pleas for or against various art-works, but at least we are engaged: a sign of a healthy city I suggest.
However, temporary installations provide something very different to permanent pieces. Who decides what should be commissioned for our permanent public art collection and where is it to be placed? What is the value of outdoor art, and what part do the public have in this process?
Christchurch has a rich heritage of public art – dating back to the Godley statue in 1867 – and includes fountains, murals, statues and sculpture. As an inner-city resident I value them all. Naturally, being a Cantabrian with an opinion, I think some are in the wrong place.
A recent example is the newest piece of permanent art in Christchurch (cnr High, Colombo and Hereford Streets). Flour Power is a fine piece of work but what is a bunch of tall wheat stalks doing on a site that was once a swamp? How is that relevant to Christchurch? It’s the plains that grow the grain not here on our old wetlands and it’s on the edge of the city that I suggest is where it belongs: then put a colourful pukeko in Stewart Plaza. I wonder at the silence: no cries of glee or disapproval. Surely good art creates conversations. Have we stoped debating our public spaces?
Our Chalice is a great piece of work although I, and many others, thought it too was in the wrong place. However I’m revising my condemnation now because that at least has relevance to the site: depicting leaves of plants that once grew in the area: relevance to an area and site is surely the essence of permanent pieces. An example is The Fool outside the Court Theatre, a fitting combination of great public art with its site.
According to Wikipedia ‘the term public art refers to works of art (in any media) that have been planned and executed with the specific intention of being sited or staged in the public domain, usually outside and accessible to all. The term is especially significant within the art world, amongst curators, commissioning bodies and practitioners of public art, to whom it signifies a particular working practice, often with implications of site specificity, community involvement and collaboration.’
Public art pieces are also indicators of cultural vigour and show visitors, as well as us, about the level of our artistic and cultural excellence – or otherwise. If this is so, should we give precedence to local (or locally born) artists? What are the benefits and detriments of this?
What about the different cultures in the city? How do they participate in this artistic conversation? Where is their art?
Christchurch is enriched by the variety of the works of art in public spaces and as a child I recall fondly my parents spending a quiet evening driving us around the inner city to look at the art – our favourite was the colourful fountain in Victoria Square, when it was still a street leading to Papanui – and because of those memories I still enjoy my just-about-daily walk through the area.
It’s now time to use my SCAPE map, check-out the temporary installations, contemplate what they mean to me, and which I believe could become permanent public art in our outdoor, city-wide gallery. Captain Cook, here I come.
©Heather Hapeta 2008

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