Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Art at the Civic Centre
Given earthquakes and book writing, I have only just managed to get myself along to the new Christchurch City Council Building - a joint venture between the council and Ngai Tahu - and I must say I am impressed. Who would have thought the old New Zealand Post building would 'scrub up' so nicely. What I particularly like is the building's 'twin face' - the Worcester entrance above, with its wonderful Fayne Robinson powhenua, Te Pou Herenga Waka; and the southern Hereford Street entrance (below), which features the magnificent etched glass mural by Ross Hemera, Tuhituhi Whenua.
Given that the building is a joint venture, a bicultural undertaking as it were, it is also fitting that two other major artworks by leading Pakeha artists are featured - Neil Dawson's Ripple and Feather, which I never actually saw; and the above work, Knot, by Julia Morison. The latter is typical of Christchurch-based Morison's sleek, complex, beautiful perfection - a work that shimmers and changes as you move through the building from one side to the other. It is partially marred here by the scaffolding supporting a large section of inner structure that was damaged in the recent Christchurch earthquake. Based on an 'infinity knot' common in Celtic art, it alludes to the complexities and multiple pathways of communication, which seems entirely fitting for a bicultural public space.
The northern entrance to the building is dominated by the powhenua, carved by Fayne Robinson (Kai Tahu, Ngati Apa Ki Te Ra To, Ngati Porou), which is beautifully offset by the gently cascading water feature. It's there - among a series of decorative tiles representing seven of Canterbury's important waterways, that you'll find the bronze eels by Ngai Tahu artist, Priscilla Cowie (top image). Both water and eels were key determinants in the original settling of Canterbury land. The seven water tiles are mirrored by a further seven tiles on the rear of the powhenua that represent the site's history.
It's the intricate glass mural by Ross Hemera though that I found the most interesting. Hemera (Ngai Tahu, Mamoe, Waitaha), is currently an Associate Professor in the School of Visual and Material Culture at Massey University. 'His creative works draw inspiration from the South Island landscape and in particular the ancient rock drawings found in limestone caves and outcrops that were created by his tipuna (ancestors), the nomadic Waitaha. His works have been exhibited internationally and major commissions include the Wakamarama sculpture at the entrance to the the Maori section of Te Papa Tongarewa, and the beautiful glass windows throughout the interior of Te Runanga of Ngai Tahu, Te Waipounamu House in Christchurch.
His gigantic work for the Hereford Street face of the new Civic Building, is inspired by the words of Matiaha Tiramorehu's petition to Queen Victoria in 1857. In that, "it honours the wishes of Ngai Tuahuriri that these words serve as a aspiration of unity to recognise the partnership between Ngai Tahu and the Christchurch City Council. As it stretches across the wide face of the building, it 'weaves along braided rivers' and over the Canterbury Plains. Ti Kouka, the cabbage tree, has a starring role and willow trees allude to English settlers. All up, it's a stunning work that 'explores both the geological ancrestry of central Te Waipounamu (the South Island) and the material culture of the people' who settled here. More than anything though - more than the beauty of these individual artworks even - I am impressed by the 'recycling' of the old NZ Post building. It was never a high point of any inner city wander and while it could have been demolished and an all-new structure built (at huge cost), it's a credit to both parties that they sought what I think is the harder road - turning an architectural ugly duckling into a thing of beauty.