CAPITAL SISTERS: CANBERRA/WELLINGTON
WELLINGTON : AN INTRODUCTION
Readers might already know that the capital cities of Australia and New Zealand have become sister cities. After getting off to a cracking start with a signing in Wellington, 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake centred around Kaikoura generated widespread damage throughout the city and set the developing family relationship back a little. Good news, however, its back on track with plans Canberra Week in Wellington in November.
One of the aims of sister city relationships is cultural exchange and I visited Wellington last week to check the lie of the land, visiting some of Wellington’s arts orgs, checking the scene and meeting a few luminaries. Its kind of obvious, but I immediately noted that Canberra is pretty much a mystery to Wellingtonians and vice versa. So while there is an awful lot of work to be done this relationship has the potential to be great fun and hugely rewarding for everyone involved. This post is kind of an introduction to Wellington, a very cool compact town with a great sense of community. Famous for its nightlife you will find people hanging out, day and late at night almost everywhere but especially in Cuba Street which has wall to wall restaurants, bars, night clubs, galleries and trendy (not overly expensive) retro shops.
Notwithstanding the wind Wellington is also a city of considerable beauty with buildings perched precariously on steep hills rising sharply out of the sea. From the city there are spectacular views of Port Nicholson and the Rimutaka Range. The rugged terrain has seen the growth of interesting satellite cities that have great art galleries such as The Dowse at Lower Hutt and Pataka Art + Museum at Porirua. In the city itself there is a healthy range of public galleries including The Adam Gallery, play_station, Enjoy Public Art Gallery, City Gallery and The Engine Room. One of the highlights of my visit in fact was an exhibition curated by Christina Barton, Stephen Cleland and Simon Gennard at the Adam Gallery called The Tomorrow’s People. This exhibition explores some pretty out there future-oriented thinking and includes an emerging generation of artists whose work, both dark and humorous, reflects many possibilities for navigating troubling times. Its on until 1 October 17.
On my first day of ‘work’ I met Eve Armstrong (artist), Suzanne Tamaki (Events Coordinator, Wellington City Council, and fibre based artist, among many other talents) and Paora Allen (Manager) at Toi Pōneke Arts Centre, top end of Cuba Street, Te Aro. Funded by the Wellington City Council, Toi Pōneke is the very epitome of a vibrant working space for artists from all art forms. With (reasonably priced) studios, a gallery, rehearsal spaces and rental spaces in the centre of the city Toi Pōneke is a ‘home away from home’ for Wellingtons arts community. It is a meeting place for Wellington’s creative community with printing facilities and three free computers available for use.There’s space to work on a creative project, or to join our resident community by leasing an office or a studio and Toi Poneke also offers mentoring and funding support to artists who approach with great ideas. For more info about programmes check support and opportunities.
Day Two: and thanks to Suzanne I found myself at Mahuki which is lavishly accommodated in Te Papa Tongawera/The National Museum of New Zealand. This is an incredible project. Mahuki is Te Papa’s innovation accelerator, developing ideas into world-leading digital businesses for the cultural sector. It was great to say hello to Tui Te Ha, General Manager of the innovation hub, iSPARX Producer Joff Rae and some of the Lost Boys, James, Finn and Ben (photographed). They took a 3-D photograph so they can make a db figurine. Hmmm.
While at Te Papa I had a look at the major exhibition commemorating the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing Gallipoli: The scale of our war. This is an epic show in association with Weta Workshop (special effects for Hobbit, Mad Max, Spiderman, Power Rangers) that focuses on the actual stories of several New Zealanders at Gallipoli. There are enormous towering Ron Mueck-esque figures of each person that capture the drama and tragedy of war in heroic proportions. There are also 3D films and lots of objects from the battlefield which make for an incredibly grim experience. Its an exhibition for Aussies and Kiwis alike but you will need a box of tissues. If its at all possible there is an even more disturbing commemorative exhibition at the New Zealand Dominion Museum The Great War Exhibition which ends with a series of colorised light box photographs of the Gallipoli campaign. The hand of Peter Jackson is here as well and the photographs somehow bring the whole ghastly event to life with excruciating detail. In many respects these are family snaps of an episode that would be better forgotten, but for obvious reasons, that will never happen.
The Len Lye Centre Govett Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth
Not far away from Wellington there is a town called New Plymouth where there is a legendary gallery known as Govett Brewster. In spite of its remote location on the North Island’s West Coast New Plymouth has many attractions – and Govett Brewster, a converted cinema, became one of them as a contemporary arts provocateur around 1970. It is also home to the collection and archive of the pioneering filmmaker and kinetic sculptor Len Lye (1901–1980) and in 2015 the spectacular Len Lye Centre designed by Andrew Patterson of Pattersons Associates was opened. The centre has become a major draw card for visitors to New Zealand. Along the New Plymouth waterfront you will find The Wind Wand (1999) arguably one of the worlds best public art works – loved by art critics and public alike. Created from designs by Len Lye the 48-metre kinetic sculpture is a 45-metre tube of red fibreglass that stands vertical, bends in the wind and lights up at night. And should you make it to New Plymouth, Pukekura Park is also one of the worlds most fabulous botanic gardens (picture below).