SCAPE SEASON 18
“SCAPE Public Art continues to project Christchurch – and New Zealand – onto an increasingly wider national and international stage. Since its inception, SCAPE has continued to stimulate the imagination, broaden the cultural horizons and provoke us into thinking of contemporary art beyond the stereotypes.” Christopher Moore, The Press
Christchurch Ōtautahi, Aotearoa New Zealand
I first went to SCAPE in 2013 and I was profoundly impressed by the ways artists had produced works in a shifting urban environment. Blair French (now at the MCA in Sydney) was curator and Christchurch in recovery, continued to be raw from the earthquake of 2011 and aftershocks. My return this year for SCAPE season 18 and the 20th Anniversary dinner found a different Christchurch where there is much evidence of the tragic events but marked change in attitude. Christchurch has moved on and SCAPE’s 20 years of ‘collecting’ public art projects a sense of stability on the psychogeography of unstable land.
From the photographs in this post you’d imagine we had a whale of a time at the SCAPE20 Anniversary dinner and you’d be spot on. There was a serious side, however, to what turned out to be a fascinating and informative evening that revealed SCAPE’s enormous contribution to Christchurch. Over 20 years SCAPE has developed as New Zealand’s foremost producer of contemporary artwork with an emphasis on public art. It is a year round activity with an emphasis on “seasons” that highlight new work while refocussing attention on a growing collection around the city. SCAPE is city as art museum. This year’s season Our Braided Future was curated by Professor Heather Galbraith. Heather is a contemporary art curator and writer, and teaches at Whiti o Rehua School of Art, part of the College of Creative Arts, Massey University in Wellington. (In recent years we have seen a stellar bunch of graduates emerge from Massey who have invigorated the capital’s cultural scene with ARIs like play_station and Meanwhile – they are special friends of CCAS and we will be working with many of them in the not too distant future.)
Under the inspiring advocacy of Dame Adrienne Stewart and leadership of Deborah McCormick SCAPE has become a model not only for raising funds but also situating the arts within current urban planning. In a city reeling from literally thousands of earthquakes Dame Adrienne set a vision where part of the revival would be through the arts. As she said in 2015, “We must never be a city that does not prioritise the arts. We cannot survive without art and nor should we try.”
Essentially an awards night, competitive in a fun way, the Anniversary fundraising dinner acknowledges the role of business regenerating the urban landscape of a damaged city while also being an opportunity to promote the importance of art in creating a vibrant community – that basically feels very pleased with itself. I sat at a table of engineers, for example, all of whom were extremely proud of their efforts and involvement in the installation of some spectacular pieces. Videos of works past and present provided a comprehensive view of SCAPE’s developing vision. I was blown away by business leaders graciously accepting their awards, acknowledging their competitors and mounting convincing arguments for their involvement.
Placing art at the centre of the process of recovery SCAPE has been criticised for what appears to be an emphasis on art over infrastructure. This is a mark of SCAPE’s success. It is important to remember that funds raised and in kind support are not about rebuilding roads but about a community that has come together to create a renewed sense of heritage where much heritage has been lost. Christchurch has always been a city that wore heritage on its sleeve in terms of self image and economy. On the Sunday afternoon after the dinner I followed the map – along the Avon River, through magnificent Hagley Park and into the Canterbury Museum … chatting with tourists and locals about the works. The area was crowded with people from all over the world enjoying, discussing, questioning the new works and discovering works from previous seasons. Amongst the boarded up buildings, empty spaces and new shopping centres one finds the legacy of SCAPE: an Anthony Gormley in the Avon River and Shaun Gladwell’s sculpture for skateboarders, in 2013 amongst the remains of the business district. We encounter incredible new works where place is as important as the work itself, Christopher Ulutupu’s video stills along the banks of the Avon, Brett Graham’s marble memorial relief of the South Island at Christ’s College, Ben Pearce classing up Christchurch Casino, kids interacting with Hannah Beehre’s work in the Canterbury Museum, Kayla Folwell & Manaia Mahuika-Davies’ colloborative korowai (cloak) in Hagley Park, UK based Tom Dale’s work marking the total devastation of the notorious Red Zone at the Centre of Contemporary Art … it goes on … SCAPE18 has been another inspiring event and I hope I can bring back to Canberra some small part of Christchurch’s indomitable spirit. I also hope the photographs will do justice to a a small sample of the people involved and the calibre of each artists contribution, as well as Heather Galbraith’s experience and taste as curator for this season.