Prime real estate? Look to the sky

DIANA DEKKER
Last updated 11:59 20/06/2011
Bronwyn Holloway-Smith

MARS ATTACKS: Artist Bronwyn Holloway-Smith explores the idea of selling desirable real estate on Mars.

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The Colonial Real Estate ad says, fancifully, as they do: "Unique lifestyle opportunity . . . stunning . . . executive neighbourhood . . . a sanctuary . . . a must for buyers seeking space and adventure . . . this 20-hectare property will hold appeal."

Hooked already? Do you like the big windows in the sketch, the modern furniture, the edgy views, the promise? Even though this gorgeous place on Mars is so exotically far away?

Artist Bronwyn Holloway-Smith hopes that even if the prospect of being one of the first people to live in a trendy pad on Mars doesn't appeal, the idea might be thought-provoking.

Plenty of people in Wellington buy apartments off the plans, she points out. They see smart architectural drawings with happy people wandering in and out of places that don't exist, and they put their deposit down, envisaging a lifestyle that may or may not eventuate. Plenty of people also set out for New Zealand from the other side of the world in colonial times, a journey as demanding as any trip to Mars, on the strength of idealised pictures and exaggerated claims.

Holloway-Smith's push to "sell" life in Pioneer City on the Utopia Plains of Mars is part of the Letting Space art series curated by Mark Amery and Sophie Jerram. Last year, Letting Space, which has Creative New Zealand funding and uses vacant sites in Wellington, mounted the satisfyingly controversial Beneficiary's Office containing unemployed artist Tao Wells, who said he wanted to be the next Paul Henry.

As she was researching the red planet, Holloway-Smith was also buying a house in Wellington and she noted the number of homes sold off the plans. "There were interesting connections. If people would actually look at going to Mars, how could they be sold the idea? It was a mixture of scientific facts, our colonial history and current real estate practice. I had the idea several years ago, but it doesn't lend itself to gallery space. Letting Space started up and it was the perfect partnership."

Massey graduate Holloway-Smith's project is multi-media, with a website - Pioneer-City.com - a Ghuznee St billboard, a Colonial Real Estate showroom in Taranaki St, an architect-designed model of the proposed settlement, and a suitably smooth Pioneer City real estate agent - "friendly, reliable, honest" - called Helen McCarroll.

Every real estate agent has a smart, empathetic Helen McCarroll, or several, each with the sort of nicely designed business card that Ms McCarroll hands out.

Ms McCarroll's job is cut out for her, given there is unlikely to be a manned landing on Mars for at least a couple of decades, let alone suburbs sprouting.

There is, of course, no money involved in Holloway-Smith's artwork. "I'm selling the idea. I'm not selling Mars." The Outer Space Treaty allows use, but not ownership, she adds.

Feedback is the payoff she hopes for. People were buying into the theatre of the idea before the real estate showroom even opened on June 18. One fantasised about the idea of exporting New Zealand agricultural expertise to the new colony.

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The idea of life on Mars is not completely far-fetched, she says. There is ice there, it could be greened, it has the basic chemistry to support human life.

"There is the possibility for humans to colonise Mars, even though there's no atmosphere and it's really cold. It would be rough, but Earth is facing some problems - over-population, global warming, the threat of nuclear war. Earth could be a horrible place in the future. I hope this will make people think about the state of our cities."

In reality, the landscape beyond the picture windows of the desirable places she's advertising for sale on Mars is White Island, off the Whakatane Coast - "we just edited it."'

She'd contemplate going to Mars "depending on what the prospects of Earth are like. Being a pioneer on Earth is not such an option any more. To be an early explorer on Mars - wouldn't that be incredible?"

The Colonial Real Estate Pioneer City showroom, on the ground floor of Soho Apartments at 80 Taranaki St, is open at weekends, or by appointment, until July 10.

- The Dominion Post

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