Is interactive art our future?

CREATIVE SPACES: There are surprises around every corner in Christchurch - such as the Dance-o-Mat, says Coralie Winn ...
DON SCOTT/FAIRFAX NZ

CREATIVE SPACES: There are surprises around every corner in Christchurch - such as the Dance-o-Mat, says Coralie Winn (in leotard).

When the September 2010 earthquake hit Christchurch, the city was faced with a problem it was not prepared for.

Buildings were torn down and vacant spaces became the grim norm.

To ease the shock of city's new identity, a group of creatives put their heads together to figure out a way to fill the empty spaces with positive experiences.

COLOURFUL ADDITIONS: Street art sheep have received plenty of attention in Christchurch.
DEAN KOZANIC/FAIRFAX NZ

COLOURFUL ADDITIONS: Street art sheep have received plenty of attention in Christchurch.

Gap Fillers' first project was a temporary garden cafe on an empty site, just two months after the first earthquake it.

When the February 2011 quake destroyed even more of Christchurch's buildings and centres, Gap Fillers quickly grew and is now supported by a Trust and is a registered charity.

Gap Filler co-founder and creative director Coralie Winn said the goal of the projects is to increase people's participation in the city.

"Psychologically it's been really important for people to help shape the identity of the city.

"The natural event [of the earthquake] has helped to change the perspective of people here and people are more open minded. There was a great need for people to gather and for creative spaces."

The installations range from a Dance-O-Mat, a coin operated dance floor open to the public, to a mini golf course which was influenced by stories collected by Heritage New Zealand.

Combined with the painted murals that have popped up on the sides of buildings and construction sites, Christchurch has reinvented itself as a creative hub.

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Gap Fillers has put post-earthquake Christchurch on the international stage as a city that is rebuilding with style, Winn said.

"Some people find Christchurch a strange place to visit because it is being rebuilt, but a lot of people visit because it's unique. There are surprises around every corner."

But filling spaces with art and creative interactive ideas does not have to be limited to a response to a natural disaster, Winn said.

The increasing influence of online shopping and the effects of the economic downturn means cities around the world have vacant areas.

"For Christchurch it's about showing how the temporary use of vacant places can buy time for rebuilding, but it doesn't need to stop because the city is rebuilt.

"Internationally, artists and creative people are being increasingly called upon for ideas to to help solve problems that modern cities face, such as vacant spaces and a lack public participation."

A community puttings its own twist on its environment was empowering, and people do not have to wait for a Council green-light, she said.

"We didn't wait for funding. We got together, begged and borrowed and accumulated funds and got something going to show people what was possible."

Southland Museum and Art Gallery curator Ari Edgecombe, who left Christchurch after the earthquake, said the creative initiatives in the city made it easier to return.

"I really appreciated seeing all the installations and mural work. It takes the effect and heaviness off the disaster.

"People have done the very best they can with the spaces and a lot of work has been done by solid art makers and curators."

Seeing something similar around Invercargill would be a positive thing for the city, he said.

"The key would be to make it for interactive community use, otherwise it would just be lost among all our other monuments."

It could be an opportunity for Southland artists to show their love for the city, he said.

Anderson Park Art Gallery curator Stephen Davies said people might not realise how positive more art would be for the city.

"Many people don't realise the different effect having art in the community has on a city - it changes the character of the city in a good way, sometimes in subtle ways."

It would be possible for Invercargill to have more creative spaces, if the planning was done right, he said.

"Public art enriches a city in the sense that it provides touch points in our culture. It's about the sense that art reflects our society."

People might hold back because art can polarise a community, but art does not have to please everyone, he said.

 - The Southland Times

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