Tale of two Chch art galleries
A growing number of young artists are shaping Christchurch's re-emerging cultural profile. Christopher Moore visits two art spaces determined to provide them with a forum.
This is the tale of two Christchurch art galleries; both shop windows for contemporary art, both survivors in their own way of two momentous years.
If The Physics Room is the rebellious adolescent, The Dog Park Gallery is a precocious child, barely out of the cradle but already celebrating a 10th exhibition of new and experimental work by a catalogue of local and international art practitioners.
Founded in June 2012 by Ella Sutherland, Chloe Geoghegan and Barbara Garrie, the project space is flexing its cultural muscles in a 90 square metre concrete lockup down a narrow access way hemmed in by automotive workshops in the shadow of a battered and doomed AMI Stadium.
The Physics Room, meanwhile, has returned to its High St base in the largely undamaged former Chief Post Office, sharing the building with a Christchurch Art Gallery outreach exhibition space. The teams behind both the Physics Room and Dog Park have another thing in common . . . a determination to present Christchurch with a provocative and stimulating catalogue of contemporary art.
The Physics Room Trust has its roots in 1992 as the South Island Art Projects, presenting temporary and public art projects. It also published a bi-monthly newsletter, developed film and video programmes for South Island main centres, hosted visiting artists and speakers, and presented major projects. The Physics Room Trust was set up in 1996 as a gallery space and office located in the Christchurch Arts Centre.
In 1999, it moved into the CPO. The larger gallery space allowed it to expand its exhibition programme to include screenings, artists talks, and performances. Forced to leave following the 2011 earthquakes, it found a temporary home in Sydenham before returning home earlier this year with Melanie Oliver succeeding Stephen Cleland as director.
A former independent writer and curator based in Wellington, Oliver worked as assistant curator at Sydney's Artspace, was an assistant curator at Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and managed the Wellington artist-run initiative, Enjoy. Among her curatorial projects, Oliver recently co- curated a collateral event for the 2012 Liverpool Biennial.
She describes the return to TPR's old base as "the same but different . . . . but it's exciting to be back and to be part of the conversation about the rebuilding of the CBD. It's vital that the gallery continues to engage a community which has strongly indicated that it wants to see the arts as an integral part of a new Christchurch," she says.
While the traumatic events of the past two years involves a sense of looking back, a significant number of artists were now looking to the present and the future in their works.
"I see a sense of renewal in the arts - an end to talking of the end of the old Christchurch.
"We are making the most of what national and international artists are doing, both in our exhibition-based and off-site programmes," Oliver says.
There will be changes in the Physics Room's usual format - the next exhibition will feature paintings by Kirstin Carlin and Emma Fitts and Kim Pieters.
Chloe Geoghegan and Ella Sutherland were presented with two clear options in 2011 - fight or flight.
"It was a choice - leave Christchurch or stay. We decided to stay. There are so many young artists who now want to come and work here, not simply because of the earthquakes but because of the nature of the place," she says.
Geoghegan holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Curatorship from the University of Canterbury. During her post-graduate study in 2011 she had the opportunity to study at Oxford University as well as interning at the City Gallery Wellington.
She has wide-ranging experience in the running and administration of art projects in New Zealand, most recently working developing and managing the COCA Window Projects (2011-2012) and the Elam Ilam exchange show in 2012.
Sutherland is completing a masters degree in graphic design at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts. She holds an extensive portfolio of publication and other design of work from New Zealand and Europe. Garrie has recently completed a Doctorate in Art History at the University of Canterbury, where she was appointed Lecturer in Contemporary Art History in 2012. She has written extensively on local and international contemporary art.
The decision to base Dog Park in Waltham was as deliberate as their decision to stay. "This is an exciting place to work and exhibit in. Christchurch has opened up. It's changed," Sutherland says.
For the Dog Park team the gallery must now sustain the edgy, innovative quality of the the previous nine exhibitions.
"We're still the new kid on the block but we are becoming known as an increasing number of artists from New Zealand and overseas see this as the place to be. We are engaging with the community, with projects such as Friday night gallery crawls, and with young students at the School of Fine Arts, many of whom have no idea of how to find exhibition spaces," Sutherland says.
With the support of organisations like The Centre of Contemporary Art, Dog Park has no intention of being a 10 exhibition wonder.
It is, as Sutherland and Geoghegan say, time to release the dogs.
The Dog Park (3/375 Wilsons Rd North, Waltham) Open Friday, Saturday, Sunday, 11am - 4pm. email@example.com
The Physics Room (Level 3, 209 Tuam St. Open Tuesday-Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am-3pm. Current exhibition - Kirstin Carlin and Emma Fitts Shadow is Shade; Kim Pieters The Mallarme Suite. April 20 - May 12. Opening tonight, 6pm, (artist talk 5.30pm.) Reading group 1pm tomorrow.