The Press' cultural picks of 2013

16:00, Dec 21 2013
Scape festival, Tree Houses for Swamp Dwellers
SCAPE FESTIVAL: Julia Morison's Tree Houses for Swamp Dwellers is installed on the corner of Gloucester and Colombo Sts.

The Press' arts and entertainment reporters offer their cultural picks of the year.


It's been a funny kind of year for the arts in Christchurch. There's been a lot of bull, song and dance, memorable cultural celebrations and frustration and debate as we slowly pick ourselves out of the dust and fog.

Cardboard cathedral July 2013
TEMPORARY: The cardboard cathedral.

The city's arts community is regrouping and reassembling itself, learning that innovation, collaboration and improvisation are the vital keys to rebuilding the city's arts.

It seems unfair to pick out the best from the 2013 season. Given what Christchurch continues to encounter, each and every cultural project is a winner. I am constantly aware when embarking on the annual list-making ritual that art is definitely in the eye (and ear) of the beholder. This will be a personal collection. Feel free to add your own nominations.

So, in no particular order:


BUILDING ILLUSTRATION: Artwork by Mike Hewson installed on the walkway spanning The Crossing and Ballantynes’ buildings in Colombo St.

If one event epitomised Christchurch's can-do spirit it was the 2013 Christchurch Arts Festival. Defying the odds, Philip Tremewan and his team gave us performances and events which lifted spirits, beguiled, entertained and provoked. My personal favourites - the darkly imaginative The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, the ebullient concert by the Tex-Mex indie rock band Calexico and the emotionally wrenching dance performance Fault Lines.

New Zealand Opera made its triumphant return to Christchurch with a gritty contemporary production of Mozart's Don Giovanni. Purists may have frowned but it had a sharply observed streetwise ambience to bring the story of seduction, obsession and vengeance to life. Even an unscheduled fire alarm on opening night matched the mood and the incendiary finale was truly eye-boggling.

Shane Cotton's potent paintings in The Hanging Sky underscored just how far New Zealand's contemporary art has travelled. The fact that the exhibition couldn't be shown in Christchurch also emphasised just how badly we miss the Christchurch Art Gallery. But the superbly produced book accompanying the exhibition and published by the CAG compensated.

sculpture std
EYE-CATCHER: Ronnie van Hout's 3.5-metre-tall sculpture on the roof of Christchurch's old High St post office.

Some bull, some fundraiser. Christchurch responded with enthusiasm to the campaign to bring one of Michael Parekowhai's Venice Biennale bulls back to the city for permanent exhibition. CAG director, Jenny Harper, the CAG Trust and fundraiser extraordinaire, Jo Blair, mounted a campaign, which struck a responsive note among the public and will see Chapman's Homer back where it belongs.

Hail and farewell to . . . the retiring director of the Christchurch City Choir, Brian Law, for all the wondrous choral music that he has given Christchurch; the Christchurch Art Gallery's senior curator, Justin Paton poised to take up his new position at The Art Gallery of New South Wales; Judith Gifford of the Brooke Gifford Galley, a name and a place synonymous with art in Christchurch; Ian Scott whose untimely death robbed New Zealand of a vital artistic voice and last but not least, the departing director of the Christchurch Arts Festival, Philip Tremewan, for the miracles he's wrought.

Here's a how-de-do. The Court Theatre for its wickedly funny version of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. The music, the lines, and the cast give us a magnum of theatrical champagne to celebrate Christmas in style. An accolade also to The Court for its gripping season of Tracey Letts' epic tragi-comedy August: Osage County.

Special mention to Christchurch's amateur theatre groups who have been single-minded in their drive to give us theatre despite frequently being homeless and adrift; to the music makers who enhance our lives and the arts lobby who continue to confront bureaucracy, apathy and frustrating uncertainty in its battle to bring back art to the city. Accolades also to Jonathan Smart, The Physics Room and the mosaic of dealer galleries for their continuing courage, vision and belief in Christchurch and its people.

Power to you all.



While art gallery spaces remain limited in Christchurch, this year it seemed as if art was somehow more visible.

Our arts community is to be commended for strongly asserting itself into the cityscape in increasingly inventive ways.

This year the arts community mourned the passing of Ralph Hotere, Scape 7 put brand logos on a car and Christchurch bought a bull.

The latter led Sam Mahon to write a letter to the editor which tickled me. In it he stated his personal preference for a "life- size rendition of the Honourable Gerry Brownlee gently pirouetting on a plinth of broken bricks while a hidden Wurlitzer plays Wagnerian melodies in a minor key. It is a work with context, story and form - a load of bull you can really play with."

Meanwhile, "temporary versus permanent" was a hotly debated subject and will, no doubt, remain so.

While the end of the year is often marked by best and worst lists, this is not one - these are simply my personal selections of Christchurch culture that connected with me, and which I believe added vibrancy and beauty to everyday life.


As part of Populate, the Christchurch Art Gallery's 10th anniversary celebrations, a mysterious sculpture pointing skywards appeared above C1 Espresso at 209 Tuam Street.

Ronnie van Hout is the artist responsible for the slightly ominous Comin' Down. It is a three-dimensional replica of van Hout. A very long arm points up to the sky while he peers down to the street.

It has multiple interpretations, from the buildings falling or being pushed down, to the idea that we are coming down to ground from a high point.

When it was unveiled Christchurch Art Gallery director Jenny Harper said she hoped van Hout's sculpture would get people talking and it certainly achieved that.

She described van Hout's figure as "an ambiguous monument for a city where many more conventional sculptures have fallen."

Melbourne-based van Hout is a man of many talents. Tonight he plays a rare live show at the Darkroom with The Terminals.


The book produced by the Christchurch Art Gallery and edited by Justin Patton is simply an object of incredible beauty. You'll find yourself audibly inhaling as you reverently turn the 192 pages of this stunning hardback.

Cotton's paintings in The Hanging Sky, which features a selection of his work from 2007 to 2013, lose nothing from their shift to this intimate scale. Unfortunately, with CAG's premises out of bounds, the exhibition couldn't be shown in Christchurch, but the book, which includes essays by Paton, Robert Leonard, Eliot Weinberger, Geraldine Kirrihi Barlow, design by Aaron Beehre and photography by John Collie, is an exquisite stand-in.

The book's release coincided with the Chills' live album Somewhere Beautiful which, featuring a Cotton screenprint, retails at $6500. Martin Phillips' performance at The Hanging Sky's opening party was flawless and Patton's heartfelt speech brought a tear to many an eye.


The Christchurch Art Gallery's Outer Spaces exhibition continued to prove that art can flourish outside of white-walled gallery spaces populated with beard strokers.

After all, post-quake CAG is a "gallery without walls".

I found Tony Oursler's large-scale projections Fist and Head (Knocking) on Gloucester St on a nocturnal wander to the Bus Exchange one winter's night. My heart was racing. A rat had just dashed in front of me and scurried into the rubble beside Chancery Lane when I heard a sudden loud knocking sound and, on the wall across from me, a projection of a fist being lowered appeared.

I stood fascinated in the rain, alone on the city street.

Some may be aware of Oursler's work with David Bowie. This year he directed the video for Bowie's song Where Are We Now, but some might say his work on a desolate street corner in inner-city Christchurch was equally meaningful.


Christchurch artist Mike Hewson eloquently mirrored many Cantabrians' sense of dislocation from the city they once knew with Deconstruction, his "homage to lost space".

He created a digital print of a sky scene to camouflage the bridge on Colombo St between Ballantynes and the cordoned- off buildings opposite.

His Government Life Suspension, on the corner of Gloucester St and Oxford Tce, mirrors the building that once housed Hewson's former studio. Hewson's other works include Old Public Toilets, a digital print on the exterior of an earthquake-damaged structure at 111 Hereford St and Carpark Compression, a digital print installation on the quake- damaged CCC Lichfield St carpark structure, best seen from Re:Start Mall.


Jim Wilson, of Kiwi postering organisation Phantom Billstickers, is roaming the world for a poetry project that aims to put "some truth and beauty into the streets". As part of his Poetry Project, which began in 2011, each year hundreds of Kiwi poets have their words postered across the world.

"Before JD Salinger died, I was driving up to Vermont-New Hampshire a bit and I postered that area, too. Mr Salinger got some of the poems in his letterbox," Wilson says.

In Europe Phantom has postered Glasgow, Serbia, Paris and Vienna.

Earlier this year, Wilson put stellar Lyttelton poet Ben Brown's piece, President Of The World up beside Mt Rushmore in the United States.




When is the last time an innovative and interesting building designed by a signature architect opened in Christchurch?

I've lived in the city for seven years and this is the first I have encountered.

Shigeru Ban's delicate, pragmatic and inspiring Transitional Cathedral design is an asset for the city.

After seeing so many unique and distinctive buildings demolished, it was nice to see one built.


This mind-bending piece of physical theatre was a highlight of the Christchurch Arts Festival.

A very talented performer turned the world on its side and had you doubting which way was up.

A simple and beguiling piece of physical theatre.


The city centre was transformed into a treasure hunt for thought-provoking and often beautiful art.

Ronnie van Hout's statue pointing into the sky on top of the former Post Office building is a sinister delight.

The Christchurch Art Gallery may not have a home, but it has made the city centre a better place to be.


Julia Morison's sculpture on the corner of Gloucester and Colombo St is a generous piece of street furniture first and an artwork second.

Watching children instinctively play on its hexagonal surfaces is a joy.


A powerful street exhibition that took the voices of people trapped in the residential red zone right to the heart of power.

The exhibition featured photographs of the red zone, along with portraits and stories from 55 of its former residents on panels that ran almost the entire length of Worcester Bvd - right past the Cera and council headquarters.

It used the power of art to say something about the art of power.


A small slice of Christchurch's rich cinematic history will be preserved after a crowdfunding initiative helped raise the money to install digital projectors in the Isaac Theatre Royal.

The historic cinemas that once crammed Cathedral Square have all gone, but at least the restored theatre will be able to show movies and host the New Zealand International Film Festival.

I can't wait to watch a movie in such ornate surroundings. So much to look forward to in this city.


This sharp media savvy satire of television made my profession look somewhat venal. The funniest and smartest stage comedy of the year.


Playing bingo in a chilly and windy Pallet Pavilion in the middle of a ruined city was a highlight of the year for me. Preene's natural charm and showmanship was all we needed to stay warm.


This was a surprise. The completed wooden sculpture was a thing of beauty. Reading what people wrote on the sculpture was funny and moving.

And then it burnt like a b.......

All a bit Wicker Man, but in a good way.


A powerful bull standing on top of a grand piano became an unlikely symbol for the Christchurch experience and has now been bought for the city.

I look forward to seeing Michael Parekowhai's bronze sculpture Chapman's Homer installed outside the restored Christchurch Art Gallery in 2015.

To me, the sculpture represents how culture can survive even the most formidable and violent of natural phenomena. A fact that this list proves.

The Press