SCAPE lays another egg

CHRISTOPHER MOORE
Last updated 12:19 08/11/2013
Festa 2013
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ

FESTA 2013: Giant puppets paraded the inner city as part of the Festival of Transitional Architecture.

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OPINION: Ever since George du Maurier's 1895 Punch cartoon appeared, curate's eggs have been embedded into the English vocabulary.

An item of Victorian humour still best describes that sinking ambivalent feeling when you view something which is an awkward mixture of the good, the not-so- good and the downright bad. Should you say so? Of course you should. Fortunately as there are many people who don't know what you mean when you invoke curates and eggs, you can often manage to escape unscathed.

During the past weeks you would have found this reporter trundling an invisible shopping trolley rapidly filling with the aforesaid metaphorical items around the central city. Every time I revisited the 2013 SCAPE 7 - which was often - I seemed to add an egg to the pile.

This year's SCAPE was definitely and categorically a curate's egg; certainly excellent in parts but somewhat underwhelming in others. Works like Julia Morison's Tree Houses For Swamp Dwellers contained the necessary strength and presence required of any good piece of contemporary public art. As Christchurch's latest legacy sculpture, commissioned by the Public Art Advisory Committee, it tended to dominate this year's SCAPE, both in the physical cityscape and the public's mind.

Dan Arps' Common Coop Co- op also possessed sufficient character and force to make it a memorable exhibit. Urbane and urban, its sleek lines and elegant simplicity drew the eye in. In contrast, its near-relation (at least in terms of title) Fiona Connor's Common Co-op Coop refused to engage me, preferring to remain coyly low-key. Like other works, including Shaun Gladwell's Infected Forms, it seemed overwhelmed by the expanse of empty building sites and earthquake dross surrounding it. Instead of shouting, these two works squeaked. Small can be beautiful but unless public art muscles itself into the surrounding environment, it simply becomes forgotten.

On Park Terrace, the first work in Mischa Kuball's Solidarity Grid project reflected a delicate elegiac quality which endeared itself, if not to some local residents then certainly to the wider public.

Other works on view in SCAPE also appeared ambivalent about their exact status. Take Rob Hood's Duck Soup, with its playful nod to the Marx Brothers' brand of slapstick humour. Witty, colourful and upwardly mobile in every sense of the word (it was shown in five city locations) but I was still left with the feeling that here was a work which would have been better shown in the intimate surrounds of a gallery.

While techno buffs would have been engrossed by I Was Using Six Watts When You Received Me featuring a mobile radio van in North Hagley Park and attempts to make contact with the international space station, was this really public art? Likewise the Bodytok Quintet's The Human Instrument Archive at the Artbox was certainly a cheeky in- your-face recital of body music, but much as I enjoyed it, did it really reflect SCAPE's mission statement of providing cutting edge contemporary public art?

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Overall, SCAPE Art 2013 had its highs and definite lows. The labelling of the exhibitions let me down both in terms of size and accessibility but I applaud the programme's improved public education programme. The art was a mixed bag containing the memorable and ultimately the ephemeral. But isn't that what any good exhibition of art is about?

Last year, Christchurch's Festival of Transitional Architecture's razzle dazzle, spectacular, inspirational light show delivered one of 2012s cultural and artistic highlights, Luxcity was utterly memorable but exactly how do you follow an act as good as that?

The answer arrived during the recent Labour Weekend Festa. You can't. Apart from the street parade of spectacular oversized puppets, this year's festival was low key, distinctly home- grown and, for this reporter, ultimately disappointing with few, if any, highs. In fact, I struggled to find anything to do with challenging, mind-grabbing transitional architecture. No technicolours here - simply a rather dull shade of beige.

Perhaps the organisers were simply recovering energy for 2014. I hope so.

This is a regular weekly column by Press arts commentator Chris Moore.

- The Press

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