Sculpture removal 'cultural vandalism'

20:40, Dec 12 2013
DISPOSABLE CITY: Muegano, the moving large-scale artwork by internationally renowned Mexican artist Hector Zamora, needs to be repaired and reinstated, not dismantled and consigned to memory.

The transitional city became personal this week.

One of the singular pleasures of living in central Christchurch has been the sight of Hector Zamora's sculpture Muegano rising like a magic silver city across the waters of the Botanic Garden pond.

You have to be profoundly insensitive or possess the imagination of a tree stump not to be fascinated, beguiled and emotionally stirred by this work.

Canterbury's constantly changing light combined with the reflections from the water bring Zamora's theatrical skein of transformed prefabricated greenhouse frames to life.

Originally planned in 2010 for installation in Victoria Square as part of the SCAPE biennale of art in public places, the project was halted after the square was cordoned off following the earthquakes.

Zamora, a survivor of the 1986 Mexico City earthquake, was also reported to be sensitive about Christchurch's reaction to a work which speaks about society's response to the traditional concepts of home and the house. A new site was eventually found in the Botanic Gardens. In 2012 Zamora's work rose in all its luminous splendour from the water near the visitors centre.


But, as I discovered this week, not for much longer. Muegano survived the earthquakes but was damaged during a vicious storm in September. The SCAPE website described the damage as irrevocable. Muegano will be gone by Christmas.

Deconstructed. Dismantled. Disassembled - whatever you call it, this is cultural vandalism; a reflection of a national habit of refusing to recognise when something actually works perfectly and moreover looks incredibly good. We are a nation of committed deconstructors - and natural disaster provides us with the perfect playground.

Rather than being eradicated Muegano should be repaired and reinstated.

If life in Christchurch has taught us anything during the past three years, the lesson is based on a philosophy of here today - gone tomorrow. Even the ubiquitous term transitional has become a neatly sanitised way of saying that nothing should allowed to be forever. Perhaps it must be like this in a place where nature has removed so much with such utter detachment.

We are simply giving the cruel old matriarch a hand in wiping the slate clean of encumbrances and superfluities to prepare for a new, brighter future.

That's the way that officialdom and the planners prefer to see it but I sense that the most of us have reached a stage where we want to see some permanency in our lives and environment. We badly need certain things to remain for much longer that it takes to fire up the bulldozer to remove them.

Ironically at these times art of enduring quality is the most fragile and vulnerable victim.

Christchurch stands at a point in its history where it must retain rather than remove.

The city needs to take concrete (and metal, wood, bronze, paint and the entire artist's play box of materials) steps to create truly enduring signs that it's turning the corner. We should live alongside objects of lasting artistic quality and pleasure. Naturally human nature means that we'll never agree on what gives us pleasure in a sculpture or painting but isn't an invigorating informed debate part of a mature artistic journey?

We can shrug our shoulders, move on and consign Muegano to memory. I'd prefer that we defy the concept of a disposable city and reinstall a sense of lasting permanence and beauty. Let's do something different and retain Muegano in all its glory. Let's reassemble rather than disassemble.

There's a precedent. An earlier SCAPE biennale included a shallow reflecting pool in the Christchurch Arts Centre covered with a blanket of brightly coloured plastic ducks, the work of a young Yugoslav artist. The ducks eventually flew but the pool remained after the centre and the public realised what beauty it added to the surroundings.

Muegano should remain rather than become a symbol of the desire to constantly remove. Let's take one small step but one giant leap towards restoring a sense of lasting beauty and creativity in a battered and bleak environment we call home.

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

The Press