Project offers hope for city's recovery

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 16:56 11/04/2014
Flag Wall
Dean Kozanic/Fairfax NZ

DANCING FLAGS: Sara Hughes' Flag Wall uses four existing flag poles near the old Chief Post Office building to suspend hundreds of colourful flags.

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Sticking plasters are all well and good, but we need a dancing Statue of Liberty, writes Charlie Gates.

In Ghostbusters II, New York city is overwhelmed by a river of underground slime that feeds on negative emotions and bad vibes.

In order to defeat the river of slime, our hero ghostbusters decide they need a powerful and positive symbol to rally the people of the city and overwhelm the bad feelings.

So they bring the Statue of Liberty to life with "good" slime and a remix of Jackie Wilson's Higher and Higher to rally the city and create some good vibes.

I think evil slime would thrive here in post-quake Christchurch, feeding on traffic jams, insurance woes and a general sense of powerlessness.

So what can we do to counteract the tide of negative feelings flowing beneath our city? In short, where is our dancing Statue of Liberty?

I think we have yet to find a single work of art or architecture to rally around as a lone symbol of city centre recovery. Instead, there are a multitude of well executed and elegant sticking plasters. Tiny saplings hopefully sprouting through the city centre gravel.

The transitional Cathedral Square project is one of the more substantial sticking plasters. The project was commissioned by the Christchurch City Council to make the square a more welcoming and colourful place after the red zone cordons came down in July last year. The last piece of this project was completed this week with the installation of artist Sara Hughes' Flag Wall.

The project cleverly uses four existing flag poles near the old Chief Post Office building to suspend hundreds of small colourful flags on metal cables.

The flags are arranged in a diamond pattern that can be seen only from a distance. The pattern is evocative of the roof tiles on the nearby Christ Church Cathedral.

It is the largest intervention as part of the transitional project, joining Hughes' colourful hurricane fences enlivened with plastic inserts like a tukutuku panel and Chris Heaphy's bright architectural motifs printed on hoardings around the cathedral. Both artists have responded with bright, optimistic colour and echoes of the cathedral.

Hughes said she intended her work to make Cathedral Square feel more welcoming and colourful.

"The square was very grey and dusty. I wanted to introduce a very strong element of colour," she said.

"I wanted to create a large-scale piece that had a feeling of light and space. I wanted it to be able to respond to an environment that is constantly in flux."

Hughes wisely chose not to compete with the spectacle of dust and destruction around Cathedral Square.

"You can't compete. It is not worth trying to compete, but it was important that this work had a large scale and was almost the height of the old post office building and had a feeling of architectural scale.

"Cathedral Square is still pretty strange. It is not as confronting as the first time I came when there were no people and it was overwhelmingly dusty. Things are starting to grow again.

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"It seems like quite an exciting place to be, but there seems to be a lot of energy that seems optimistic."

The $1 million Cathedral Square project also includes temporary seating, a new toilet block with colourful doors and "grandstand" seating near the old Chief Post Office building, as well as the artworks created by Heaphy and Hughes.

The grandstand and toilet blocks could one day allow council events to return to the centre of the city.

Christchurch Art Gallery curator Ken Hall, who helped commission the artworks, said they wanted to create something with a "sense of hope, optimism and viability".

"I remember saying to the artists: 'You don't need to feel sorry for us. You don't have to make us all better with your art. You need to find your own take on it. You don't need to fix Christchurch.'

"There is something very hopeful about the fact that the council put it together and believed in this space enough to want to do it."

The works are certainly optimistic, although the modest scale can sometimes make them feel a little hopeless in the face of the mechanised forces of destruction surrounding them. More is needed to keep back the tides of evil slime.

We are still waiting for the dramatic architectural or artistic intervention that will provide us with a rallying symbol for the city centre rebuild. We need a Grand Projet , an angel of the south, an Eiffel Tower. A symbol that says we are here and we are staying here.

We are still waiting for our dancing Statue of Liberty.

- The Press

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