People jam into city 'mosh pit' to see dazzling display of lights

19:47, Oct 21 2012

The last thing you'd expect to experience in a post-quake, demolition-cleared Christchurch CBD big on empty spaces and vacant lots, is a human traffic jam.

But that's what I caught up in while attempting to navigate Luxcity, the architect-based festival of night light featuring 16 installations created by 350 architectural students from around the country.

With the majority of installations located on Gloucester Stand, a proliferation of food and liquor stalls, when darkness fell, crowds poured into the street, which became choked at a narrow bottle-neck directly outside New Regent St and Press House.

People who hadn't moved for 15 minutes tried to turn around and find a current to take them back but became stuck as many fought claustrophobia, jammed together under the threat of the Rendevous Hotel, one of the last remaining tall buildings in the CBD.

If there were any in the throng prone to pick- pocketing or frottage, they would have had a field day as we inched along, literally pressing each other's flesh.

The next day I returned early to the scene of the crime and spoke to a security guard, who said that eventually the army and security had moved some of the fences back to give the crowd breathing room.


If there were any army or security there the night before, I didn't register their presence, and saw only two police vans parked in Latimer Square.

A crowd control megaphone would have been appreciated, with everyone in the packed herd chorusing in a mutter of bewilderment what the holdup was, with no voice of authority to reassure.

The thought crossed my mind that it would be so ironic to have survived the quakes only to perish in a mosh pit outside the gates of the fourth estate.

Hospitality vans and stalls selling takeaway food sold out early, with not a chip to be had by 9pm as people stumbled among the rubble like disoriented moths drawn to the flame of the lit-up installations, some of which you could touch and interfere with in a wholesome kind of a ways.

Event holders couldn't have hoped for a better night with an absence of wind, a quarter moon, and a big Canterbury sky doing its best to add to the weird and wonderful visuals.

It resembled a landscape both astronauts and underwater divers would be at home in, with a tunnel of lanterns, creatures that were half-tree stump, half-squid, and cranes dangling and supporting a massive, elongated, stringy tube and an enormous white ghost-like apparition that would have disturbed many a nipper's sleep later that night.

Earlier in the day, I had attended the Great West Coast Whitebait Festival in Latimer Square and thought the turnout to celebrate our hallowed white worm was cute but relatively modest, imagining that most of Christchurch had cleared out for the long weekend.

Not so from the swell that flooded into Luxcity as people experienced for the first time in nearly two years something of what it was like back in the good old days, when you could happily drift from restaurant to bar to venue in a carefree ease of walking distance.

Sure the environment on Saturday night was highly peculiar in a shabby extraterrestrial sort of way but the architectural brief to try to bring regeneration to the CBD was realised by the numbers who turned up.

Thankfully, I had already done a daylight circuit of the installations and witnessed the buzz of students toiling away in earnest hauling sandbags in haste trying to beat the clock.

A bodily form writhed round under a giant flaccid silver balloon, a voice coming from inside trying to send "Houston we have a problem" instructions to students standing helplessly around the outside.

Down the road, the dark satanic maul of the Farmers building, halfway through its demolition, looked the full- blown creep with entrails disgorging from its gutted insides.

It will be good to have that sinister piece of sadness literally wiped off the face of the Earth.

May the light be with us.

The Press