Passing judgement on Passing Red

DESTROYED: Passing Red as it stands today, badly damaged and with a question mark over its future.
DESTROYED: Passing Red as it stands today, badly damaged and with a question mark over its future.

It is an unusual thing for a piece of public art to encounter a motor vehicle quite as dramatically as Passing Red did recently.  

Images showed a startling amount of damage to both vehicle and sculpture. The driver's wellbeing remains top of mind.

Another individual at top of mind is the artist who spent 10 months developing the work, Gaye Jurisich.  

Gaye is a prolific, nationally acclaimed artist and lifelong Waikato resident.  

Her design for Passing Red was chosen from a number of high calibre proposals submitted to the Hamilton City Council's Public Art Committee in 2009.

At the time, Council was in the process of making a number of changes to the Frankton landscape in preparation for the V8s event, and as part of an 'environmental mitigation plan' it took the opportunity to introduce a significant piece of public art into the area.

While the V8s presented the opportunity, the work itself was never designed as being representative of the event.  

In her proposal, Gaye describes Passing Red thus:  "A work that will determine a place of its own, without explanation, narrative and abstract, curved and meandering. It could be like a track, a journey, a river, a celebratory ribbon, a symbol of hope.  

''It could stimulate an active game of in and out, over and under, climb and crawl. At night it will be like a flowing red guiding line of direction, a landmark. It will create and reflect shadows. It will stimulate conversation; discourse about why and why not."

On Gaye's website, she shares her thoughts on public art and says "it is important that my work challenges ideals, initiates thought and provokes discussion about connectedness, to our past and future". An insightful foretelling of the commentary that has resulted from recent events.   

For some, the association between Passing Red and the ill-fated V8s are so strong and sour that they'd prefer the work was removed now it has been damaged. Others simply didn't like it.

Whether you love it or hate it, right now Passing Red is doing exactly what public art should: telling stories, absorbing history, building associations, finding interpretations and inspiring conversation within our community.

Dr Carole Shepheard, a current member of Hamilton's Public Art Panel recently said:  "There are very few public artworks anywhere that have not initially created public debate. This is healthy for a coming-of-age city. After many years, artworks become icons, attracting huge audience attention, interest and ownership."

When I first saw Passing Red it was about 60cm long. It sat on the desk of a then fellow Council employee in the form of a to-scale model.  The beauty of this was that I got the opportunity to view it from above and marvel at the prospects for community interaction with it.

The reality has been however that only a small number of Hamiltonians get up close and personal with the work (wayward vehicles aside) as the current concrete environment is simply not that conducive. A pity indeed as the sculpture sings out to be climbed, swung and balanced on.
The work of course has also been designed so that each year as Pit Lane moved in, Passing Red moved out. Theoretically then it has the potential to be transported and even re-sited.

There are of course plenty of essential considerations in this; a suitable place, transport costs, foundation work and altering footings to adapt to a different landscape.

Not to mention the future of the large concrete space it would leave behind now that Pit Lane is not to return.

Within the context of these considerations, its portability still opens up a myriad of interesting possibilities.

I've heard all sorts of imaginative suggestions. Everything from creating a green park in its existing location, to shifting it to Hamilton Gardens, to moving it around suburban parks on an rotational basis, and even running it up the side of a building.

Whatever the future of Passing Red, the most important thing is that it has a future. It is part of an exciting, diverse and expanding public art collection in the city.  It is fully insured. It has intrinsic value.

It was designed with great care and skill by a local artist, built by local engineers and gifted to the city by the generosity of the Perry Foundation.

It already has extraordinary tales to tell from its home on Mill St, has the potential to tell many, many more.

LANDMARK: Artist Gaye Jurisich with her work, which she says was never designed to be representative of the V8s event.
LANDMARK: Artist Gaye Jurisich with her work, which she says was never designed to be representative of the V8s event.