Staying in Christchurch, New Zealand for anything longer than a few days is not on the usual traveler’s itinerary. Two earthquakes in 2011 flattened all but a few of the buildings that once graced the city centre, killing 185 people in the process. The art scene in Christchurch has responded to this devastating, and still very present, disaster with such installations as David Cook’s ‘Meet me in the Square’. Like most businesses, the gallery has temporary residence above the brilliant local independent video store ‘Alice in Videoland’, as a new gallery in the city centre is being built.
The photographer and Massey University lecturer channeled his grief into unearthing and collating an exhibition and book, taking from around 6,000 photos of the city from the mid-1980s. David used these photos to help rebuild the city in his mind, but as you look through the photos of teen punkers hanging out on the streets of Christchurch, you can’t help but see ghosts of the city that once was. Fairly mundane scenarios take on a whole new meaning. Photos show people shopping down a busy road that now houses a Boxpark-style shopping area, and the shadow of a cathedral spire that is still barely staying upright 4 years after the earthquake.
As plans to rebuild are still being discussed, street art has taken over most of the walls still standing in the city centre. As David Cook looked back to old Christchurch as a way to deal with the loss of his city, others create new art where there is still only destruction.
David Cook: Meet me in the Square, Christchurch 1983-1987, is available from the Christchurch Art Gallery.
Words by Matthew Whelband