We’re going to take the long way around with this story but the guts of it is art is a window to understanding other peoples journeys. You can look at hundreds of pieces of art and none of them will connect with you or move you. And then there’s that one, or if you are lucky more than one, that will bring you to your knees. That will connect you with a time, place or people in a way you never believed possible. And that is why any chance you get you should check out the latest sculpture walk, exhibition or installation and check out any and all of the ones you find on your travels.
I’ve got a few of my favourite places below to give you a few starters but first, here’s the story of the piece of art that bought me to tears…
The White Chairs
It took me until I was 37 years old for a piece of art literally bought me to tears.
It was my first visit to Christchurch since the earthquakes. I was born in Christchurch and my best friend lives there too so I used to be a regular visitor but after the 2011 quake I was just too scared of what I would find to go down there so it had been a rather shameful 3 years after when I first went back.
The first night we went to see Lionel Ritchie (I wasn’t a fan before but seriously one of the best concerts I’ve been to – but I digress). As always when I’m in this neck of the woods I’m always amazed at the warmth and solidarity of the Cantabrians. This time I’d add resilience to the list too. At the concert it was easy to think that the earthquake had been no big deal, that the city had bounced back with a few cracks, wobbly floors and empty lots and that same attitude.
It was that same attitude that I’d seen with Sez when I called her on that terrible February day. “I’m fine” she said, “We’re all fine, the house is barely damaged”. And I took her at her word and felt happy and thankful that she was as she said “fine”.
The morning after the concert we went to look at the Cathedral. It was always one of my favourite spots to go in Christchurch to just sit and be so it was horrible to see it so broken and really drove home the magnitude of the quake. But I was soon to realise I still really didn’t get it.
Our next stop was an unplanned one. Driving along we came to some white chairs on the side of the road. I asked Sez what it was and she told me it was an art installation. We stopped on the side of the road. In the middle of the city, surrounded by rebuilding and half demolished buildings stood 185 white chairs. One from each of the houses of the people who lost their lives in the quake. In the middle was a baby capsule. There were high chairs, rocking chairs, wheelchairs and sofas. Suddenly this wasn’t a number, but 185 individual people, their spirits rising out of the seats they once sat in. They were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons and the list goes on.
I stood on the side of the road and cried. I hugged Sez and she cried too.
We went across the road to the Cardboard Cathedral and talked to the priest who had been called to minister to the dying on the day. He told us it was no accident that the Cardboard Cathedral and the 185 chairs were built here at the epicentre of the makeshift triage of that day.
When we left Sez asked me if I wanted to see her journey of that day. I’m going to retell her story as best as I remember it when she told me it 4 years ago (sorry Sez for any details I got wrong or embellished in the telling).
We started at her work – just on the outskirts of the central city. She was making her lunch and had just put it in the microwave when the shaking started. She said she knew immediately that it was bad. Her two pre-schoolers were in day care down the road so she grabbed her keys and did what any Mum would do – started running for her babies.
We drove down the roads that she drove on that fateful day. She described the liquefaction rising and blocking her way, of roads blocked or falling away behind her or simply not there. We went down every dead end she went down as we retraced her steps and we pulled up outside the house where her children were being cared for and then she said (and Sez I will never forget these words) “And then I got to my babies, and they were safe”.
I still get teary when I think of her story. I hate that I took her at her word that she was fine and didn’t realise how sensationally strong she was charging through a broken city to find her babies and how so many others in the city did exactly that.
I got more teary still that day sitting in the car outside the house where her babies were safe and well that February day. Sez and I hugged and cried for ages. And then we did what all women do after they get that emotional – we shopped and got rip roaringly drunk!
I’ve been back another 2 times since that day and I never recaptured that feeling I had on that day. It was a moment in time, a connection with what Sez went through and those 185 missing people and it’s why I’ll always keep looking at art and admiring those who create it.
So back to places you can start your journey to find some amazing art….
Our favourite places to get lost in some art
#1 Brick Bay SculptureWalk
I adore the Brick Bay sculpture walk (you can find out about our trip there over here). Aside from having a magnificent vineyard (with wine tasting) my favourite part was walking through the towering trees with speakers on all of the trees that made you literally feel like you were walking through a choir. It was a magical experience.
#2 Kaipara Coast Sculture Gardens
The drive alone is worth venturing out to this out of the way little spot – not only do you get to drive through the most amazing countryside but you get a little glimpse of Alan Gibbs amazing sculptures from the road a little further up. I love the depth and scale of the gardens and how it is woven so perfectly into the gardens. It’s also an incredibly accessibly entry into art for children. You can read about our visit here.
#3 Auckland Art Gallery
Somewhat strangely I developed my love of the Auckland Art Gallery as a teenager. It was when I was studying at AUT and I would wander down there between lectures. There was something so soothing about the quiet and solitude, paired with the amazing work on the walls and I would just wander around and loose myself for an hour or so. With art works changing frequently there is always something new to see. You can read about one of our visits here.
#4 Auckland Botanical Gardens Sculpture Trail
While the botanical gardens have some great pieces year round they also have an annual sculpture trail which is well worth checking out each year.
It’s free (always a bonus) and there genuinely is something for everyone. I took my 11 year old daughter and 4 year old nephew and they loved it with the 4 year old running excitedly from one sculpture to the next, demanding my daughter read out the “story” and making up their own stories about it.
It’s actually what I started writing this piece about and then it morphed into a story or a strong women and her dash across a broken city. It’s a bit like life – the paths not always clear but we ended up in the same place and I’ll leave you with these photos of the 2017 Sculpture Walk…