In September last year, a few weeks after the earthquake, Air New Zealand had some $20 flights to Christchurch for January, so I took advantage of this sweet deal. “Yay,” I thought, “I can see the Ron Mueck exhibition and do a bit of earthquake tourism.”
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the city post-quake. I knew things were more or less back up and running, but I also knew that the Boxing Day aftershock had again munted things up a bit.
I went for a wander and came across the ruins of Manchester Courts. It’s a historic multi-storey building that’s in the process of being demolished due to safety concerns.
A few months ago I tweeted that demolishing Manchester Courts would be “a loss not just for Christchurch, but for New Zealand”. I don’t actually know if that’s true. I just sort of made it up because I was annoyed about it. But surprisingly enough, the Herald quoted that in an article about historic Christchurch buildings facing demolition.
The building is now a pile of rubble, blocking off the corner of Manchester and Hereford Streets. It’s still annoying that such a handsome building couldn’t be saved, but it seems like it had been unloved for such a long time that perhaps it was better to have been put out of its misery.
If I didn’t pay too much attention, I could trick myself into thinking that everything was as it was pre-quake. But it’s one thing to see “Keep Calm and Carry One” merchandise in a gift shop (in fact, it seems pretty much mandatory at the moment for all New Zealand gift shops to stock such items), but it’s a different matter seeing a crude print-out of the familiar red poster taped up on an office window.
In Cashel Mall, the Whitcoulls store had its building declared unsafe from the Boxing Day aftershock. The store was been frozen in time, its front window still displaying a cheery Christmas tree and wreath, offering slightly unnerving season’s greetings.
There was the potential of aftershocks, which I was kind of looking forward to. GeoNet logged five significant aftershocks in the three days I was in town, with the largest being a 3.8, but I didn’t notice any of them. I can pinpoint where I was when each of them happened, but I can’t recall a whole lot of shaking, jolting or thudding going on.
I did a search on Twitter for #eqnz hashtags and found a few people tweeting about aftershocks that didn’t seem to match up with any recorded ones. Could it be that crowd-sourcing is more accurate than seismographs… or is it just jumpy resisdents tweeting at every passing truck or slammed door?
The Canterbury Museum has an area dedicated to the earthquake. It’s basic room, painted in a dark colour. On one wall, some statistics about the earthquake are displayed on the wall, including a frequently updated tally of the number of aftershocks – 4254, at last update. There’s also a projection of the Christchurch Quake Map.
It’s a really simple display, and it seems like a stop-gap measure to do something, while acknowledging that the story of the Canterbury earthquake is still being told.
Christchurch looks like this: normal, normal, normal, temporary fence, normal, normal, cracked bricks, normal, normal, normal, normal, normal, crumbling parapet, normal, canvas over hole in side of building, normal, normal, normal, church steeple on lawn in front of church, normal, normal, normal, broken glass, normal, normal, normal, dumpster full of rubble, normal, empty lot where building once stood, normal.
And slowly things are getting more and more normal.
I went to the Ron Mueck exhibtion twice. The first time I was straight off the plane, tired, emotional and the whole thing was a giant emo rollercoaster. So I paid another visit the next day to fully take it in.
Christchurch Art Gallery is really cool in that they allow non-flash photography for the Mueck exhibition. But this means that the gallery is full of people holding up camera phones or pocket digital cameras. They mostly take the same sort of photo – a front-on shot of the sculpture in its entirity.
Ron Mueck’s hyperreal sculptures give gallery visitors a rare opportunity – the ability to stare at someone for a long time. If you look at a real person, sooner or later your look turns into a stare and you have to engage with them or look away. If you’re looking at a film of a person, you’re not in control of what you’re looking at or for how long.
Ron Mueck’s sculptures give the viewer the chance to have a really good look at a number of people (and a chicken). You can stare at the massive belly of “Pregnant Woman” or the sleepy eye of the newborn “A Girl” or cop an eyeful of “Wild Man”‘s genitals. You can judgementally sneer back at “Two Women” or check out the toes of “Drift”.
There was something very special about the Ron Mueck exhibition. I’m not sure what it was, but I did notice this: in most art exhibitions that I go to, people seem to spend more time reading the information cards next to the art than looking at the art itself; in the Ron Mueck exhibition, hardly anyone looked at the info cards, and spent most of the time looking at the art and talking about it with their companions.
So, I’ve been to Christchurch four times since October 2009, which led to the notorious rumour that I had a secret boyfriend in Christchuch, and in turn led to my declaration that Christchurch itself was my secret boyfriend.
Well, I’ve decided to break up with my secret boyfriend. It’s not Christchurch, it’s me. It’s a lovely city, but I feel like I’ve gone as far as I can go with it as far as casual encounters go. I feel it is time for me to move on and get myself another secret boyfriend. And I know just the place.