City of stuff that wasn’t there the last time I looked

I went to Auckland for the day for work. It was my first proper return to Auckland since I left.

On the flight over, as the plane flew over South Auckland on its decent, the two men sitting next to me (strangers who had been chatting) had this conversation.

Man 1 (Looking out the window): It’s a ticking time-bomb that’s going off.
Man 2: What is?
Man 1: South Auckland.
Man 2: Oh, why’s that?
Man 1: Third-generation Polynesian kids.
Man 2: Yeah, that’s the problem with society today. You can’t even bloody well give them a smack these days.

The conversation soon turned to the election, but here’s the interesting part: while they both reckoned National would probably win, neither of them really fancied John Key as prime minister. They thought he was inexperienced and not particularly trustworthy.

Anyway, on the ground in Auckland, I noticed the following things were different:

  • The Mount bar in Mt Eden is now The Mount Sports Bar. This is signified by a green plastic sign that looks like it was designed in Microsoft Paint.
  • The people in my new flat have put little flags in the window, but I didn’t see what country they were for.
  • All the public art in Aotea Square has been removed ahead of the big redevelopment. This scares me because traditionally when Auckland public art goes into storage, it gets forgotten about.
  • St Patrick’s square has also been ripped up and is being reconstructed with a robust new look for the new millennium. Its fountain has also been removed.
  • And to complete the trilogy of ripped-out fountains, the lovely one outside the Art Gallery is gone, as the space is being used for the new gallery extension.
  • (Yeah, I bet Auckland forefathers are really embarrassed that they build so many inadequate public spaces that weren’t robust or world-class enough so now they have to be ripped out and rebuilt.)
  • The new Westpac HQ on Customs Street is coming along nicely. It’s a smart design that fits in nicely with the older buildings on Customs Street, but looks of this decade.
  • There’s now a Gucci shop, right next door to the new Louis Vuitton shop. Boring.
    The crazy plastics shop on K Road has closed down. It astounds me that they stayed in business for as long as they did.
  • The old Brazil seems to be getting a new occupant. They seem to be doing a partial renovation, which greatly pleased the passing Rentokil serviceman. (“About bloody time.”)

The daylight is different in Auckland compared to Wellington. I’m not sure what it is, but Auckland light seems softer, more diffuse. Wellington has darker, sharper shadows. Is it clouds? Landscape? Lattitude?

I also went to the New Gallery and saw the Walters Prize nominees.

  • My favourite, on a personal level, was Cloud by John Reynolds, which comprises of hundreds of little canvas squares with words and phrases of New Zealand English written on them. TREE TOMATO.
  • There was also ACK by Peter Robinson, some giant bits of styrofoam that filled a couple of rooms. It pissed me off because of its giantness and room-fillingness. It made me feel all doomed and on the verge of extinction.
  • I was pleased to see the Digital Marae collection by Lisa Reihana. I’d seen three photos from it at the Tjibaou Centre in New Caledonia (which you should go to one day). Digital Marae has large photos, sounds and digital projections which combine stylised image of Maori in costumes inspired from various era in history. I love the Josephine Baker-style one.
  • And finally there was Dejeuner by Edith Amituanai, a series of photos looking at Polynesian rugby league players playing professionally over in France. I found it kind of depressing how they photos showed their French living rooms transformed into a really ordinary working-class New Zealand living room, complete with a bookcase with a set of Encyclopedia Brittanica sitting in the centre of the room. I felt alienated from the Polynesian, French and rugby league cultures shown.

So who’s gonna win the $50,000 prize? Probably the styrofoam. [1/11/08 – Turns out my prediction was correct: Peter Robinson’s ACK got the $50,000.]

It was a really nice day in Auckland and I started to feel a bit wistful and wondered if I shouldn’t have left Auckland. But on the way to the airport, it started raining that special kind of fat Auckland rain and the traffic on the motorway was awful. And I knew I would never miss that.