It has been a while since our last Street Treats edition, in part due to the lock-down situation, but even as we all play catch up on the livelihoods that were put on hold, the streets were a fascinating site to explore with the range of expressions and interventions to be found. This volume of Street Treats features a cacophony of diverse forms, and rather than dealing with explicitly political messaging, they are affirmative and declarative and playful, inherently meaningful concepts in a time where it is easy to feel invisible and somewhat powerless. Graffiti is a strong presence, bursts of colourful existential expression, bound by certain conventions but constantly searching for ways to stand out. The examples here run the gamut of styles and modes of production (some are legal, others not so much), but importantly they speak to the game and represent both a here and now and the countless numbers that have come before, a lineage of urban commentary. The repetition of other, non-signature forms lives up to the concept of post-graffiti, like characters, pencils, flowers and rocket ships, these symbols are both as mysterious as calligraphic tags, and yet also familiar and therefore more approachable. They share the idea of proclamation in the public realm, but are perhaps satisfied with intrigue rather than alienation. Why do so many find it more challenging when someone boldly writes their name than the positioning of an iconographic proxy to do the same job? Is a name a more confrontational and confident vessel for expression? Regardless of your take, the effect is the same; the city speaks, quietly, loudly, in whispers or in defiantly boisterous screams…
Stay tuned for more Street Treats soon!
If you have any corrections for the credits above, let us know in the comments!
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The Paste-Up Project is a collaboration between Watch This Space, Phantom Billstickers and a selection of Ōtautahi’s finest paste-up and poster artists. With support from the Christchurch City Council, one of Phantom’s Manchester Street bollards has been transformed into a paste-up art installation space for the next 12 months, with local artists commissioned to push their work in new directions with a three-month takeover. The Paste-Up Project bollard serves as a supported platform for one of urban art’s most enduring forms and for the long historical lineage of urban postering (just ask Phantom!), with artists enabled to grow the scale and material qualities of their work within a setting that will challenge the perceptions of an ephemeral form of art.
First up at bat is teethlikescrewdrivers, an easy choice really as he is the driving force behind SlapCity, the loose collective that has embraced the potential of stickers and paste-ups across Ōtautahi. His instantly familar, yet continually beguiling pencil icon has become a recurring feature of the urban landscape. The simplicity of the image opens up a range of potential readings, and yet requires none, it exists, it is, and that is enough. More notable for the Lyttelton artist, is the sense of collaboration and community that his urban art adventures have instituted – from online mash-ups to weekly meet ups to explore the city, teethlikescrewdrivers constantly strives for connections and in doing so has created an expansive network of disparate, yet kindred spirits who see the urban landscape as one of play.
His installation for The Paste-Up Project embraces these ideas, celebrating each in a segmented yet cohesive production that will be on display for the next three months in central Christchurch. Of course, the pencil is the star, refashioned and re-formed across the circular base, and in doing so speaking to the various personalities who have inspired, influenced and embraced the artist’s signature form. But that’s enough from me, let’s hear from teethlikescrewdrivers as he explains his installation…
For the two people who don’t know you already, introduce yourself…
Hi, I’m teethlikescrewdrivers and I draw pencils.
I will admit that there was really no other choice for the first artist up for this project – what was your take when we first discussed the concept?
Really? Oh man.
Initially I was doubtful, mostly of myself! I couldn’t really think of anything other than doing bigger pencils and I wanted to give the space something it deserved. I’m fine with doing more pencils, but it wasn’t really bringing anything new to the table. After a few discussions with people and reading the brief, I started to think more about the possibilities it offered someone who usually only does one thing.
It is a surprisingly big space, how did you come up with the concept to fill the bollard and what incarnations did you go through?
I was going to just use it as one giant nine metre-squared canvas. After a few visits with a tape measure and some really basic planning, I decided to divide it into small, medium and large ‘panels’. This then made me start thinking about three themes. It kind of rolled on from there.
Your piece is titled Community, Collaboration and Connection, and it reflects the various elements that form such integral components of your experience in the world of urban art, how does each section relate?
After I settled on three panels, the themes were easy. I wanted to highlight paste-ups as a medium and have the chance to play around with that, I wanted to introduce more of the international sticker and paste-up community to Christchurch and I was always going to give our SlapCity family some love. I had to measure up pretty accurately for the community one, just so the pencil slotted in. The collaboration panel used the Vermin poster (Vermin is an artist from Manchester in the UK) as a starting point and then I just filled in the space like a sticker bomb. The big connection wall I had a rough idea for…kinda . I figured if I turned up with all the stuff I had, made and cut pastes on the spot and used posters salvaged from clearing the bollard something would happen. I just started throwing up stuff and discovering gems!
You got to play around with some cool material concepts, from large scale pastes to smaller overlapped pieces and of course the tearing away of layers, tell me more about each of these ideas…
Firstly the bollard is bloody ginormous, so I knew making three-metre tall pencil was going to be a struggle and would basically cover a whole panel. By splitting it I was able to physically manage it and still give a chance for the stuff behind to be seen. On the connection wall I really got to play with all the layers; negative spaces and using cool materials such as the old posters and wallpaper. On the second day I came back and started tearing into the layers from the day before, I really enjoyed that element of the process. I also really liked making my own wallpaper and giving the whole thing depth.
You spent a sunny weekend on the bollard, what was it like to have the time to explore the ideas you had developed – it must have been a new experience compared to the missions with friends. Did you find it still quite communal? I imagine it was like a mural painter – do you have any interesting stories of people stopping to chat or asking questions about what you were doing?
I kind of set up camp for the weekend, it was ace. I had a picnic table for drawing and cutting paste-ups, a speaker playing music, my car right there and my shit spread out all over the place. It was ideal! I had lots of good chats with passers-by about the bollard and my car; both great conversation starters. Having the time to step back really helped the big panel come together. That one is more artistic, I guess, it’s less about one piece and more about layers and how they fit together so time helped.
Oh, I almost got signed up to the Peninsula Trampers Club by one old fella who I had a good chat with! Did you know there are a whole bunch of boulders like the ones at Moeraki, but in the streams inland!? You do now!
My whanau popped by and I had a lunchtime beer with a bunch of mates and lots of people came and hung out. It was like a paste-up Glastonbury!
What were some of the challenges you faced? It is obviously not a traditional flat surface…
The wind and the physical size of the paste-ups were the big ones. But because I had time I was able to leave stuff and come back to it, or think my way around it.
What are your hopes for The Paste-Up Project, not just in terms of your own installation but as a concept? Do you see it as a way to change perceptions, or at least the visibility of paper art in Ōtautahi?
I hope it opens the door for more artists to get their stuff up. There is a real delight in putting your work up in the streets rather than in a frame or on Instagram. Having a dedicated paste-up ‘show’ really lets people see some of the more established artists’ work and hopefully inspires others to get out there into the streets with a bucket and brush or just a pocket full of homemade stickers. Down the line I would love to see this kind of collaboration move into different towns and cities.
You have developed a web of connections around the world with artists through collabs and trades, and many are featured on the bollard, have you had any responses from those people overseas yet? What have the responses been like from the local scene?
Instantly! The collab wall was really just a huge collab and mash-up sticker bomb and everyone is always stoked to see a bit of their work in one, especially way down here in Christchurch. I think there are mash-ups and collabs with over 50 artists on that panel; everywhere from Brazil, Russia, most of Europe and even just down the road.
I’ve had comments from people about how well my pencil scales up, this was a good test for that! I was really stoked with the Vermin collab, it looks epic as a huge poster and you can really appreciate all the details. I was also really pleased to get work up in New Zealand from good friends from overseas.
Do you hope this is just the start of more opportunities like this, and if so, do you have any ideas of how it might be harnessed?
I really hope so. I would love to see sticker and paste-up walls as part of the ‘street art’ scene alongside graffiti and murals here in New Zealand. Maybe down the road a sticker and paste-up show? It would be amazing to see some dedicated paste-up walls or permissioned spaces in the city. Personally, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and see where it leads me.
While the weather was perfect for installation, it rained heavily just a day later, what impact did that have and were you philosophical about it?
I think putting a layer of straight-up PVA onto wet paste last thing was a double-edged sword. The next day the whole thing was covered in white streaks and all the paper was still really wet, I thought I’d knackered it! But after a while it dried clear and I think will add a bit more protection in the long run. The good thing about all paste-ups is you can always add more layers. If it all falls to bits over the next few months I will just go and tear a bunch off and add more.
Who do you want to shout out?
Watch This Space, Phantom, the Christchurch City Council, the SlapCity family and all the amazing venues that have let us use their spaces over the past two years. All the artists here in Christchurch who paved the way and have got us to a point where a project like this can even happen. My whanau and all the rad artists who have let me use their art for mashups or who have taken my pencils and messed with them.
Follow teethlikescrewdrivers to see what he gets up to next, and keep your eyes and ears peeled for more about The Paste-Up Project on our channels!
Oh, and get down to the site on Manchester Street to see this amazing installation in the flesh!
Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:
Watch This Space and Phantom Billstickers are excited to present The Paste-Up Project – a celebration of one of urban art’s most enduring, popular and accessible forms!
The Paste-Up Project will see one of Phantom’s inner city bollards (on Manchester Street to be exact) transformed into a poster art installation space – with four local paste-up artists taking turns to install their work on the circular form. Each artist will take on the challenge of pushing their work in new directions, increasing in scale and employing new techniques to create pieces that will suggest the potential of paste-up art.
While large-scale muralism has become the most visible form of urban art’s contemporary profile, street art in particular is marked by its diversity of material approaches. From Blek Le Rat’s pasted stencils and Swoon’s delicate woodblock prints, paper-based techniques have been a fixture in post-graffiti across the globe. In Ōtautahi Christchurch, paste-ups and posters have become a visible component of the art found in our streets, unleashing a range of creative concepts while also evoking the long lineage of urban communication found in the likes of fly-posters and urban posters. From Icelandic pop stars to analogue memes, giant toys and collaged surrealism, the city has become a popular landscape for artists welding rolls of paper and buckets of glue.
The Paste-Up Project provides a supported platform to further investigate these techniques and a chance for some of our favourite artists to explore their work. First up to bat is Slap City founder and perfect pencil purveyor Teeth Like Screwdrivers – an undeniable choice to kick start this project! Stay tuned as we dive deeper into his concept, inspiration and hopes for his installation in the coming days (not to mention the following artists as they are announced!)
Keep up to date with The Paste-Up Project here at our blog or by following us on Instagram and Facebook and join the fun by using the hashtag #pasteupprojectchch!
We can’t wait to get started!
The Paste-Up Project is gratefully supported by the Christchurch City Council’s Enliven Places fund!
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As part of a series of works inside the East X East Red Zone in Burwood, local artists Porta and Bols have extended their POWER UP! series with a fresh container mural. In 2020, the duo installed a range of pixellated cut-out video game tokens throughout the zone, creating an analogue digital-inspired treasure hunt. Coins, potions, swords and treasure chests were hidden through the landscape and a seat painted as an arcade console explained the rules. Now, with support from Life in Vacant Spaces and the Christchurch City Council’s Red Zone Transitional Projects Fund, the artists have employed the retro game imagery with a text-based mural on a run down shipping container in the park’s north-east.
Mimicking a video game screen, amidst the black cosmic backdrop the question PLAY AGAIN? shimmers in a blocky 8-bit font. Reminiscent of the challenge posed after “GAME OVER” flashes on screen, the question posed refers to the potential of the surrounding area. The remaining concrete streets serve as reminders of the homes that once stood in place and the presence of families and in particular young people riding bikes on the streets, climbing trees in backyards and, of course, playing video games as the sun beamed outside. PLAY AGAIN? draws on both the nostalgic reminders of what once was and suggests the potential for play to return to the area, as if an encouragement.
The artists painted the work over several days, masking off the font before adding the effects with aerosol. They explained that running power lines to project the image was the biggest challenge, but one that was overcome quickly, finding humour that echoed the sentiment of the work. The artists also admit the visibility of the container from the nearby motorway was an added bonus, serving like a billboard for an inquisitive public passing by. In addition, they hope to expand the POWER UP! installations, replacing icons that proved irresistible to visitors.
When the Canterbury Museum’s hugely popular Rise exhibition finished in early 2014, the walls of the main exhibition hall were covered with long black curtains, the murals from the show obscured with only teasing snippets still visible for more inquisitive visitors. With Hakē: Street Art Revealed; the Museum has drawn back the curtains, allowing the public the chance to revisit the Rise legacy, while also encountering a new floor-to-wall mural by Tāmaki Makaurau artist Benjamin Work.
A member of the celebrated TMD crew, Aotearoa’s most notable graffiti collective, Work brings urban art credibility, but his involvement also ensures a wider discourse that extends beyond the focus of Rise. Work’s evolution exemplifies the new trajectories of artists reared on graffiti and urban art, while also explicitly exploring the complexities of both cultural institutions and the Pasifika diaspora. Drawing on his Tongan heritage, Work has pushed his art in new directions over the last decade. Inspired by the iconography found on cultural treasures such as ‘akau tau (war clubs), his refined, graphic paintings have sought to find new spaces and ways for audiences to engage with Tonga’s visual culture, both inside institutions and on the streets.
Over the span of a week, Work created Motutapu II, a massive mural that sprawls across the floor and walls of the main exhibition hall. Inspired by the Canterbury Museum’s collection of ‘akau tau, the painting extends outward from two orange diamond shaped mata, or matapā (eyes of the pā), a vertiginous pattern of interlocking black and white lines leading the viewer toward more sacred symbols framing the work. Work explains Motutapu II as a metaphorical representation of ancient gateways marking arrivals and departures of voyaging vaka. ‘Motutapu’ is a name used across Polynesian cultures for sacred or sanctuary islands, neutral spaces for visitors before arrival at the mainland.
In the museum mural, the black and white lines create pathways, leading the viewer to each end of the hall; a hovering māhina (moon) glows in mottled orange to the east, while to the west, a soaring Tavake (Tropicbird) accompanies three figures symbolising Tonga’s chiefly lineage. Inviting viewers into the painted space, while maintaining a reverence for sacred imagery, navigating the complicated task of maintaining traditions and engaging a contemporary audience. After observing the creation of Motutapu II, I had the opportunity to sit down with Benjamin Work to discuss his experiences in Ōtautahi Christchurch, the future directions of his practice, and the experience of working at the Canterbury Museum…
It’s been a busy month for you! It started with the TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story exhibition at The Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt, then you arrived here in Ōtautahi to paint a mural for the Etu Pasifika Health Centre with (fellow TMD Crew member) Charles Williams before starting work on your floor-to-wall mural at the Canterbury Museum. Is such a busy lifestyle still enjoyable or do you miss your own bed?
We were talking about this the other night, I have friends whose practice often works at this pace, but I think this has been one of the busiest periods I’ve experienced, including the work prior to my month away. I’ve noticed it’s easy to move from project to project and not take time to be present, to really be in the moment, so that’s something I’m focusing on. And once I’m home, I will have time to process what’s happened.
It must have helped to have had friends and family alongside you for these projects…
Definitely! I can’t function without friends and family. I am a relational person. Most of my life has been experienced in a collective environment, whether it was TMD crew, church settings or amongst my Tongan family. I’m at a point in my life where I have a greater understanding of the way I am, and that’s to help others navigate their way as I find my way.
I assume that is also an influence from your graffiti background, a culture that has a strong sense of collectivism and collaboration, which brings me to the Museum project. The opportunity came from the Museum revealing the wall works from the 2013-14 Rise street art exhibition. The idea was to add a floor mural to extend the narratives around that exhibition. Your work has moved beyond description as graffiti art or street art, both stylistically and contextually, highlighting the evolution of artists who may have roots in those origins. How do you respond to people designating you as a graffiti or street artist?
They are different practices which I want to navigate how and when I want. This is hard for many people to understand inside of their boxes. I don’t want to be referred to as graffiti artist, street artist or a Tongan artist, simply an artist who is telling stories both old and new.
You mention that you have become more comfortable in the studio, but the idea of bringing Tongan iconography to public spaces and giving them a new visibility was a central aspect of your work, how has that intention changed?
It has been an important part of my process but there has been a shift of late due to migrating back to Aotearoa, Covid, time alone and making new work. I have seen a shift in style, painting techniques and even using loose canvas. There was a period where I engaged with a lot of institutions, between 2015 and 2019, and it was important for me to engage with our Tongan treasures and bring them out into the public space. But I’m not sure if that’s going be a focal point going forward. What I’d like to do is use those connections and my platform to connect other Tongans that are searching for those answers with those institutions. Many communities don’t realise that they have access to all the museums that hold our treasures.
Working within cultural institutions you must have to consider the colonial history of such spaces. Do you see yourself as challenging that history from the inside, or are you more concerned with opening doors for people who have not had a relationship with these institutions previously and as such have not been exposed to the treasures they contain?
I hope that the way I move and the way I am, and the work that I make does challenge those places. Naturally I’m a bridge-builder, so for me, engaging with an institution such as the Canterbury Museum, one goal is to reconnect our people with our treasures, but if there are challenges that arise, I have to face them. I don’t go looking for confrontation, but if I come face to face with it, I have to say something because I’ve got the privilege of being in that space and if not me, then who?
Looking back to some of your previous work, like the mural you painted here in Christchurch for From the Ground Up in 2013, there was an explicit narrative unfolding in a relatively conventional pictorial format, but your work now feels much more evocative and suggestive without that overt storytelling, a quality that is evident in the Museum piece.
Graffiti was quite literal, it’s a letter-based art form and I painted my chosen name over and over again. This is me! Know me! Read me! I’m famous! Transitioning away from a graffiti aesthetic in 2011, I realised I didn’t have to be so blatant which led me to engage with the more abstract iconography found on our traditional ngatu (bark cloth). The inspiration for that particular mural came from reading Olaf Ruhen’s book called Minerva Reef, a true story of Tongan boxers on their way to Aotearoa for a tournament who were shipwrecked on the Minerva Reef for four months. I used iconography to communicate this story on the wall. It was a little strange at the time painting it in Christchurch but that shifted when I found out descendants of some of the survivors lived in Christchurch and visited the wall.
Did that evolution come about as your exploration of Tongan artefacts such as ‘akau tau (war clubs) and tapa cloth deepened? What were your experiences with those types of objects growing up?
Ngatu bark cloth, fala (floor mats) and ta’ovala, the mats we wear around our waists, are filled with mostly abstract motifs which are embedded with ancient knowledge, we engage with them from birth. We have an intimate knowledge of them, of their texture, and even their smell. We had ngatu bark cloth and mats folded under our bed, most Tongans do, that’s where you store them, where else do you store these humongous things? Ngatu bark cloth was my first point of reference when experimenting with other mediums, but the war clubs were love at first sight. I was first introduced to them in a book called The Art of Tonga by Keith St. Cartmail, I was instantly intrigued by the iconography carved into them. I wanted to work them into my practice, especially the warrior figures.
I was lucky enough to join you when you were examining some of the ‘akau tau in the Museum’s collection, and I was struck by the small scale of the carved designs on the clubs, possibly because I was familiar with your work’s larger scale, which has been an intentional shift to make them more visible…
I wanted to use my platform to tell the world about our Tongan iconography. I wanted the scale to be impactful and for our people to be proud once they had learned that these are our designs, that they come from our ancestors for us. What better way was there than public murals? I feel I’ve started something that other Tongans will continue with bigger and better murals.
You said that living in Tonga you noticed young Tongan men seem to physically engage with their surroundings, constantly touching or hitting surfaces. That kinesthetic or tactile tendency becomes important in the context of your work as you have to think about how people engage with artefacts and art within institutions. I know you had to grapple with the idea of people potentially walking over the floor mural and that influenced the design, especially the elements drawn from more revered sources. That question of how to treat objects of culture and how we engage with them must be a central concern for you, especially as you shift between sacred cultural objects, utilitarian objects, public spaces and white cube galleries…
My process evolves slowly, I’m OK with it, as long as I’m still exploring different ways to communicate through my work, the speed of change doesn’t matter. Living in Tonga has challenged me to think differently when it comes to materials and the way I present my work. I’ve seen my people touching and desiring to hold my work rather than simply viewing it in a gallery, and I’m now OK with that, but if you asked me five years ago, I would have had a heart attack!
What was the process for the Museum piece, from exploring the collection of Tongan artefacts to producing this massive floor to wall mural? What are you looking for as inspiration in those objects and how do you then translate it to a massive mural work?
An important part of this project was me coming down to Christchurch viewing the space. I was emailed the specs for the floor and walls, but if I’m able to see the physical space, I’m able to respond to the space better. Likewise, with the ‘akau tau, I’ve seen many throughout my years of research but I’m always looking for unique motifs within each museum’s collection. I had a similar experience at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with Dr Maia Nuku (Associate Curator of Oceanic Art at the famous museum). She took us into the collection of Tongan treasures, which is small, but there was a club there with this small motif of two warriors reaching out towards each other, their hands above their heads. That motif then triggered the idea for a mural which she organised in Spanish Harlem. In the Canterbury Museum’s collection is a beautiful abstraction of a Tropicbird which I included in the mural.
By coincidence, the mural you painted with Charles featured a tropicbird as well…
It was meant to be. There was no prior communication on that. Even though it was a Pasifika Health Centre, it would go against Charles’ kaupapa of painting foreign birds in Aotearoa. The Tropicbird is known as an Amokura in Māori and Tavake in Tongan and is a sacred and significant bird that can still be sighted from time to time in Aotearoa. It is said some elders would cry as it was a tohu or sign reminding them of Hawaiki.
You have admitted your connection to Christchurch is rather limited, but some of your Scottish heritage does trace back here. Being born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and also living in Tonga, what have you made of your experience in Ōtautahi?
I’ve enjoyed Ōtautahi, but I definitely love Tāmaki! No, I visit a place and try to feel the environment, watch and engage with people of that place. Both Māori and Pakeha have been shaped by the landscape, seascape, mountains, and rivers. My great-great-grandparents migrated from the Shetland Islands to Christchurch and are buried in Linwood Cemetery – something I’m learning more about recently. I’ve engaged with the land and people down here, wondering if there are any attributes of that generation in the people I’ve met. I have questions: Why did they choose Ōtautahi Christchurch? Did they walk these same streets? Did they learn the story of this land?
Have you had the chance to engage with members of the Pasifika community here in Ōtautahi during this project?
Associate Curator Hatesa Seumanutafa went above and beyond her job description in supporting this project. Having a person from Moana Oceania with our treasures in the Museum is vital! Not only for our material culture but as a lighthouse for our people to connect with within the institution. Ōtautahi has a unique Pasifika story, one that is sometimes dominated by the Pasifika stories from Auckland and Wellington. I was able to connect with some of the amazing community here and make space for us around a kava session in the Canterbury Museum indigenising space to talanoa and tend to relationships – the first of many.
Back in February, South Sea Spray saw a collection of Aotearoa’s finest urban artists congregate in Bluff. As one might expect, the outcome was an array of stunning works produced around the Southern town. We were lucky enough to get our hands on pictures courtesy of photographer Brian ‘Rowee’ Rowe, with permission from the festival organisers – so, in case you can’t make it down to the glorious South, here is our latest postcard…
for more about South Sea Spray, including future festival information, follow them on Facebook and Instagram…
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Dr Suits’ bright abstractions have become notable over the last few years as he has eschewed the tendencies towards representation in favour of blocks of colour and dizzying diagonal lines. We were recently lucky enough to support the Fiksate-based artist as he produced Crossings inside the East X East red zone in Burwood. Applied directly to the now unused road of the green space, the work plays on the natural shadows and road markings to coat the concrete in bands of colour. Created over several days with fellow New Brighton legend Porta, the work buzzes with colourful blocks – yellow, pink, blue, black and white stacked and interlocked. With subtle details such as small yellow lines extending off the main body and slightly offset lines, the work is both rewarding of inspection and striking from distance. Dr Suits intended the work as an invitation to play, a work that people can explore from inside rather than gaze at from outside, adding another interesting element to the red zone environment and suggesting the possibility for more interventions…
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Watch This Space intern Millie Peate-Garratt recently caught up with Rosie Mac, one of the artists behind the beguiling Grove of Intention mural that has sprung forth in Westpac Lane on Hereford Street. While somewhat outside of our usual take on urban art, the Grove provides an example of the community-centric and participatory muralism that has become a feature of Christchurch’s public art profile, including works such as Richard ‘Popx’ Baker’s work with young people on Colombo Street several years ago, or more recently, Kyla Kuzniarski’s project with local school children in New Brighton. The Grove of Intention proved a slightly different approach again, as Millie found out…
The Beginnings: Two Friends…
Rosie Mac is a certified Intentional Creativity Facilitator and artist from Christchurch. Upon witnessing friend and Californian artist Kerry Lee create five murals in less than a year, Mac asked herself: “How can I contribute to my community?” The result was a grove of ‘Intention Trees’ painted in central Christchurch. In December 2018, funding for the mural was approved by the Christchurch City Council, and sponsorship for Lee’s travel to Christchurch was secured through Spark. Mac also secured sponsorship from Resene Paints NZ Ltd, for the paint and accessories required to complete the mural. With this support, the project was realised…
“Rosie Mac and I are very excited to bring this beautiful, meaningful interactive experiential mural to the residents and visitors at Christchurch where the seven trees can provide insightful moments for many years to come. Our dreams are to have these murals throughout the world!” – Kerry Lee
The Grove of Intention
The Hereford Street grove is the largest series of ‘Intention Trees’ produced in the world. A procession of seven stylised metallic gold trees (inspired by Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt), the public were invited to give one-word answers to the questions posed by each tree. The results were then represented as unfurling, sprawling branches, imbuing the work with a communal, living quality. At the public unveiling and celebration, visitors were invited to write their one-word answers on a paper leaf and add it to the tree temporarily, before Lee and Mac painted these words onto the tree branches, expanding the blossoming sentiments. The trees are also surrounded by symbols of various elements of each tree’s central concern, economically ensuring every detail is loaded with meaning.
The Seven Trees
Each tree asks a specific question, where the answers require both self-reflection and an awareness of our shared spaces and experiences. When people approached the tree, participants were invited to write a single word intention on a leaf. By distilling their ‘intention’ or response into one word, participants discovered the essence and empowerment in their expression. Participants wrote their word on paper, were witnessed saying it aloud, and then added it to the tree to be read by others. This experience created a resonant connection, each leaf holding special power in creating the whole. In addition to the words, whimsical birds of Aotearoa were painted perched upon each tree, adding a playful quality, while vitally, fifty thumbprints, representing those lost in the March Terror Attacks, were added in an act of memorialisation. So what questions did the trees pose?
Tree One: The Wish Tree
What is one big wish you have for yourself?
Tree Two: The Peace Tree
What is one wish you have for the world?
Tree Three: The Wellbeing Tree
What nourishes your soul?
Tree Four: The Connection Tree
Where in Christchurch is your favourite place to be in conversation?
Tree Five: The Wisdom Tree
What is one thing you know for sure?
Tree Six: The Gratitude Tree
What are you grateful for?
Tree Seven: The Witness Tree
How do you help improve the world?
The Grove of Intention adds another layer to the visual adornment of Christchurch’s ever-changing urban landscape. While visually intricate, the real power is found in the intention, the execution and the sentiment. Creating a visual manifestation of real community participation, the mural operates on multiple levels. It might not have the flashes of technical wizardry of some of the city’s iconic contemporary urban art murals, but it undeniably highlights the importance of communal action, expression and the diverse creative uses of public space…
Christchurch photographer Heather Milne is our first guest contributor. We asked Heather to reflect on her experience partaking in [CROP] Project: Flash Intervention, a recent street art project led by the CHUZKOS collective, celebrating the diversity and inclusivity of contemporary Christchurch. After considering various sites, [CROP] eventually took place on the corner of Manchester and Lichfield Street in Christchurch central. Photographs representing the faces of Christchurch were pasted on to the giant spray cans that Oi! YOU and Gap Filler have repurposed as free legal walls for the Christchurch community. Read on for Heather’s the project…
A concept, a bunch of cameras, giant jigsaw puzzles, and ten days to figure it all out.
[CROP] Project: Flash Intervention is a collaborative art project by CHUZKOS and a group of local creatives. Starting on 29 April 2018 with introductions and ideas, the street art installation combines the concepts of inclusivity and diversity to celebrate the evolving face of Christchurch’s population. The final artwork was installed on 9 May 2018. I was privileged to be a part of this project as a Christchurch resident, lover of street art, photographer, writer, and wheat paste chef.
The quick-fire art project was coordinated by Boris Mercado and Idelette Aucamp from CHUZKOS. They’ve set up the [CROP] Project, which ‘believes in the power of collaboration, art and photography to empower and promote positive change ‘ and uses ‘street art around the world to question societal issues, while paying homage to some of society’s most marginalised and often unseen individuals’. ‘CROP’ stands for Creative Resistance & Open Processes.
So, how did these noble and optimistic intentions work on the ground? Pretty well, it turns out…
Idelette and Boris initially planned on undertaking the project by themselves, but after being inspired by the creative energy of Preston Hegel from XCHC, the plan changed and the project became a collaboration. After a group of interested people responded to a Facebook post calling for people to get involved, an intro session at XCHC ensured the wheels of creativity started turning. Fast.
As Boris explains, the benefits of the fast ‘flash intervention’ style of street art are in the potential found in collaboration:
“This project again proves that initiatives based on collaboration are viable. And we can continue to break through the clutter and break away from the idea that art only belongs in galleries. I like how our project can keep contributing to the dialogue people have on the streets”.
The human face of Christchurch and Canterbury has changed since only Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe, then Ngāi Tahu iwi lived in the area. In addition to the mass migration from Great Britain, people from all over the world have emigrated to our shores for work, refuge, family, and love. Post-quake, Christchurch has experienced a new influx of immigrants; workers have flocked to the city from the Philippines, Ireland, Australia, the Czech Republic and many more countries. These new arrivals have helped with the city’s rebuild, contributing to New Zealand’s economy and enriching the culture in the process. So how does this reflect our identity? What do we look like now?
Two key themes of the artwork emerged – diversity and inclusivity. We wanted to create an artwork that provides a glimpse of who we are – a city and nation of people who need to promote unity, equality, inclusion and acceptance while also celebrating difference and diversity. We wanted to ignite conversations and inspire individual pride and the recognition of the various role people play in their communities and families.
Idelette sums up the importance of art and the use of public space as tools to encourage reflection upon these ideas:
“Art is a powerful tool of communication. By using public spaces as alternative platforms of communication, we invite people to connect with their environment, interact with each other and reflect on their own thoughts and opinions”.
What I found particularly beautiful about our group is that we were established artists, students, parents, people with day jobs and without, people born in New Zealand, people not born in New Zealand, people of different ages, genders, and cultures. Everyone was able to contribute something meaningful on practical, conceptual and spiritual levels.
As a photographer who generally works alone, the process of a collaborative street art project was a massive and rewarding learning curve for me. I love a good three-month schedule with detailed creative briefs, a clear idea of target audiences, and defined responsibilities. An intensive ten day art project with everyone pitching in, changing ideas, and last-minute additions threw me into a bit of a spin. There was no time for my usual encumbering imposter syndrome and I was compelled to trust my photographer-instincts.
We rushed out and made photographic portraits of people. Idelette and Boris worked on graphic design, marketing, and finding a space for our artwork. Their level of trust in the latter was impressive – and their tenacity got results. The five giant spray cans on the corner of Lichfield and Manchester Streets were booked as the canvasses.
Because of the (very) low budget, the only way to print the artworks was as A4 pages – then we painstakingly put them together the day before the installation to form five large portrait murals. Or maybe that should be five giant jigsaw puzzles!
Glaring sunlight, a brisk wind, flapping giant puzzle pieces, and the mucky qualities of wheat paste were all challenges to overcome on installation day. We were joined by Ravenhill Dance, Herbert Lewis, and Lana Panfilow with their gorgeous roaming dance performance thanks to connections made by a dance teacher in our group. The artworks went up, people came and watched, a school group visited.
We finished. We went to the Dux for a beer and a debrief. It was a good feeling.
The day after
Writing this the day after [CROP] was completed, I’m knackered, but excited about the connections I’ve made and the quiet whisperings of potential spaces we could work with in the future. I love the impact of the artwork we created – so many faces proudly representing our city in an accessible location for people of all ages, abilities, and cultures to see and interpret.
Final words from Idelette and Boris
A massive shout out to XCHC and Watch This Space for making everything run so smoothly and trusting us to do this project. Thanks to everyone who came to the open call, joined the group and provided creative input and contributed with each of their individual talents. We loved how much people really pulled together. We’ve since heard of three projects that will come from this one, which means the project has inspired!
Heather Joy Milne is a Christchurch-based photographer specialising in documenting photographing social change and the rebuild of the city. She’s passionate about the role that photography plays in storytelling and connecting communities, and is also a huge fan of penguins, coffee, and tiramisu. You can see more of Heather’s work at https://heatherjoymilne.weebly.com/ and find some of her articles at expertphotography.com and digital-photography-school.com.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Would you like to see more projects like these in Christchurch? Would you like to see more contributing writers on this blog? Please leave a comment below.
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