Christchurch, from earthquake to rebirth. Thanks to the love of a man for street art

Comments (0) Art & Culture, Design

The art of rebuilding. Or rather, the street art of rebuilding. Urban art, with all its variations, has always attributed a role of “King Midas” as if, magically, a more or less conceptualized spray of paint changes the existence of a neighborhood of a suburb. Street art requalifies the places, one of the most popular expressions and, at the same time, one of the most empty. Fallacious reasoning. But when we talk about the art of rebuilding in the city of Christchurch, we explore a slightly different picture where the artistic talent has made available to the community to leave a mark, not only of paint.
Christchurch is the largest city of the South Island in New Zealand; it has more than 360 thousand inhabitants and a dual foundation. One in 1850, when a young English Tory, John Robert Godley, tried to mold his vision of a society where church and nobility would live in harmony (a vision wrecked soon). The second foundation is newer, February 2011. Forced, very suffered and painful. On February 22, at 12:51 am local time, the ground trembled: an earthquake of magnitude 6.3 not far from the surface that damaged many buildings, including the city’s cathedral. Some were severely damaged others collapsed totally. The number of deaths still varies because there were aftershocks: maybe there are 185, 186 or maybe more and thousands injured.
From the religious and secular buildings that emulated the architecture of Victorian England to piles of ash, debris, gashes on the walls and in the hearts of the inhabitants. From the beautiful botanical gardens to the wither of life. But dissipated the dust that polluted the air, the inhabitants have breathed again the desire to restart. Driven also by the color of street art. Christchurch is a pretty dress that has a few patch too: there are areas with debris deposited, other areas under reconstruction, bulldozers working and so on. And, from patch to patch, street art seems to mend the city and to keep well combined and refined dress, to six years after the earthquake. Lonely Planet, the Australian publisher of travel guides, has put Christchurch among the 39 richest cities of urban art with Berlin, New York, London and so on.
Stories are made of men. This has as protagonist a madman, indeed, as he said, an obsessed. His name is George Shaw and he is the promoter (thanks to a number of festivals like “Oi You” and “Spectrum”) of the sparkling cultural explosion that inebriated Christchurch. Shaw is a man who has well over 50 years old, born and raised in England and he started to love street art (indeed, obsessed, as mentioned) purely by chance: in 2005, he bought for a party in the English Midlands, a eccentric shirt with two faces covered by anti-contamination masks made with the stencil. Without knowing it, he was wearing an unripe work of Banksy. So, he and his wife started looking for him, to inquire and they left captivated by his art. A real infatuation that led them to sell their first car and then the second to be able to finance. Now they have 22 works of the anonymous artist from Bristol. But that’s not all.
In 2009, Shaw has visited New Zealand with his wife and his two daughters: «We love the place. It ‘was one of those crossroads that each of us has in his life. We are pretty adventurous people, so we decided to come and live here». More precisely Nelson. Two years later, on the occasion of the Rugby World Cup, the Nelson City Council has asked Shaw permission to make an exhibition of his Banksy’s collection: over 40% of the population went to see the show and this, after a series of other interventions in the New Zealand city, has been the springboard for thinking about something big. Just in Christchurch with the first street art festival in 2013, like we said before, “Oi You”.
The first, exciting and impactful work was realized by the Australian artist Ian Strange with the “Final Act” project: he worked on few of 16 thousand houses of the so-called red zone that, after the earthquake, they remained uninhabited and next to be demolished. An installation poignant for those who grew up there, as you can see in this video:
The rest, one might say, is history. Just look up, disoriented walking along the streets of the reborn New Zealand city and getting lost admiring the beauty of the various works. There is Seth, Roa, Owen Dippie, Seb Humphreys, Adnate, Sofles, Vexta and there are many others. So many that Lindsay Chan, the last in order of time to get carried away by the vibrations of the city, has decided to create an interactive map. It’s called “Watch This Space: Christchurch Street Art” (HERE) and includes all the works (ranging above 100) between street art and pure graffiti even prior to the earthquake of 2011. The idea of this girl born in San Francisco is not a mere collection of data and names: street by street she found the works, she contacted the artists to know the year of creation and the idea behind. Oh, in an interview, while explaining her work, she told about obsession. Again.

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