Not wanting to promote gawking tourism, but a recent visit I had to Christchurch was more memorable than any art gallery or history museum. It was early December and Canterbury was bleak. It was overcast, occasionally drizzly; just perfect for viewing destruction. The natural place to start was the cathedral. Incidentally this is not the first time Christchurch cathedral has lost bits. Earthquakes in 1881, 1888 and 1901 damaged the spire. It was then replaced by one made of hardwood sheathed in copper. standing in the square behind a high wire fence I was, however, afforded a view of more than the loss of few bits of masonry. The Cathedral is now ripped asunder with black birds flying in and out and loose material flapping. The old lady is in a state of decrepitude while rhetoric e rages around whether to demolish or reconstruct.
The Old Cathedral and the New Temporary 'Cardboard Cathedral
It’s a fair hike to the new ‘cardboard cathedral’, but worth the effort. It’s an A Frame clad in what looks like novaroof. It looks best from the inside. The ‘cardboard’ is like toilet rolls on steroids; large cylinders supporting the roof supports from ground to ridge. They are closely spaced with the gap between them letting in diffused natural light. It must be an expensive structure to heat, but then the same would be true of the old cathedral or any cathedral for that matter. Inside the illumination was enchanting. I give the cardboard cathedral a ten out of ten for internal ambience and an eight out of ten for external appearance.
Nature’s demolition has laid bare history. Half standing buildings with their internal construction exposed, enable you to visualise the 1800s when they were being built. Wandering the streets of Christchurch I had a sense of having been transported back to the time when Christchurch was going up rather than down. I saw a wall covered with an artful sign promoting a painting company. The sign was so fresh that I couldn’t decide if it was recent or very old. The house depicted, cinched it as being the latter. It was not the sort of house we build these days. Soon after painting the sign a neighbouring building must have gone up in front of it. There in the dark, protected from the weather, it remained through the Boer War, both the world wars, the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch and the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior; lost from memory as all who knew it grew old and died, as did their children. Then an earthquake in 2011 caused the neighbouring building to be removed, and the sign was exposed once again with it’s message encouraging people to protect their homes with a repaint by a company long since gone.
The juxtapositioning of the mundane with destruction made for a walk-through exhibition which trumped any collection of modern art. It packed an emotional punch amplified by the knowledge that never again would I or anyone else experience Christchurch the way I did on that dull Canterbury day.
Jan 15, 2015 • Peter Owen