Artists inspired by iconic Christchurch space

When two renowned New Zealand artists were approached to help transform Christchurch's iconic Cathedral Square, they knew it was going to be an exciting thing to be part of.

Artists Chris Heaphy and Sara Hughes were invited to create artworks as part of Christchurch City Council's Transitional Cathedral Square project. The project, in collaboration with Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu and Te Runanga o Ngāi Tahu, aims to reactivate the Square as a welcoming space, more than 2 years after it was closed off to the public following the February 2011 earthquake. The art works surround a performance area, seating and extensive plantings. The installations will be moved and reconfigured as building progress and access needs in the area change.

Heaphy and Hughes were charged with producing engaging art that respected the past of the high-profile area, including Ngāi Tahu connections, while also responding to its present state and future aspirations. Recognising the Square as a transitional space, they were given the opportunity to create work that would reflect this.

The pair responded to the brief with bold, vibrant optimism-inducing art installations that will activate and frame the Transitional Square area.

Heaphy says he has enjoyed creating works for a city he feels a close connection with.

Christchurch is a special place for me, having studied at Canterbury University and living here for nearly a decade. I started my career as an exhibiting artist with the Jonathan Smart Gallery, and I still maintain a these strong connections to Christchurch and Te Waka A Maui The South Island.

Chris Heaphy

"The city and its people have gone through so much in the last few years and I hope the work expresses this, and also an awareness of the many changes and restarts that have occurred since humans have occupied this area," Heaphy says, "I developed my ideas through the stories that surround Christchurch and Cathedral Square, and through the many and varied histories that exist. Those histories are interwoven into the work, along with new narratives unfolding in front of us now."

Heaphy's work conveys strength through vivid ordered pattern and dazzling colour. A bold, stretching wall of signs, symbols and geometric architectural elements has been digitally printed onto hoarding panels. He has also created a whare of scaffolding, plastic bread baskets and living plants.

Hughes also acknowledges the rich heritage of the area, with her art inspired by historical embroidery, tukutuku panels and roof tiles of the ChristChurch Cathedral. Working with these starting points, her plan takes new directions, activating the space with a towering flag wall and hurricane fences transformed into vibrant geometric designs.

Hughes says she was very affected by the greyness and emptiness of Cathedral Square.

"I wanted to bring colour and energy into the square as a way to welcome people back. I am particularly interested in colour for its emotional and psychological effects on people. Discovering the flag poles that were already in the location sparked an idea of a giant flag wall of vibrant colour that conveyed a spectrum of meaning; encompassing the political and the celebratory.

"I have a strong interest in collections and histories of an area – when I was asked to work on this project I felt drawn towards the Johnstone collection of art and design, housed at the University of Canterbury. This was a starting point for developing my designs for the 'put in cup' hurricane fence designs. I have previously created two large installations for the Christchurch Art Gallery and this new project has allowed me to further connect with the city."

Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu Kaiwhakahaere Tā Mark Solomon says, "We are confident these thought-provoking works will help people reconnect with Cathedral Square as it moves into the future".

The ChristChurch Cathedral and Cathedral Square are iconic symbols of Ōtautahi / Christchurch and important reminders of the city's Church of England roots. For Ngāi Tahu the area also serves as a reminder that the first Anglican Church in greater Christchurch was a Ngāi Tahu whare karakia (church) in Puāri at Koukourārata / Port Levy.

"Ngāi Tahu would like to congratulate both Sara Hughes and Chris Heaphy (Ngāi Tahu) for incorporating both church and Māori symbols into their contemporary art," says Tā Mark.

Christchurch Art Gallery curator Ken Hall sees Heaphy and Hughes' works as an antidote to a lot of what Christchurch has been through.

They are amazingly powerful and optimistic, suggesting a new start, visual power packs that will bring this space back to life. Both artists have put so much vitality and care into their works, which I think shows their being very nicely attuned to what we're ready for in Christchurch right now. It's art that lifts the spirit. I think it will offer a boost to all of us.

Ken Hall, Christchurch Art Gallery curator

Mayor Bob Parker says it will be great to see the long-standing project came to fruition, and see the Square reinvigorated as the cultural heart of the city.

"The Square holds a very special place in the heart of anyone who has lived in, or visited, Christchurch. This spectacular art work is part of an exciting new phase for this space that is so synonymous with this city, recognising the importance of history, while looking forward with hope and optimism. It will be wonderful to see the Square reclaimed as a place for people."

Artists Fact File

Chris Heaphy
Born: 1965, of Ngāi Tahu descent
Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts (University of Canterbury), Masters in Fine Arts (RMIT University, Melbourne)
Recognition: Awarded the Te Waka Toi Grant in 1993, a Creative New Zealand Grant in 1999, and the Olivia Spencer-Bower Fellowship in 1995. Residencies include a Research Grant Residency at RMIT University in Melbourne in 1998, and the Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin Residency in Champagne, France in 2000/01.

Sara Hughes
Born: 1971
Education: Bachelor of Fine Arts (Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland), Masters in Fine Arts with first class honours (Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland)
Recognition: Winner of The Ripe: Art and Australia/ANZ Private Bank Contemporary Art Award in 2008 (first New Zealander to win the award), and in 2005 both the Wallace Art Award and The Norsewear Art Award.
Residencies include The Frances Hodgkins Fellowship in 2003, The Creative New Zealand Visual Arts Residency in Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in 2008/09, and The International Studio and Curatorial Programme in New York in 2007.