Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

City of sculpture

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If you've been down to the eastern end of Courtenay Pl in the last couple of days, you will have seen this rather intimidating creature taking shape outside Calzone. As announced early this year, this Weta-designed sculpture is a tribute to the local film industry, and its apparently makeshift construction is a reference to the "number-8 wire" approach applied by filmmakers in this country (though I imagine that some of the King Kong crew might have preferred a more cautious and professional approach). Update: the sculpture is called Tripod, and it will be officially launched at 1:15 on Thursday the 17th of November.

As Sally Blundell pointed out in the Listener, this is just one of many public artworks that are planned or under construction in Wellington. Len Lye's giant piece of aquatic kinetics, Water Whirler, will be installed on a pier that is currently being constructed in the water between Frank Kitts Park and Shed 6, and is expected to be ready in February next year.

If New Plymouth's experience with Lye's large-scale work is anything to go by, you can expect this to be both spectacular and initially controversial. Mind you, Blundell is right about Wellington's generally positive attitude to public art, so perhaps any controversy is more likely to be hydrological rather than aesthetic. Later this month, there will be a display (complete with animations) at the Waterfront Project Information Centre in Shed 6.

Yet another work by an internationally-recognised New Zealand artist is planned for Post Office Square, as a beacon marking the route from the Golden Mile to Queens Wharf.

Bill Culbert has designed a major work, SkyBlues, using twisting blue argon tubes that will reach several stories above the square when it's completed (at the end of this month, apparently). Culbert has already had a hand in one large-scale work in the city: the diagonal neon slashes across the City Gallery make up the piece Fault, which he created with his regular collaborator Ralph Hotere. I haven't found any representations of how SkyBlues will look, but have a look at these images of Culbert's work Skyline, and you might get some idea of his approach.

And it doesn't end there. New works are planned for Bunny St (in front of Rutherford House), the corner of Cable and Tory streets (opposite the proposed Waitangi Park transition building), and most ambitiously at the City Gateway (somewhere near Kaiwharawhara). This last one is intended to mark the entrance to the city via road or rail, and while I'm looking forward to seeing what emerges from the competition, I'm not convinced that it is the best approach. A city like Melbourne, which is reached via a dull, flat motorway landscape, benefits from a visible gateway that announces your arrival in the city. Wellington has the spectacular harbour view that reveals itself as you come down the Ngauranga Gorge or out of the railway tunnel, so I can't help thinking that the half million dollar might have been better spent ensuring that the future development of Harbour Quays and the rest of the City Gateway area features some memorable architecture rather than forgettable business parks.

One thing that Waterfront Watch always trot out when they're looking for an alternative use for a waterfront site is a sculpture garden. Of course, sculpture gardens can be wonderful (take a walk through the Botanic Gardens), but I prefer the approach of placing public artworks throughout the city, even integrating them into the fabric of the city (such as the City-to-Sea Bridge), rather than setting them aside in a ghetto. Have a look at the city walks on the council's "Feeling Great" website to see the wealth of public art that we already have on the waterfront, in the CBD and elsewhere. It's so much better to be able to experience art every day, while relaxing, shopping or walking to work, rather than having to go out of your way to visit a designated "art zone".


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