Wellington Scoop

Knitted together by earthquakes


by Stephen Olsen
A collective of artists known as Shared Lines have been making a splash in Wellington this week.

Earthquakes have formed the ties that bind the Shared Lines Collective – with a growing number of artists first coming together from Christchurch and Sendai in Japan – after the natural disasters of 2011 in those two cities – and now including artists from Kaikoura and Wellington.

A motivating focus of the collective is to locate the role of art in urban planning and building resilient cities.

As well as artworks being exhibited at Cuba Street’s Thistle Hall Gallery, a feature of the rolling event in Wellington this week was an artwork by Japanese artist Yasuaki Igarashi which has graced the Wellington Waterfront Lagoon.

The symbolism of ‘Sora-Ami: Knitting the Sky’ is the universality of knitting nets.

Igarashi: “If one can knit a net, one can cross the ocean and connect with people. Knitting nets is part of human wisdom. If one can knit a net, one can transcend time and connect with people of the past and future”.

On Tuesday night a symposium was held to interrogate just how much difference art can make to knit together communities after natural disasters such as earthquakes.

Critic and curator Andrew Paul Wood noted that in Christchurch artists “who are often on the fringe of mainstream” were quick to bounce back and helped to initiate and accelerate a healing process manifested by a sense of ownership of art-spaces by people in the city.

Public artists Priscilla Cowie of Ngai Tahu emphasised the need for artists to be tenacious in the interests of the positive impacts that their work has been proven to have with young people in particular.

Wellington artist Kirsty Lillico referred in turn to the importance of inserting a “sense of playfulness into public spaces” as per a work she collaborated on with fellow Wellingtonian Ruth Thomas-Edmond to playfully fence off the site of a former carpark building that was demolished in Wellington after last year’s earthquake.

Architect Megan Wraight associated the restorative power of art with its ability to bring out connections to “whakapapa, memory, history and understanding of place”, adding that bringing art into public spaces that have suffered disaster “can both create opportunities for the future and test out new propositions”.

Facilitating a panel that included Wellington City Council’s Chief Resilience Officer Mike Mendonca, Wood challenged whether the capital city has paid enough attention to what happened in Christchurch and whether it is in denial of The Big Earthquake that sits in waiting.

Mendonca acknowledged a level of complacency was prevalent, but also pointed out that the challenges of resilience have wider connotations than the earth moving, taking in the impacts of climate change and societal sea-changes.

He described artists and the creative sector as being vital to slowing people down and making them think about resilience in its wider sense.

“My message to the artists in the room is that you shouldn’t undersell yourselves (and your role). We need creative people to be talking with engineers, and we need to be doing that now”.

Shared Lines is aiming to hold an international biennial event with plans afoot for an exchange with Santiago, Chile in 2020 and a ‘10-year on’ project with Sendai in 2022.

Funders and sponsors of the collective’s Wellington event have included Creative New Zealand, Wellington City Council, Urban Dream Brokerage, Willis Bond & Co, Canyon Creative, The Occasional Brewer, Kinetic Digital and Studio Pacific Architecture.