(crossposted from The Big Idea)
During the last six weeks, I’ve watched the skyline change as skyscrapers are gently, almost lovingly reduced to twisted piles of metal and rubble. I’ve listened as people passed their stories to me, over cups of tea or sitting side by side in a bus. I’ve walked around the streets, marvelling at snow, marvelling at mist. Mostly marvelling at how this city creeps up on your affections. I think I understand why against the advice of their ‘away’ friends, people are determined to stay here.
There’s no doubt that Christchurch is still hurting. At night, my apartment in the CBD becomes an island – there’s few shops within walking distance, and even fewer places to find food. Like a body whose heart has ceased to pump, the blood is pooling in the peripheries – places like Addington and Riccarton, formerly unknown for night life. Through a simple combination of geography and seismic luck, tiny office units, outdated buildings and cold garages in these areas have suddenly become the ultimate in real estate. There are stories of people putting down huge deposits, sight unseen, for 4-5 year business leases in buildings that previously would have stayed empty.
The squeeze on available buildings has meant even less space is available for those who can’t pay commercial rates. So theatre groups are finding it hard to get venues, poets have nowhere to hold readings as their favoured bookshop shuts down and artists can’t find cheap studios. But oddly enough, the destruction of traditional arts venues has allowed smaller spaces to flourish, and the cultural blossoming of the most unlikely suburbs.
Gaby Montejo has been my guide to the local visual arts scene. I met Gaby through Metonymy, a two month collaboration project in which artists and writers who don’t know each other are paired to work on a project. Over the last month, Gaby’s been guiding me around the city, enabling such finds as the local Buddhist vegetarian restaurant (super tasty) and street art flowering on walls beside demolished spaces. He’s also shown me two of the remaining ‘galleries’ in town: the working studio space in the School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury, and ABC gallery, a tiny gallery consisting of two rooms adjoining studio space in the industrial suburb of Addington.