TIM J. VELING – Vestiges – 28 June-22 July, 2016
Tim J. Veling – artist statement:
At 4.35am on September 4th 2010, Christchurch, New Zealand was hit by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. Miraculously, despite it and thousands of aftershocks causing widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure across the city, there was no loss of life.
Avonside – a patch of land measuring 1.3 square kilometres and home to over 3200 people – suffered large-scale damage, particularly as a result of flooding, land subsidence and liquefaction. Entire streets were covered in silt and raw sewage, and the area was without power or clean, running water. Testament to the spirit of the community that called Avonside home, neighbours banded together and helped each other clean up and rebuild. Unfortunately, no sooner than the last wheelbarrow of silt had been carried off to landfill, Christchurch shook again.
It was 12.51pm, February 22nd, 2011. Four hundred thousand tons of liquefaction spurted up from cracks in the ground; buildings collapsed and 185 lives were tragically lost in what is now regarded as New Zealand’s largest peacetime disaster.
The days and months following these events dragged on forever. Disputes with insurance companies became all consuming, especially after residents of the badly affected eastern suburbs began hearing the words “Red Zone”. In staggered media releases, the land that constituted Avonside was officially deemed unsafe and the infrastructure that sustained the community uneconomical to repair.
Over the years since, removal vans have parked up then pulled out of driveways, making way for demolition trucks and diggers to roll slowly in.
Photographing in Avonside over the past five years has been a disconcerting experience. One day a street hums with life, houses are occupied and you’d be forgiven for thinking all is normal in this sleepy, suburban community. Next week, the dirt shakes and dust hangs in the air as machines tear down homes. What’s left of the well-established gardens is thrown through the wood chipper; graders scrape and level the earth and new grass seeds are sewn. Suddenly the streets fall quiet.
Now, as nature has taken over and the obvious signs of trauma have largely disappeared, it’s the subtle details that lie within the landscape that bring the reality of the situation home. For example, in many patches of land, cabbage trees and pointy conifers mark the boundary line of long ago cleared properties. Elsewhere, tiny fragments of crushed red brick catch the light and reflect off pools of rainwater. When you stand in the landscape, cock your head and turn left then right, you can sense the ghostly shapes of buildings as they once stood. Avonside remains the second oldest suburb of Christchurch, but if you don’t look you’ll miss it.
These photographs are a representative selection from my ongoing body of work, Vestiges. Following on from Thx 4 the Memories, a project undertaken by myself, Glenn Busch and Bridget Anderson at the invitation of The CowPats (an Avonside residents group, their name an amalgamation of Cowlishaw and Paton Streets). Vestiges makes visible the psychology of a place undergoing rapid, forced change.
When looking at these photographs I hope you are reminded of what has gone before, but more importantly, are prompted to consider a narrative yet to be written. As nature and governmental decisions have dictated the recent history of our city; now that C.E.R.A has wound up and Regenerate Christchurch established in its place, people must now re-inhabit and lay claim to this patch of land. For me, these photographs are more about hope and revival than loss and grief. They are about a place that will forever be defined by the shared experiences, hopes and dreams of many people, us, all looking forward together.