The following text, by Christchurch writer Sally Blundell, traces adventures hosting three different brooches through the city. Each brooch drew attention to different sensory dimensions and details of her surroundings, and led her to vastly different locations. The rich descriptive density of these passages artfully captures the sense of immersion in movement and affect experienced by many in the project. This text was also published in the catalogue for Host A Brooch.Thank you Sally.
Inside the blue shipping container, past the dog attached to a long rope, sixteen brooches are clipped to panels of flat white. Mangled things, alien objects born out of 26 seconds of tectonic bedlam. It is a lucky dip – I cannot choose a brooch that presents an acceptable version of myself. I pick a number and walk outside, past the dog, a foreign entity attached to my lapel. It is black and yellow. It is hard plastic. It is a ripped, jagged warning of a thing.
It is spring. There are blossom trees in flower. Driveways curl round to public gardens and children’s playgrounds, riverbanks are gentle with green. There is a civic cyclic prettiness to this urban park – no place for the serrated intimation of rough calamity. I scuttle out, almost apologetically, finding my place amidst walls of Hurricane fencing and colour-coded signs: beware, danger, keep out. These are sites of utilitarianism: the urgency of yellow hats and fluoro vests, the rough branding of demolition and construction firms (Ceres, Titan, Ward Demolition), the no-nonsense functionality of rescue, recovery and deconstruction. A police officer smiles for the camera above a high-visibility yellow-striped jacket. Then he hurries away. These are the hard facts of the city.
Other people stop and stare. They peer into their history broken down and heaped up behind double lines of fencing. They are transfixed, caught by the sublime incomprehensibility of city ruin. With a job to do I am impatient, peripatetic, following not a map of my making but a new chart, unfamiliar and untried, a route marked by colour, form, material, even sound.
Blue, yellow, pink – I walk past the dog with a spray of tiny pastel keys, numbered as if for some kind of toy. I look down, beneath, behind. I look to ground level, to the hardy, the inconspicuous – small activities unperturbed by the devastation wrapped up in wire at the end of every street. There are wild flowers growing in year-old cracks, a pale blue house is reflected in a pool of water. In a mangled cityscape children carry balloons, sparrows hop under café tables. A busker – why have I not noticed this before? – sings a gentle melody beside an open suitcase lined with turquoise cloth. These are side-stories, counter-narratives to the more dramatic, sensational accounts built on scale and shocking spectacle. This is resilience on a more intimate level, a sub-urban survivalism.
It is a landscape both familiar and strange – recognisable sights in a famously photogenic city suddenly fallen out of normal context. The architectural archaeology is framed by twisted steel. The ordinary has become the extraordinary. These are no longer places of contemplation. They are sites of urgency, action, rediscovery.
A strange star, this burst of orange plastic – a vital wayfinder guiding the way through a new city defined not by familiar notions of heritage or horticulture but by urban vigour, strong and bright under a hard Pacific sky. Amid the vertical lines of the inner city I am drawn to the diagonal – the bright pitch of crane booms and metal props, painted pipes snaking through the underground like weird subterranean life forms, the makeshift positioning of a timber cross barring entry through a hobbled gateway, a pipe hanging inexplicably from a second storey windowsill. Outlandish, a city vibrant and alive.
- Sally Blundell