Watch this space: Lindsay Chan maps Christchurch street art

The bare walls of our busted city are a canvas for something beautiful. Since the earthquakes, a lot of us think: "Christchurch street art is ka rawe". Here's a mere sample of what is happening right now:

  • You can vote on Facebook for which Enliven places street mural you'd like painted on the side of the Ibis Christchurch. Voting closes Monday 27 November, so get in quick
  • Superlot 9 is opening on 2 December at 122 Lichfield Street and is going to have street art bedecking giant spraycans.
  • Fiksate Gallery in New Brighton has an exhibition of street art, illustration and urban contemporary art on until 17 December. 
  • YMCA Christchurch in association with PAINT (Pushing Art in New Zealand Trust) presents Street Prints Otautahi 2017. Large scale murals will be painted in the central city, New Brighton and Lyttelton, plus there's a range of events and activities for all ages between 21 December and 29 December.

Street art can be ephemeral, as murals are painted over, blocked out, or the building canvas demolished. But there is a particular little leap of happiness in the heart when you spot something happening. It's a buzz. Our street art is tied up with memories and possibilities, and with hope. I spoke to Lindsay Chan who since 2015 has been playing an important role documenting Ōtautahi's street art and facilitating new artworks via the website Watch this space:

Why do you think Christchurch has become such a street art hub?

Christchurch always had talented muralists and graffiti artists, but it was the earthquakes that brought their talents to the forefront. The city became a blank canvas with empty buildings and buildings waiting to be torn down. George Shaw from Oi! YOU together with the Canterbury Museum and then the YMCA brought in internationally renowned artists to paint large-scale murals across the CBD. Combined with the amazing local talent and visiting international artists keen to make the most of the post earthquake landscape, Christchurch started making a name for itself in the international street art scene. Did you know it has its own chapter dedicated to Christchurch in Lonely Planet’s first ever street art dedicated guidebook, Street Art ?

Art by Flox - Spectrum Street Art Festival, YMCA. December 2015. Flickr IMG_1889
Art by Flox - Spectrum Street Art Festival, YMCA. December 2015. Flickr IMG_1889

How did Watch this Space get started?

When I moved to Christchurch a few years ago, I went on one of Frocks on Bikes free bike tours. That day they showed us around the different street art works. I was surprised to see all this amazing art work in the very city that I live in and bike through all the time. The bike leaders pointed out so many different art works that I had never noticed. I asked Connie, the leader from Frocks on Bikes, how she had decided the route, and she said it was actually quite a lot of work because none of the information was centralized. It was scattered across individual newspaper articles and maps were often incomplete and not kept up to date. Not to mention, Frocks on Bikes is a group of volunteers, so I thought it was a bit crazy that she ended up having to go through various newspaper articles and websites to decide a route and find out the details of each artist and work.

I work in geospatial information systems (GIS). We make maps and visualize data. We take number data and put them into an easy to understand format, usually into maps. I’m always looking for ways to learn new skills and thought this could be a great opportunity to put my skill set to use with something I’m really interested in - street art and create a resource that can be used now by the city and as a legacy item once the city is fully rebuilt.

What does your role involve day-to-day?

Well, my “real” job is working as a geospatial analyst at the Department of Conservation (DOC). I do Watch This Space stuff outside my regular work hours and have gotten others involved too because we think it’s something the city and the visitors to the city need. We are now a charitable trust and have five trustees who are a big help with sharing the day-to-day duties.

Day-to-day, we try to keep up to date with where the latest murals and graffiti are coming up in town and share that through our website and social media so other people can know about it too. We take photos, research the artists, chase down funding, and meet with all kinds of different people to try and convince them that the graffiti and murals in Christchurch are truly amazing and something that the city needs to make space for in “new” Christchurch.

Do you have any favourite artworks in town?

That’s a hard one Donna. I have many favourites. One of the things that draws me to graffiti and murals is the stories behind each of these. I like the paste up of Tony Fomison and the tags that cover it. This one is located on the corner of Manchester and High. The paste up was put up after the earthquakes as part of Christchurch Art Gallery’s Outer Spaces project, but they put it over a tag. Later that artist came back to mark his territory and tagged over the paste up. I think it’s a great dialogue between outdoor and indoor art and the different forms of art that exist in Christchurch.

No! Tony Fomison. Image supplied.
No! Tony Fomison. Image supplied.

My other favourite was a portrait of Ikarus by Wongi . It was on the corner of Manchester and Welles. I like how graffiti is something friends go out to do together. I think it’s even cooler that Wongi did a portrait of one of his good friends and the works around it give it a nice touch too. It shows that a lot of different artists had been out to that spot.

How can Christchurch people and visitors help grow Watch this space? What are the features of the website they can use?

We want Watch This Space to be a project for the people by the people. The website is set up so people can contribute their own street art images, so if you see something new come up, take a photo and send it in. If you notice a building getting torn down or an art work getting covered up, take a photo and send it in. If you’ve taken photos pre-earthquake, send it in. Watch This Space can only cover so much ground, so please, we’d love to add your images to the map. The best way for this project to be sustainable is if the community gets involved, and we’ve created some easy to use tools so you can.

Other than mapping and creating and accurate, up to date resource, we also want to support paid opportunities for artists. If you’d like to get a mural commissioned, we can connect you with the right artist.

You can also donate to our project to help cover developer fees, writing articles, and just our general time we put into this to make it happen.  

How do you work with artists and building owners to activate walls with art?

We have steadily been building ties with the local artists as we add their works to the map and write about them in our blog. People around town are starting to come across our resource and contact us from time to time for help connecting with artists. We recently helped ChristchurchNZ in their search for wall space for the David Kidwell mural on the corner of Lichfield and High as well as helping Christchurch City Council find artists for the Enliven places street mural project.

Mr G at work on his portrait of David Kidwell, October 2017.
Mr G at work on his portrait of David Kidwell, October 2017.

Artists can fill out this expression of interest form on our website, and businesses or local organisations who want to commission a mural can fill out a form, where we’ll help to connect them with a local artist.

There’s a lot that happens before we actually see the mural on the wall, which many people don’t see or understand. That’s where we can step in and help make it easier on both parties.

I think one of the great strengths of Watch this Space is that you also list the artworks that are no longer viewable, whether they are on buildings that have been demolished, or sites that have been built up. Do you have a sense of the work having a role to play in our history?

I think it’s extremely important to follow street art as it gets decommissioned. Many people see the beauty of street art as being ephemeral. I agree that is an aspect that contributes to its beauty, but art isn’t just about beauty. Throughout history, art has been used as a form of expression and commentary on the current climate. Graffiti, murals, and street art are a record of what our city is, what it was, and what it could be.

Take for example Daek Williams’s mural that used to be on the corner of Colombo and Peterborough Street. He made that for the Rise festival, and the mural is based on his impression of the residents of the Red Zone and how they stayed and did not leave Christchurch.

Home is Where the Heart is by Daek William. Image supplied.
Home is Where the Heart is by Daek William. Image supplied.

Dcypher’s mural on the side of the Roxx climbing gym on Waltham Road is the artist’s interpretation of Christchurch’s urban landscape prior to the earthquakes. Following street art as it gets covered up and torn down is also preserving piece of history and the memories individuals attach to different works.

Do you use libraries?

I went to the library a lot as a kid. I read a lot growing up.

What are you reading/watching/listening to now?

CoverI have to admit, I’ve been watching the Marvel series on Netflix. I used to love reading as a kid, but when I entered high school, there was so much required reading and analysis and essays about what we were reading, I haven’t been able to get back into it. I recently heard an interview by the author of Nevermoor on RadioNZ. It reminded me of the Harry Potter series, which I was a big fan of growing up. Nevermoor sounds pretty awesome. I might have to go check that out..

Watch this space ...

From Friday 24 November, we’re starting to guide tours on Fridays and Saturdays for the rest of the summer. They will go from 11am to 12:30pm, at a cost of $25 per person. Proceeds from the tour will go back into Watch This Space to help cover developer fees, the interviews and editorials on our blog, and be put aside to commission a mural in the future. Find out more and book your tour.

Looking at street art on Madras Street. Image supplied.
Looking at street art on Madras Street. Image supplied.

Watch this space and Christchurch street art

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