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Exhibitions | Galleries | Studios | Street Art | Art in Public Places | Ōtautahi Christchurch and Canterbury
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When it comes to art in public spaces, the importance of location cannot be understated. For The Little Street Art Festival, an event that prioritised smaller- scale interventionist approaches, situating works within fitting environments was vital.  Art that seeks to infiltrate the urban environment, rather than dominate the cityscape, requires thoughtful placement. For one Little Street Art Festival work, the striking setting of The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora adds meaningful layers and reflective context, providing a perfect synthesis and highlighting the unique potential of the iconic cultural precinct.

Ōtautahi creative Dark Ballad was one of eight artists who created work for the Little Street Art Festival in late 2023. Employing his printmaking background to create a series of three carved tablets that evoke embossed gothic tarot cards, the placement of the haunting triptych was vital. Taking the city’s gothic aesthetic as a starting point, Diminished Returns (Trauma and Rebirth) ruminates on the cycles of trauma and rebirth experienced at times throughout Ōtautahi  Christchurch’s history, from our indigenous roots to the legacy of colonisation and the complexities of the post-disaster recovery.

Reflecting the artist’s penchant for darker imagery, a reaper figure appears as the recurring guide across the works, surveying the changing, ultimately broken, landscapes. The first tablet, Tāmitanga, refers to ‘oppression’ and the effects of colonisation. The remains of Māori carvings and architecture are overwritten with European architecture, notably churches. The second tablet, Rū Whenua, evokes the shaking of the land and the damage and change the earthquakes visited upon the city. The reaper walks into a broken gothic building (reminiscent of the Cathedral), a trail of destruction in his wake, nature reimposing its presence over the built environment. 

The final tablet, Pāmamae, reflects upon the lingering trauma of the first two tablets. Gravestones and broken buildings are juxtaposed with monolithic new builds, the skyline overwritten once more (eagle-eyed observers may recognise a familiar graffiti moniker, the artist’s winking nod to the emergence of urban art in the post-quake city).  Deserving and rewarding close inspection and reflection, the combination of thoughtful narrative and fine detail was brought into sharp focus upon their placement within the secluded Engineers Laneway inside the Arts Centre. The laneway reveals elements of the Arts Centre’s rebuild with a shiny airbridge overhead, whilst retaining the beautiful brick and stone heritage for which the site is renowned. These aspects are contrasted with the remaining signs of damage, ghosts of the parts removed and evidence of enforced change, this mixture echoes and amplifies the stories of

Diminished Returns, the audience able to reflect upon the fragility of our surrounding environment through the layers of history.  

Rather than the bustle of more heavily populated areas, where the pieces might be overwhelmed by noise and movement, Engineers Laneway provides a secluded, reflective space. Rather than a more immediate placement that viewers cannot miss, the subtle addition could be easily bypassed if the audience is not inquisitive of their environment. Initially glimpsed from distance, the mysterious works call the passing audience into the space. The charm of the Arts Centre becomes a key element in the experience of the work, wandering visitors must look closer, explore, and leave their determined path. In doing so, they enter a space of rumination, the area still, distraction minimised in favour of a relationship between art and site. 

The Arts Centre remains a truly unique space in Ōtautahi, and Diminished Returns reveals the potential found in such a setting, where a range of creative endeavours and performances can be brought to life, creating memorable and surprising encounters for an audience drawn to wander and wonder.



1.  Dark Ballad’s Triptych.   Diminished Returns from the Little Street Art Festival found a fitting setting in the Arts Centre Te Maratiki Toi Ora

2. The Arts Centre setting for Dark Ballad’s Diminished Returns is key in amplifying the experience of the works


A Perfect Setting

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