In the Awly Building on the corner of Durham and Gloucester streets in Ōtautahi Christchurch, artist Melissa Macleod has installed a precious cargo. Sea air from New Brighton’s coastline captured by an air compressor and contained in 144 large dunnage bags (inflatable bags that secure items in containers for transportation), Macleod has stacked them in ordered rows held by aluminium frames in an imagined warehouse.
This is not the first time that she has literally brought something from New Brighton to Christchurch. Working across a range of arts practices; sculpture, photography and performance, and encouraging public participation, Macleod’s art is engaged with issues about the politics of community and environment with a particular interest in, and commitment to, the Eastern community of New Brighton. Macleod is a resident in the seaside town and both its proximity and distance, physically and metaphorically, from the city of Christchurch is of concern and importance to her.
Typical of her practice, on an east wind is an inviting and captivating experience. Large in scale, it is an art installation that encourages visitors to explore and be part of. Its ordered industrial persona may be without any evidently practical purpose, but it disarmingly raises questions and opens up discussion about wider reasons for its being. In accepting its lack of practical intentions, its stored objects row upon row and its changing transient light, the visitor’s consciousness of the building as a temporarily vacant public space serves as a starting point to direct attention elsewhere.
In doing so, on an east wind is also anticipated by an earlier project from Macleod. In 2017 she developed, Salt of the Earth, a project coordinated through The Physics Room in December that year in the Red Zone. Thinking about the area as an abyss between the city and the sea, like two distinct worlds, Macleod created a sizeable sand-sculpture, linking locations, one that would, as the weather and environment eroded it, serve as a temporary opening or door between communities, bringing a part of New Brighton closer to Christchurch.
Macleod also has a precedent for on an east wind in The Trappings of Ghosts, an installation in 2020 at the Ashburton Art Gallery, where she bagged air from Wakanui Beach, a home for rare and endangered native birds and plants and a site where recent archaeological finds have revealed details of pre-European life and settlement for Māori, making it one of the most significant locations in Te Waipounamu the South Island.
Like on an east wind there is a shared interest in directing attention to the ecosystems of the natural environment around us, an ironic acknowledgment that we often only become aware of such precious “goods” when they are brought to our attention displaced from their habitat. In this instance, relocated into containers and housed in public spaces, making us aware of the presence of the unseen air, momentarily conserved and surrounding us. on an east wind is a monumental work of art, both in its scale and its responsibilities as an act of enlightenment.
Melissa Macleod, on an east wind, 2020
SCAPE Public Art Season 2020
The Awly Building, corner of Durham and Gloucester streets
Saturday and Sunday, 11am – 3pm, until 21 February
- Melissa Macleod, on an east wind, 2020, sea air (New Brighton Coastline) dunnage bags, Photograph: Heather Milne, courtesy of SCAPE Public Art.