Since 2011, Christchurch has garnered a status as an urban art destination, a result of the largely celebrated collective impact of un-commissioned interventions and transformative murals upon the post-quake setting.
However, a city’s relationship with urban art is always complicated. Will it prove a temporary fixation, or remain a visible and meaningful contribution to the city’s ongoing construction? The post-quake city provided context, abundant opportunities and a constantly re-shaping canvas for a diverse range of practices. But as recovery progresses, the changing landscape raises questions about urban art’s enduring status as part of the city’s creative profile.
The vacant lots and buildings that became artists’ playgrounds are less numerous. Will the rebuilt surroundings encourage new tactics and responses? Will it afford the same opportunities for decoration?
Perhaps urban art’s ever-increasing diversity and constant evolution is key, even if the multitude of approaches can result in internalised conflicts in addition to the often-contentious public dynamic.
Murals continue to headline the city’s affection for ‘street art’, and new works appear somewhat regularly, although if high-profile festival events are lost (Oi YOU!’s fractured relationship with the YMCA ended the Spectrum events, and the future of Street Prints Ōtautahi is unclear), the sheer volume of work may be difficult to maintain as the rate of attrition continues, with murals obscured or destroyed as buildings are altered or removed, such as the fragmented state of DSide’s Bike Gang.
On the other side of the discussion, graffiti remains highly visible, although its most dazzling forms have returned to more peripheral spaces. Post-graffiti techniques, such as stencils and paste ups, have dissipated somewhat. Yet with so much of the central city being rebuilt over a condensed period, it might be suggested that such uninvited interventions can provide a needed sense of layered dissent; responses to the city imagined by planners and designers.
Off the streets, the emergence of an urban contemporary scene reflects the influence of urban art on a generation of artists, both as an inspiration and a formative background. The development of exhibition opportunities for such artists, evident in spaces like the newly relocated Fiksate, represents an expanding ecosystem and inevitably reflects preoccupations on the streets as well as studio fixations.
Of course, urban art will not disappear, but the challenges and opportunities presented by Christchurch in 2018 will be fascinating to observe and explore. Stay tuned.
Owen Dippie, Elephants, Manchester Street