Positive discomfort – aka: a visit to the Christchurch Art Gallery

From time to time I haul myself off to the Christchurch Art Gallery, because I know nothing about art. It mostly confuses me, apart from those art works that depict what I know and understand from the real world. Even with that, don’t ask me to discern between ‘good’ art and ‘bad’ art, because I wouldn’t have a clue. I have to trust the art gallery’s curator on that one, and that job in itself both fascinates and mystifies me – i.e. the world of curating art works. In fact the whole art world is foreign country to me, and that’s why I haul myself off to the art gallery from to time. It puts cracks in the bubble of my everyday life, which I refer to as ‘positive discomfort’.

The Christchurch Art Gallery was closed for nearly five years for repairs and re-strengthening after the 2011 earthquakes. At the time, however, it was one of the few buildings in the city considered safe enough for the civil defence to use as emergency headquarters, as it was originally built with seismic activity in mind. With the Alpine fault also predicted to bust apart sometime in the not too distant future, it’s nice to know that buildings are safe. The thought of another big earthquake doesn’t exactly fill me with joy, but at least we know how to ‘do’ earthquakes now. Not that they’ll ever not be wild and scary, but the knowledge gained from the almost two years of ongoing shakes will always be there. Mostly what I hope for is that this bloody coronavirus is sorted by then, so we can get help from overseas again if we need it.

The Christchurch Art Gallery was the Civil Defence and Search and Rescue HQ after the Feb 2011 earthquake

Anyway, on this particular visit to the art gallery, the earth was well-behaved, and I arrived in time to join a free tour with another couple of a similar age to me. I admit that I did hesitate for a nanosecond, though, when I heard that it took around 45 minutes, which was apparently a quick tour. Forty-five minutes of listening to art waffle felt like it might get dangerously to boredom overload. However, I womaned up and carried on.

And it was fascinating! I was captivated by the stories behind the artworks right from the start. I was like chatter chatter chatter, question question question the whole time. The guide kept looking at her watch, and I had to shut myself up more than once so we could move on the next item, and stick to the schedule. I had visions of me being like my bro and his wife and their (plonker) wine buff friends talking about wine, whom I mercilessly take the piss out of – mainly behind their backs.

A painting gifted to Christchurch by South Australian Aboriginal women artists after the Mosque shootings in March 2019. The painting is titled Kununpa Kutju – or One Spirit. Another one was also gifted to the Muslim community of Adelaide, South Australia’s capital city and sister city of Christchurch. It’s not very noticeable in this picture, but the painting incorporates the classic dot-style of Aboriginal art.

I’m not a very visual person, so I normally just scan the art gallery and I’m done. But once there were stories to hear, and someone to point out engaging details in the art, I was all ears and eyes. I’m not sure what to make of this new me, but I won’t be telling my bro and his wife about her, that’s for sure. At least not for a while. That’s if there is even anything to tell, because once the guide finished the tour and left us to it, I couldn’t maintain the interest on my own.

However, the stories have stuck with me. They’ve changed my usual “wtf is that?” observations of art into “wow – imagine having that kind of imagination and being able to create something out of it”. I do have some appreciation, though, of how hard it is to get novel ideas out of one’s head and into the material world, whether it’s by the avenue of the written word or physical items, so this tour did build on that. Even the truly shite art still has to be dragged out of the artist’s head and made real.

Where this will take me, I don’t know. For the moment, however, it has served its purpose of putting cracks in the bubble of my everyday life. And I definitely got some added value to my ‘positive discomfort’ this time round, as well 🙂

10 thoughts on “Positive discomfort – aka: a visit to the Christchurch Art Gallery

  1. We used to visit the Christchurch art gallery quite a lot. Not because I know anything about art either but it was a nice place to go and always gave us an enjoyable time out. They used to accommdate kids quite well too.

    The threat from the alpine fault is one of the reasons we left. If I’d known what we went through was the end of it then I might have been more inclined to stick it out but I just couldn’t contemplate going through it all again.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Don’t blame you – none of us look forward to going through that all over again. I may have run away myself if I hadn’t had elderly parents to consider. Now my life is here, although the idea of running away still has a certain appeal in a fantasy kind of way 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m glad you went to the gallery, even if you’re not comfortable with contemporary art. Most postmodern art, by the way, doesn’t have a set meaning: it places the onus on you, the viewer, to interpret it as you see it, so there’s no pressure to “get it right.” Political art has overt statements, of course, but you’re free to disregard them if you don’t “get it.”

    But lord, I do miss visiting art museums, which are just opening up if at all here in the US. If they are open to visitors, you have to schedule your visit online and wear a mask and avoid the other visitors you chance upon, Since I enjoy gazing at the art in solitude, I’m okay with the social distancing; but if the infection rates rise again in my town, it’s back to lockdown and the closure of the museums. So enjoy the art in a functioning Covid-free nation! A friend and I were speculating today when we’d ever get to travel again; fingers crossed it’ll be next year and not in another four years.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s very true – I must remember to be thankful that we can still do these things here. Especially as it could change very quickly – there’s no guarantees with this virus.

      I really enjoyed having the art explained to me, as it made me look at it with such different eyes than I otherwise would have. Maybe I’ll be better at looking at art from now on, but I’ll still take the tours from time to time, I guess, especially when there’s a new display. I didn’t know that about postmodern art, so I won’t try and ‘understand’ it from now on 🙂

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  3. Karen

    Hi Katrina. What a lovely piece you have written here! It has inspired me to go to the Art Gallery and, like you, it’s a place I rarely frequent, but believe I could benefit from expanding my….something…vision, perceptions, world, whatever. Having the art explainded would be very helpful and insightful, there are only so many legends I can read before I’m saturated with details.
    Good job x

    Liked by 2 people

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