This week marks the third anniversary of the Canterbury earthquake that shook the southern coast of New Zealand. The 7.1-magnitude quake also sparked an extended series of aftershocks that bombarded the country’s second largest city, Christchurch, into 2012. Its residents, like artist Mike Hewson, still reeling in many ways, have had to adjust to a new normal.
But Christchurch is slowly coming out from under a shroud of disaster. And Hewson’s latest work, Deconstruction 2013, is there to greet it with a clearer forecast ahead. "The sky covering the structure," he tells Co.Design, references the city's central business district "as the last of the damaged tall buildings were removed, which consequently added more sky to the urban landscape."
His new installation is mounted on an elevated pedestrian bridge spanning Colombo Street, the city’s main artery. The walkway is the last frontier, so to speak, separating rejuvenated pockets of commerce from the red-zone buildings that lie beyond. It links two buildings, one active and one marked for demolition; until the latter has been leveled and subsequently replaced, the structure is caught in a very real limbo.
Hewson’s intervention acknowledges the walkway’s temporary uselessness by effectively deleting it from its engagement with the rest of the streetscape. A large photographic print on its side buries the concrete structure in a horizontal band of blue sky. At the edges, buildings and street lamps are re-created with a sleight of perspective accuracy, so that, from certain angles, the bridge virtually vanishes from the scenery.
The work, Hewson tells Co.Design, paradoxically reconstructs the site through a process of deconstruction. This urban procedure of addition through deletion is, in general, the manner by which Christchurch is being remade. But with his installation, Hewson sought to "temporarily enliven a dead space in the hope that it might be preserved for the future."
That future, he says, is a long road ahead. "The big questions are still being debated regarding the layout, which of the few remaining icons will be repaired, and what should and will the city look like in 10 years," Hewson explains. Amid the relief from actual disaster and its aftershocks, residents have grown "tired and frustrated," he says, from the daily toll of living in an unstable urban environment. Even so, he hopes that his work can reveal small corners of hope—blue sky in the city—even if he has to construct or deconstruct them on his own.