Wellington isn’t just the political capital of New Zealand – it is the café-loving, artistic capital of the country. After my last post, which focused on its more political and practical aspects, this post is dedicated to some of my favourite artistic aspects of the city, starting with its waterfront.
The Wellington waterfront is in its own right a piece of art. Centuries of the earth’s sculpting meld and give way to man’s more recent contributions. It is a fitting backdrop for the Wellington Writers’ Walk and other works of art that follow the shoreline. The Wellington Writers’ Walk consists of nineteen excerpts from New Zealand authors that are either about Wellington or have a connection with the city. These excerpts are scattered along the waterfront on benchmarks and large concrete slabs and form a walk that aims to promote New Zealand literature to the wider national and international audience. I loved this walk – it was like a lyrical scavenger hunt, searching for the next slab or bench and reading its excerpt. The quotes interspersed in this post were all taken from the walk, the photo (left) is of Denis Glover’s excerpt.
The harbour is an ironing board/flat iron tugs dash smoothing toward/any shirt of a ship any pillowslip/of a freighter they decree/must be ironed flat as washing from the sea (Denis Glover)
Along the waterfront and behind Te Papa is Solace in the Wind, a sculpture by Max Patte (right). Standing at two metres high, it is of a man leaning forward into the cross-gale wind with his arms back and a look of consolation on his face. Wellington is a windy city – gale force winds are not uncommon and umbrellas are rarely, if ever, used (they normally end up inside-out and useless, tossed into the nearest rubbish bin). Most Wellingtonians are so accustomed to gale strength winds that if you were to ask them to describe the strength of the wind when it was blowin’ a gale, they would reply with something like “just a bit of a breeze, mate” – meanwhile you watch the laundry escape from the washing line (despite multiple peggings) and make a bid for freedom. There have been moments while absent from the capital where I have missed its wind – there is something both reassuring and (paradoxically) calming about it, even when it was trying to blow you over. Perhaps that was why I felt a sense of affinity with this statue.
Their heads bent, their legs just touching, they stride like one eager person through the town, down the asphalt zigzag where the fennel grows wild…the wind is so strong that they have to fight their way through it, rocking like two old drunkards (Katherine Mansfield)
Between the harbour and CBD is the City to Sea Bridge. More than just an ambulatory path into the CBD, City to Sea is an interactive piece of art with sculptures by Para Matchitt of whales, birds, celestial representations and symbols of love. It has seats and various peepholes along the way, I particularly liked the bird that lies across the footpath with its large glass bottle eye (right). Heading towards the city end of the City to Sea Bridge is a Te Aho a Maui (Maui’s line). In M?ori mythology Maui was responsible for fishing up the North Island (amongst other heroic exploits). This piece references that particular exploit and consists of waterfalls and a pyramid shaped mountain from which Maui’s line unravels in terra-cotta hues (left). At the CBD end of the bridge is Civic Square and suspended above it is Ferns, a spherical sculpture of fern fronds by Neil Dawson (right). The ferns in the orb balance the sculptures of nikau palms that are set as markers around the square. Whether lit up by the city’s lights, or gleaming under the beams of the sun, this sculpture has an ethereal quality.
Then out of the tunnel and Wellington burst like a bomb it opened like a flower as lit up like a room, explained itself exactly, became the capital (Maurice Gee)
Another favourite is Wai-titi Landing, a sculpture of two Pou Whenua (M?ori boundary markers) by Ra Vincent. Although the site is now a park on the corner of Molesworth Street, it used to be a beach and resting place for waka used by Te Atiawa and other Taranaki whanau. The carved figures on the Pou Whenua symbolise the people of the land while the k?whai design carved on the inner surface represents the wairua (spirit of the land).
Then it’s Wellington we’re coming to! It’s time, she says, it’s time surely for us to change lanes, change tongues they speak so differently down here (Vincent O’Sullivan)
Plimmer Steps is a pedestrian street between Lambton Quay and up to The Terrace. At the Lambton Quay end is a statue of John Plimmer (the eponymous gentleman of the Steps) who ambles down the path with his dog bouncing along beside him. This statue has been in Wellington for as long as I can remember and I really enjoy its sense of movement and camaraderie. On various days during my trip I noticed that the dog had been decked out in scarves and shoes. Sadly, these articles then seemed to disappear by the next day, although I did capture a shot of a be-shoed canine (left).
I love this city, the hills, the harbour, the wind that blasts through it. I love the life and pulse and activity, and the warm decrepitude…there’s always an edge here that one must walk which is sharp and precarious, requiring vigilance (Patricia Grace)
One very famous Wellingtonian is Peter Jackson, notably as the director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Weta Workshop (the special effects and props company behind LOTR) is located in Miramar, Wellington and at the top of Courtney Place is Tripod, a sculpture by the company. Tripod is covered with paraphernalia of the film making business and the insane amount of detail on it is what makes it an especially awesome piece.
Yet I think, having used my words as the kings used gold, ere we came by the rustling jest of the paper kings, I who am overbold will be steadily bold, in the counted tale of things (Iris Guiver Wilkinson – pen name Robin Hyde)
Cuba Street is possibly my favourite street in the city; I loved living there before I left for the UK (despite some of the sounds that emanated from the karaoke at Blue Note on Sunday nights). Named after an 1840 settler ship, Cuba Street is an eclectic collection of businesses and pedestrians and has a bohemian feel to it. Midnight Espresso, one of my favouritest cafés, is situated on upper Cuba. It has a typically Cuba heterogeneous mix of customers and serves excellent coffee topped with an awesome menu. The final installment of Wellington art for this post is one that I am especially fond of and can be found further along Cuba Street: it is perhaps the most naff, but most endearing, sculpture in city. The Bucket Fountain was designed by Burren and Keen in 1969 and consists of a series of primary coloured buckets which collect water until they are forced to tip into a large blue bucket at the bottom which in turn empties into a pool beneath it. Well, in theory it empties into the pool beneath it, but due to the Wellington wind it is not uncommon to get sprayed on windy days by falling water from these buckets. The sculpture has a very child-like quality to it, an adjacent child’s slide and clime-able tuatara add to its sense of frivolity. The fountain’s lack of seriousness is perhaps what makes fit so well in its surroundings. Running through the garden sprinklers is one of childhood’s small pleasures, dodging the Bucket Fountain on a windy day is the grown-up equivalent of that pastime.
It’s true you can’t live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch or even describe. This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb (Lauris Edmond)
I have uploaded more photos onto Flickr – so feel free to check them out!