Posts Tagged ‘Suter Gallery’

Nelson, South Island – 21st-22nd February

May 5, 2011

Nelson was like another world.  My friend in Nelson  (I’ll call her G.) has a remarkable talent for integrating her houses with their surroundings.  Any work of art requires more than just talent, and G. has studied and thought carefully about architecture, art and function as well.  Her style is about ideology almost as much as it is about taste. Books on her shelves include the inspiring How Buildings Learn by  Stewart Brand (1994).  He made a six-parter with the BBC, based on the book.  Beware, though: this clip is half an hour long:
 http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5088653796598486022#
 Just now, looking him up on Wikipedia I discover that this is same man who was responsible for the famous Whole Earth Catalog (sic) back in the seventies, well known to anyone interested in self sufficiency at the time.  At G’s, over time, one notices more and more of the details that she has wrought into her home.  The bathroom floor of this seaside house swims in the sea: a subtle linoleum (specially imported) in complex shades of dark blue-green – the colours of the deep.  It’s not Brand’s ‘low road’, but it is immensely thought-filled: effort that creates a relaxation.  The house is bedded into a hill at the back, and looks out over the broad expanse of  Tasman Bay to the mountains on the opposite shore.  Windows everywhere make it wonderfully light and construct fabulous views.

view west (?) to the mountains behind Nelson

(Unfortunately these photos below don’t show the mountains across the bay too clearly – it was a misty day.  But it’s my first ever attempt at a collage panorama! Should look good when enlarged, I hope. That’s how to see the mountains.)

 The house is reached by a steep-ish winding path, through wooden gates painted bright red – the colour of a Japanese tori-i.  They form both a boundary and a welcome, she says.  The garden, burgeoning but welcomingly slightly scruffy, mingles flowers and vegetables.  The slightly New Age garden sculpture wouldn’t be my choice, but its tone does feel appropriate to New Zealand.  Somewhere in the middle of all the moments of delighted appreciation, I realised that the house follows feng shui principles.  Maybe that was the source of its profound sense of peace and order.  It may have broken the bank to renovate this little old house with such care and attention to detail, but it was surely worth it.
And then the structures fell apart, because Tuesday was the day of the earthquake.  Christchurch heaved and tumbled while we, trivially unaware, scooted around Nelson’s art galleries and coffee shops, in and out of random showers.  At least, this was until G. (who knows everybody) ran into a friend in the street who said: “There’s been a quake in Christchurch.”  We took this calmly – a quake can mean something quite small, after all – and then she said: “It sounds serious – there’s been deaths.”  That was obviously worse, but even then we went on with our lightning-swift tour of the lovely Victorian gardens (the Queen’s Gardens), the Suter Art Gallery Museum, and its cafe.  
Only when we were back at home and turned on the TV did we understand the scale of the disaster.  I can’t begin to rival the descriptions given by others, or the footage that was shown at the time.  Camera crews were showing us events in real time.  We sat and watched the darkness of dust clouds, wrecked buildings still toppling and moving, the fires and smoke that were impossible to put out.   We watched for hours, G. weeping, while I (as always in troubled times) felt nothing.  That’s my survival mechanism, I guess: the feelings come later, once the emergency is over.  It grew dark and the news crews started repeating the most dramatic moments.  Eventually the same clips had come round once too often, and we switched off, saturated, to make contact with friends and family, and donate online to the Sally Army.  Nothing else to be done for the moment, but deal with the helpless agitation that television coverage creates.


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