It was a particularly cold February morning in Christchurch when I found myself waiting in a church, bags packed, ready to catch a flight. In the time between my morning coffee and being driven to the airport I had to sit out a friend’s meeting. Tucked into an old armchair, I zoned out and waited.
Like the church, the meeting was about breathing life into spaces considered as waste. The church is part home, part arts collective; a repurposed building and on the morning I was there – the meeting site for the start of the Whole House Reuse project’s make-a-thon. Several people had gathered to see what they could craft from offcuts of a deconstructed house scheduled for demolition following the Christchurch earthquakes.
I remember the energy that morning. It’s the same energy I felt when I visited the Whole House Reuse exhibition at the Canterbury Museum while I was back in Christchurch earlier this month. Seeing the results of ideas formed several months earlier made me feel alive and kicking in a way that a cup of coffee couldn’t. It woke me up.
As I walked around the museum, I realised how much the art was a product of the Kiwi ‘DIY’, give-it-a-go attitude. My friend had handcrafted an entire kitchen unit from scraps. She convinced another friend to make a couch that he self-depreciatingly described as ‘only fit for the in-laws’. A different friend had roped his grandfather into the project; he’d created a beautiful rocking horse. Yet another friend made use of some retro wallpaper and created a colorful amplifier. A musician at heart, he further contributed by making a sound recording from the building process.
Whole House Reuse straddles a space between participatory art and a showcase of fine craftsmanship. As a result of the make-a-thon and an earlier brief for projects, almost 400 objects have been created from a weatherboard home otherwise destined for a house graveyard. Just so many stunning creations.
Born as a project of social enterprise, Rekindle, its mission is layered. It is about respecting loss from the earthquakes while acknowledging that amongst destruction there are opportunities for creation. As a concept Whole House is also designed to make people to think about how and what they view as waste in this throwaway society.
Observing the exhibition forced me to think about my place in this process of repurposing. I wanted to be in on that energy I’d experienced, that give-it-a-go attitude. It is in this sense the project becomes participatory: Through conversation and through showing audiences that anyone can choose to go away and create something with what’s around.
If my lack of enthusiasm at the make-a-thon is anything to reflect on, hindsight tells me that actually I can still participate in this mission. By writing and hence talking about the exhibition outside of the walls of the museum, I am contributing – just as all the other participants have – in my own way. That’s at least repurposing the earlier time I’d wasted zoning out at the church.
Image (above): Designer Annelies Zwaan working on her kitchen unit for the Whole House Reuse Project make-a-thin. Image credit: Kate McIntyre.