How many cities you know roll like this – Canterbury Quakes exhibit

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The hip hop rapper sound of Scribe seems an incongruous choice of soundtrack for a museum exhibition. Let’s face it, museums do have a bit of a rep for stuffy, dusty places lamenting the past, rather than being up with the current state of play.

But then, this latest exhibition–Canterbury Quakes–put together by Canterbury Museum is no ordinary one, for many reasons.

How many museums you know could throw together a 300m2 exhibition in less than three months? Not many.

How many museums you know have put together a true living history – celebrating an event that is still being lived through, 16 months later? Not many.

How many museum exhibits are looking forward, presenting dreams and visions for the future? Not many. If any.

This one does. Opened on the first anniversary of the quakes that killed 185 people in Christchurch, it’s an exhibit that combines science with the community spirit that shone in the days following.

Sarah Murray and Lyttelton Timeball; photo Canterbury Museum.

Social history curator Sarah Murray in front of the Lyttelton Timeball.

But despite its opening date social history curator Sarah Murray explains that the exhibit is not meant as a memorial.

“Canterbury Quakes offers us a chance to reflect. We are only one year on and we are still experiencing earthquakes; there will be years and years of stories to tell of this event.

To get it ready by the anniversary was challenging but also heartening as people were so willing to help and so open in telling their stories. We couldn’t have achieved what we did without the help of more than ninety individuals and partner organisations. We worked with so many incredible people, including representatives from the University of Canterbury, the Christchurch City Council, Ngāi Tahu and our principal sponsors Hewlett Packard, to name just a few.

When visitors arrive, they are first guided through a section on the science of the Canterbury earthquakes. On display is a CUSP machine, produced by Canterbury Seismic Ltd. These machines were sent out to locations in the South Island from the 1990s onwards to measure the earthquakes predicted to occur on the Alpine Fault.

Because of those machines, Canterbury’s earthquakes are the most highly recorded earthquakes in the world.

CUSP machine; photo Canterbury Museum.

CUSP machine

Geology curator Dr Norton Hiller and museum staff teamed with GNS Science and Canterbury University to create three-dimensional models of fault lines. Dr Mark Quigley, who was often seen on the news, has helped create a series of videos to explain the science behind the earthquakes.

In our section on the Canterbury community we have an area called ‘Helping Hands’, which highlights the way people came together to help out- like the Student Volunteer Army and many others. There is also a collection of items that are so familiar to Christchurch; giving people a chance to get up close to things like:

  • The spire cross and bell from Christ Church Cathedral
  • Chalices stolen (then returned) from the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament
  • The Speaker’s chair and painted roof tiles from the Provincial Chambers
  • Mayor Parker’s parka
  • Booties worn by one of the search dogs
  • The memorial guitar from the Heart Strings project

We also have;

  • Stunts clips showing skateboarders interacting with the new Christchurch landscape
  • 30 minutes of  audio from the emergency communications centre from 22 February
  • Police and USAR photos taken within the red zone cordon and a moving interview with one of the forensic photographers that worked on the CTV site.

One of the highlights for me is an hour-long film featuring interviews with 15 different people. These people willingly shared their story of the 22 February 2011 with us and the film shows a diversity of experiences; it’s transfixing as the stories are so familiar.

For the final section we went to Canterbury’s city and district councils for a brief outline of what they see for the future of Christchurch. This section also contains information from CanCERN; what residents see as the future of their communities; and IConIC; featuring some of the lobby groups that have formed around earthquake- related issues. It’s a little bit of crystal ball gazing, which museums don’t usually do, but we wanted the exhibit to look ahead to the future of our region.

Photo Canterbury Museum.

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There are some parts of the exhibit that will speak more to some than to others. But it’s about sharing a whole range of experiences. We have been careful to provide warnings as some content might be quite upsetting to people.

Personally, it was quite a challenging experience at times. Living through this event, then focusing in on the detail for the exhibition; at times I had to stop and distance myself for a while from what we were doing. That said, it was also an incredibly rewarding experience. There are so many stories out there that deserve to be told and I feel privileged to be a part of telling just a few of them at this time.”

How many cities you know got the skills to go and rock a show like this? Christchurch city.

 

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