Janet McAllister on the arts

Janet McAllister looks at the world of the arts and literature.

Janet McAllister: Bull in quake city china shop

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'On First Looking into Chapman's Homer' by Michael Parekowha.
'On First Looking into Chapman's Homer' by Michael Parekowha.

Christchurch can be proud of its bull.

'I always wanted to see snow on the back of the bulls, and I got my wish," said Michael Parekowhai last week in his inaugural lecture celebrating his promotion to professor at the University of Auckland.

His topic was the travels of his Venice Biennale 2011 suite On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer, whose six tonnes of mostly bronze and wood include two lifesize black bulls using pianos as pedestals, an intricately-carved red Steinway piano (which works), a security guard, olive trees and croc footwear.

Photographs of the suite look sublime - in the Romantic sense of the sublime: beautiful and terrifying, reminding us of our small, finite place in the universe. Even on a screen it lives up to being named for a Keats poem about the rare awe inspired by special works of art.

And the bulls and co are indeed well-flung: from Henderson to Venice to Paris (where it snowed), then back "home" to Christchurch, and Te Papa in Wellington.

The images of the smooth bulls against a backdrop of red-zone rubble ruins in Christchurch were the most compelling. In particular, the bull standing ready to charge, Chapman's Homer itself, looked like it was responsible for the mess - a bull in a citywide china shop. Other Cantabrians read defiance in the work - both anger and pride - and strength in the face of devastation. Either way, 50,000 people saw the bulls during the 30 days they were on display in Christchurch last year.

And they paid to make Chapman's Homer permanently their own: in a "pledge me" campaign three months ago, 874 supporters donated $200,000 (matched by Westpac Bank and Christchurch Art Gallery Trust) to secure the piece for the Christchurch Art Gallery for an undisclosed amount. Christchurch can be justly proud of the bull, its story and its new symbolism. It's an acknowledgment of the anger caused by the earthquake and its aftermath, and a symbol of residents facing the turmoil with energy and hope, where possible. Case in point: buying the bull, the symbol, itself.

Given such touring and enthusiastic reaction, it is a pity that the main Venice pieces have never been seen by the general public in the city it was made: Auckland.

There was an event in Parekowhai's Henderson studio before they were shipped to Italy but, however blue collar the Hendo tag, it was an invite-only event thanking patrons who had helped Creative New Zealand to pay for the work.

With the other bull sold to an undisclosed client, perhaps Auckland could look after Chapman's Homer until it is put on permanent display in Christchurch in 2015? Perhaps we could also borrow He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu - the red piano - from Te Papa? After all, we all paid $1.5 million for that one as taxpayers. It would be nice to see local institutions step up and host a more local homecoming before the raging bull permanently seeks cool snow in the south.

- NZ Herald

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