Stuart Shepherd has shared photographs of a project he and Karin Van Roosmalen did with Gapfiller in September 2011, Lyttelton post-quake: Play Architects/Clay Architects. We wanted to share because we were always really enamoured by the project when Stuart talked about doing it, and hadn't seen any documentation until now.  

It involved workshops in making a town out of clay. Stuart picks up the rest of the story by email: "

"This was a very casual workshop. Open to all, though the local primary schools had been specially invited.
Clay was provided as discount rate from the Dunedin supplier, the furniture was already on site, the marquees were on special at Bunnings.
"It took place over a weekend... mostly on the Saturday and Saturday night... a steady stream of locals and visitors contributed, some kids spent all day at work.. it created a nice focus/activity in the middle of town.... the fairy lights stuck onto meat skewers created a magical little night scene... the clay village was left in place to weather back into the rubble.

The excess clay was used for another workshop in ChCh. I wasnt present for that second one."


Documentation of many of Gapfiller's other projects can be found at


Life in Transition

Sophie Jerram in Christchurch

I felt like I’d crashed a family party at the inaugural meeting of the Life in Vacant Spaces Trust, Christchurch Monday 23rd July. It was a privilege to be a wall fly, albeit an interested, welcome and supportive one. Life in Vacant Spaces has been set up as a brokerage to facilitate creative and novel uses of empty space in CBD properties. The idea is close to the heart of Letting Space as we have been planning a similar service, the Urban Dream Brokerage in Wellington City. 

For months, I had felt very much there were two types of New Zealanders - those who had experienced post-earthquake Christchurch, and those who hadn’t. I was certainly in the latter camp until last week. 

I glimpsed, and felt, a bit of the carnage. Then I returned to the comfort of Wellington’s ‘stable’ hills. Those who have been through the trauma in Christchurch since the first earthquake in September 2010 are hurting and generally private in their grief. Although my colleagues and friends were practical and forthright about what was next to be done, they were still physically and mentally defined by the earthquakes’ damage. In all but one conversation I had in Christchurch, the instability of the city was the central protagonist in our discussion. 

 Bowling Alley, CPIT student project, Central City, May 2011, Produced by Gap Filler

Gaps versus vacancies

Life in Vacant Spaces (LiVS), has been established as an independent trust and funded by the Christchurch City Council. It will facilitate the use of vacant land or buildings in the CBD. Others – artists, community groups, anyone – can propose a project and must be able to see the project through themselves. Two creators of such projects that have had traction already, and will be working with LiVS in future, are Greening the Rubble and Gap Filler. Marcus Westbury, from Renew Newcastle/ Renew Australia, is the chief international advisor to LiVS and we have also volunteered advisory support.

The fabulous Coralie Winn from Gap Filler questioned whether the experiences of Letting Space or the much larger Renew Australia project could offer much when addressing Christchurch’s needs. The spaces to be filled in Christchurch are rather different to Wellington or Newcastle’s surplus ‘for lease’ retail and office spaces. Yes, Christchurch has rubble and carparks where once there were buildings. I understand that 2400 buildings have to be removed.  And the Christchurch sites are loaded with memories, recent and sometimes traumatic memories, as much as historic ones.

I seem to have temporarily misplaced my sense of humour by Wayne Youle, Produced by Gap Filler in collaboration with Christchurch Art Gallery. Sydenham, Dec 2011 - present

It is true that the logistical and emotional concerns in dealing with recession-induced vacant shops and offices are very different to razed, open wounds in a grieving city.   

For a start, finding shelter for performance, artistic work or community gatherings may be easier with a roof. I would argue that there are ways of creating temporary structures in these empty sites but it's fundamentally not about practicalities.

What is shared between LiVS and Letting Space are the important relationships that need to be built and maintained with property owners. Having the discussion about what is valuable or worthwhile with property owners can be very enjoyable. Looking at the history of, and relationships between sites is important work that temporary, transitory or non-commercial activities can highlight. What I find exciting is the opportunity to raise the idea of increasing, even if temporarily, the ‘commons’.  Whilst building owners decide their sites’ fate, there are many possibilities for reanimating the city. Gap Filler and Greening the Rubble have really only just begun their work. These projects may influence the permanent use of these sites as hubs for creative, collaborative and genuinely emergent practice. 


Think Differently Book Exchange, Central City, The project began in July 2011 and is still running. Produced by Gap Filler

Common what?

The idea of widening the ‘commons’ has been of great interest to Letting Space over the last year - in particular since we’ve been running our Community Service series. This month I read a helpful summary on commons principles by Swiss-German writer and activist Silke Helfrich:

“Commons are not a thing that can be simply described but rather a term that establishes a relationship between different elements…Commons are actively created, preserved and expanded - by cooperative collective action…”

What she also points out is that commons don’t need to be equated with public ownership. “Commons are not simply resources and so they should not be confused with a specific form of ownership. It does not matter whether people, their water, their local seeds, urban spaces, free software or community supported infrastructures are involved, the issues are always fairness, transparent structures, self organization, (social) innovation, environments that instil trust and encourage creativity, as well as the awareness that the development of others is a precondition for one’s own development and vice-versa.”[1]


From Kim Paton's Free Store (May 2010) curated by Letting Space

For Christchurch’s transitional zones, I can imagine many activities that a flexible property owner would enjoy too. What about a site for a ‘shameless soup kitchen’ – to gather together those would like to share the cooking, in a well-designed communal space? What about a site for free public discussions? I could imagine these being run or curated by groups of people who can ensure there are no clashes and that usage is distributed equitably. What about other great meeting points: adult and child-friendly playgrounds or public hot baths?


Objects and relationships

A week after the Life in Vacant Spaces Trust was inaugurated, the 100-day plan commissioned by the central government was released. I’m keeping an eye out for transitional spaces in the ‘Blueprint’.  Yes, the plan allows for a good riparian verge on the Avon, and sites for public interaction - public commons if you like, in different precincts. Cycling and public transport is prioritised for the easy flow of people. 

What is interesting is how so much public discussion that ensues on public radio and television privileges the buildings – the ‘objects’ in the urban plan. Commentators are grasping for edifices to orient themselves by. I was surprised that the day after the launch, Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon interviewed Christchurch residents for responses – and chose only three business people of the city - as if it were only a site for business, rather than broader community exchange.


Tim Barlow's The Public Fountain and DANCE Art Club in Turangi, May 2012. Curated by Letting Space


“If you want a Heritage City, go to Dunedin” says a Christchurch friend

I’ve got a sense that members of Christchurch’s ‘social establishment’ - those that argued for Hagley Park’s cricket Oval perhaps – may share an aesthetic closely tied to colonial heritage. Earthquakes have made a mockery of the notion of permanence. On the whole, buildings do not get stronger with time. They are in an entropic free fall from the moment of construction. Now is the time to transition away from this attachment to old objects whilst retaining the values of decency and trust and other such goodies associated with heritage.   How can Christchurch assist with the transition of people toward being even more decent, generous souls? How can a city encourage more interaction between its citizens, and encourage the development and transformation of its people? There are many people in Christchurch who get this - Vicki Buck and others who have set up the Ministry of Awesome to make good projects happen quickly in the city. I would suggest that transitional spaces encourage transitional experiences. Let’s see more of it.

On the Life in Vacant Spaces Trust are skilled and diverse contributors - including Sacha McMeeking from Ngai Tahu (also involved in the Ministry of Awesome), whose current project is to establish a market for waste that can be used to remove the plastic from the Pacific Ocean. There is also Bronwyn Hayward, a very active political scientist with a particular bent for public participation. All of the board members and Council representatives are people who can envision a dynamic future and a caring, flourishing city. Before, during and after the inaugural LiVS meeting I heard talk about relationships as much as sites for relationships, and in building communities as much as resurrecting physical edifices. Give these guys the reins.

Meanwhile the Life in Vacant Spaces Trust is calling for applicants to its newly created roles of Project Manager and General Manager. Click on the links for more details.


[1]   Silke Helfrich, Muster und Prinzipien in Werk, bauen and wohnen 4|2012, p 9.



Getting into hot water in Taupo

A Week in a Hot Tub – Letting Space in Taupo-Nui-a-Tia May 2012

In Taupo we created some of our most ambitious work, attempting new art in a strange land. We intended for the Taupo public to fall in love with Tim Barlow's temporary public fountain, to fall into line with some sharing and caring storytelling, and to dance on the streets to the hippest mobile radio station in a truck, D.A.N.C.E FM 106.7, we had big dreams.

Yes, we wanted projects that would shake up the way contemporary art works with festival audiences and meet those who didn't know about the Erupt festival. We were determined to pop up in small regional communities we were all meeting for the first time. It was quite an eruption - full of incident, joy and spontaneous combustion. Here’s is Mark and Sophie's geyser of a week bottled into a travel diary.

Sunday 13 May - Monday 14 May 

 Sophie: First days in Taupo for me are full of the mundane things that also come with art projects - finding materials, shopping, drafting programmes and chasing people. The only place I can find wi-fi is at the McDonald’s. We meet the Erupt Festival crew and check out our sites. Tim is still fiddling with his fountain's engineering. Late on Monday night we welcome Mark and our intrepid Massey intern Laila O’Brien with hot spinach and lentil soup.

Tuesday 15th May

Mark: Last day of prep and there’s the tension of everything working: will the geothermal geyser erupt? Will D.A.N.C.E FM’s new aerial - care of kooky, charming (but utterly pro) local Timeless Taupo radio - see them on air? Now we know what it must have been like to work with Len Lye.

Tim has driven up polystyrene rocks as a surround for his fountain. They were destined for the set of the ill-fated Christian motion picture Kingdom Come. I paint grey the gapfiller Tim has stuck the rocks together with around the Para rubber pool. It immediately has plenty of passersby fooled as being the real McCoy – it’s creepy how easy it is to fool people with the veracity of things when put in spaces they expect things to be legitimate.

In this case the fountain is placed on a strange hexagonal lawn outside Whitcoulls - as close as the town centre has to a central gathering point.

We went for this site as it seemed just the place Taupo should have for the community to mingle. A speaker’s corner, where temporarily a water vent and lots of people jumping will allow for lots of the letting off of steam!

We also get the storytelling session ‘shop;’ shipshape with furniture, a screen and visual material relating to geysers and public fountains. Tim also gets some of the books back that he’s sent out into the community to collect stories in – beautiful objects themselves in satchels.


The laneways here in Taupo provide some strong pedestrian urban design it feels good to draw attention to.

Sophie: D.A.N.C.E Art Club will be broadcasting from Wairakei Village School and Mangakino (a good 40 minutes away) on Thursday so intern Laila makes an extraordinary drive to both places for a flyer drop. She gets damp, and is shadowed by Mangakino locals in the dusk - sorry for that Laila! 

I drive to the Volcanic Centre on the road to Huka Falls to try and meet GNS scientists we had invited to be part of Tim’s talks. Librarian Sheena Tawera gives me copies of some very relevant articles from NZ Geographic. It seems the scientists assume much of their knowledge is commonly held. In fact, the map that I covet most, showing the hotspots of geothermal activity, is part of a series that has been disestablished.  Sheena squirrels around and finds me a copy.

Mark: By nightfall Tim has got the steaming hot water pumped out of Ian Warmington’s private geothermal bore and into Horomatangi Street by water truck. As soon as the hot water from deep under the earth’s surface starts pouring out the whole Letting Space Taupo collective collectively leap to one steamy conclusion: thermal pool time. The Public Fountain is thus christened by a winter’s hot dip in the main street of Taupo. Every town should have a public hot tub.

Sophie: One by one we get in. Swimming in the scalding hot water is pretty joyous in the drizzly rain.


Weds 16th May 

MARK: I cycle ‘uptown’. D.A.N.C.E FM 106.7’s first broadcast is from the Rifle Range Road Retirement Village on the suburban rise above Taupo town centre this morning. Nice and high for broadcasting, if cold and grey. D.A.N.C.E started the day early, filming a dawn cooking show of Maila Urale baking the scones they are serving the senior citizens for morning tea! (images here).

It’s a slow tentative start which we only belatedly realise is because word had gone round the village that we were thought by the residents to be council officers coming to discuss the prospect of the village being closed down… After a rousing mihi, a cuppa, Maila’s scones and D.A.N.C.E FM being cranked up on the ghettoblaster with some mellow country sounds the mood warms up - lots of great korero and sharing of people’s life experiences.

The treat with this set up is that the radio truck is parked up outside, so the locals get to go out and tell their life stories to their neighbours inside the hall, 50 metres away. And across Taupo (here is some audio of Joseph, an offset printer being interviewed).

Finally we can see the glory of small temporary mobile community radio in action, bringing a tiny community together and broadcasting to the world beyond their flats’ doors.

SOPHIE: Tim’s first storytelling discussion in the shop is a cracker (listen here) - Jenny Pattrick’s story of a Pakeha woman who divined geothermal water and started to glow in the dark - crowns it for me – and (yes!) when the session is over we get to experience the fountain in full eruption.

MARK: I loved the whole model of community storytelling sessions in a shopping centre – such a nice parallel with D.A.N.C.E FM.  It feels very right. Dylan Tahau of Tuwharetoa kicked off with the indigenous geothermal stories that are a fundamental base of people’s connection to this region, and the one thing the whole session really brought home is how important stories are to connecting us. They are a way a community express their ownership of natural resources and sense of belonging.

By the end of the sess Tim’s fountain had been joined by the D.A.N.C.E FM truck on Horomatangi, giving jumpers on Tim’s platform some sounds to leap to. The guys set up a stall handing out more scones and a specially composed soda drink entitled a Volcanic Sparkle, featuring a cola syrup homemade by some artists friends in Auckland. A community party vibe soon developed - an impromtu kind of shopping centre block party in fact.

SOPHIE: Unfortunately not all the commercial neighbours are thrilled and I get into a bit of damage control with the Westpac Bank.

Thurs 17th

SOPHIE: Laila and Mark and I drive to see the gates of Aratiatia Hydro Dam opened upstream to create very spectacular rapids. Its one of the oldest, and smallest hydro schemes running. Meanwhile D.A.N.C.E are prepping for their big tour to Wairakei and Mangakino.

MARK: Tim’s fountain comes to life today both with increased interaction from the public but hoardes of school kids here for the schools’ storytelling sessions. There’s great video here of a rabble making the geyser go. It’s fly by the seat of our pants running the sessions with the kids but really amasing. Laila gets the kids drawing their ideas for getting a geyser pumped up and GNS scientist Paul White is brilliant in talking about the geysers that once dotted this area and why they’ve now disappeared (video here). I find my school teacher mojo. 

SOPHIE: Mark and I arrive at Wairakei community - where energy workers were originally housed - at 2pm to find the school hall in full disco with D.A.N.C.E Art Club running their ‘how to be a DJ workshop’ (images here).  It’s great to discover the little kids dancing styles. I wish we had organised a better place that wasn’t entirely controlled by the school, but this is one electric session.

Driving to Mangakino in three cars everyone takes a different route and we feel strangely lost. But when we arrive at Mangakino it’s like we’ve warped into another plane. Lake Maraetai at dusk is beautiful and the welcome from Garry at the Bus stop café (an old Bedford bus) and the 25 locals is magic (images).

MARK: One of my cultural highlights bar none. Working up a party with a group of locals in the dark (people emerge cautiously from the dark like possoms round a campsite). Over but a few hours, sharing stories over music and toasties, and under Linda T’s tutelage doing the ‘Bus Stop’ dance together outside the Bus Stop Café (video!). This really does feel like social experimentation of a beautiful strong nature. I loved the locals getting on air and singing and shouting out (audio!) to their small community across the darkness. 

Friday 18th

SOPHIE: Driving to the Waitahanui Kura around the lake Mark and I miss the community powhiri but are welcomed beautifully just the same. D.A.N.C.E are broadcasting from this small local school for the morning (images here) and welcoming the local Kohanga Reo. We experience a gorgeous greeting from the staff and students and I feel reluctant to return mid flight.

I drive back to town for the final Taupo Marama Arcade discussion and it is a corker (again, we have audio here). Even though we have a small crew there is the wonderful addition of Denise Roche-Green MP.  The talk is about sharing information and there is a sense of having hope for collaborative geothermal use and management.


MARK: Waihatanui is beautiful. It’s nice to see face-painting enter the relational aesthetics lexicon. Just a joy to spend time borascasting and making pictures with these gorgeous tamariki. It feels like we’ve been here for days we’re made to feel so welcome. 

SOPHIE: That afternoon we’re on the road again to Tokaanu - we open my sister’s family’s house, and we get to know the staff at the hotpools.  Linda T does a great set into the dusk in the carpark of the Tokaanu hotpools, and I cook dinner with Josh from DAC.

MARK: A savoured memory is cruising round steamy Tokaanu with Sophie (this takes approx two minutes from one end to tother) listening to Linda T play Ardijah and checking out when D.A.N.C.E FM fades in and out of signal. Linda T is DJing from the heart of the local Maori’s geothermal resource. The rest of the Club are, predictably, having a nice long well deserved soak.

Saturday 19th

Tim has summed up some extraordinary untapped reserves to pack down the fountain in Taupo late Friday and move it with help from Al and Gareth at council with water truck to Turangi. Astonishingly its up and going about 10am, and seems to be spurting at ever increasing volumes in a town centre begging for some kind of feature. Turangi tamariki enjoy a day of getting wet, and the plume rises high in to the crisp blue sky.

It feels like a great achievement to get it here. Turangi town centre, public works planned has a sense of vacancy for its size and the fountain fits in beautifully. One of our first encounters on the day is with a bloke who shakes his head telling us nothing lasts in this placee for long before getting vandalized. Turangi is a place in need of fun, and the amazing steaming geothermal resource which is Tokaanu nearby deserves to be celebrated by the people who are its guardians. (lots of joyous video here)

Saturday is market day and there's also a Ta Moko exhbition at the nearby gymnasium, so we hit town at the right time.

D.A.N.C.E almost take the top off their truck moving under the shop eaves into the town centre, yet the great delight here was having both projects working in tandem. The truck is parked close to the fountain (“water on my decks!” squealed Linda T at one point) - meaning D.A.N.C.E FM have a dance floor! Young and old alike are busy all day jumping to good sounds on Tim's platform. Turangi gives the work a good stomping over.

Meanwhile the radio station also serves as Tim's public forum today with Anna from DOC and David Livingstone from Tokannu interviewed on air about the geothermal resource.

DAC give out their volcanic sparkle colas, which has added meaning when we're getting real volcanic sparkles when Tim's geyser spurts.

At the end of the session Turangi paid the ultimate compliment when one of the kids rushed over the to the local hall to turn the power back on the work, after Tim had closed it off. They didn't want their public fountain to stop.

SOPHIE: We have some hard core fans now - I talk to a guy whose daughter was up at Wairakei school but came to in Turangi for Saturday morning soccer- he knew all about DAC so came back for more. Wrapping up at 2pm we drive hard out to Taupo site for the Festival of Lights.

It is cold. Ahi and I go for some kai as the others prep for the evening party. The party is tremendous - DAC pull out all strings to interview the families that are walking through the park at night. Tim turns up after packing down the Fountain in Turangi to celebrate the final night.

Mark and I find a natural hotpool at the park down by the river  - it’s very, very nice to relax into!


Keeping Busy

A journal about the Wellington premiere of Productive Bodies by Sophie Oxenbridge,  Sophie Jerram and Mark Amery

“There is joy in work,” Henry Ford famously said, but for many New Zealanders, the double-whammy of New Zealand’s post-Rogernomics ‘rogering’ and a global recession, means there simply is no work. So does ‘not employed’ equal ‘no joy’ for the hundreds of civil servants recently made redundant in Wellington, for the many more who are unemployed, between jobs, or those who choose a life as artists?

Imagine a project that created more energy than it drew on; a series of exchanges between people that broke social mores and instilled joy; a work that challenged the behaviour of public codes of conduct and recognised those who have been recently told they are part of the job-hunting queue.  This was Productive Bodies.

During the last week of the NZ Festival in March, Letting Space – in association with City Gallery Wellington- made a provocative, playful work led by performance artist, Mark Harvey. They took to the streets to explore what it means to work, to be gainfully employed, to be ‘productive bodies’, and to tie up so much of our self-worth with what we ‘do’. Harvey’s past performances have drawn on both his visual arts and contemporary dance background, using humour and bodily constructions to point to the idiocy of some of the beliefs we hold dear, particularly the idea that being employed is anything other than an arbitrary state. 

After a series of morning workshops in City Gallery, groups of ‘the unemployed’, students and artists, wandered the streets of Wellington in various degrees of “absurd productiveness” and tested out our freedom of movement in a variety of public spaces.

The first day of performance (click on the link for images) began with rearranging chairs into efficient rows at Clarks Cafe, before welcoming and congratulating people on visiting ‘our public library’. Security soon told the group to stop photographing in the building.

Purposefully nodding and making eye contact with all, the group made their way through the streets to the foyer of New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which is shedding staff in a major restructure. The group read staff poetry, held lifts, opened doors and thanked people, engaging them in conversation. The group’s arrival had been tipped off (link to security guards) and the Dominion Post wrote about the work the next day.

Elsewhere in the CBD the group provided feedback on handshakers’ hand grip and temperature, pedestrian barriers on crossings, handed out schedules of public broadcasting and, the productive piece de resistance, carried people across a dangerously narrow section of Lambton Quay.  

On Tuesday, rubbish bins were cleaned, more hands were shaken and the embattled Public service broadcaster TVNZ 7 got a boost with several copies of its weekly schedule being handed out and discussed with passers-by.










By Wednesday the group had grown to 25 with additions from Massey fine arts students. Every day, the Productive Bodies shared lunch prepared by Heather Johnston, around the big City Gallery boardroom table. The group trialled movement in the gallery: gallery visitors were offered protective shields  and there was exploration of what would make them feel more comfortable in the gallery The public were welcomed at the entrance to both City Gallery and Te Papa, with numbers swelled at Te Papa by school children.

In a lunchtime panel discussion Nobel prize nominee, academic Marilyn Waring reminded an Arts Festival Club audience why she was a crucial player in NZ political history, generously offering her best solutions to how we could re-value economic wellbeing and productivity. She did so in conjunction with a strong advocate of the General Universal Wage, economist Susan Guthrie and artist Mark Harvey, all discussing how we treat productivity. Audio/video of this discussion can be heard/seen here online.

Thursday, the performance returned its energy to the government district of Wellington. A healing circle appeared in the foyer of the Ministry of Health, and many public servants were applauded moving back and forward between The Terrace and Lambton Quay. At Creative New Zealand, the Arts Council, Productive Bodies asked how they could best be of help as a way of thanking them for their support. Dishes were cleared and water was poured.

On the final day, Friday, the group was joined by Michael, a German tourist who had encountered the group at City gallery. He was asked what would make him comfortable. “Having my friends here,” was his reply, and by the end of the day he had some new ones.

The performance headed for parliament, with the group offering compliments to the public along the way. A tunnel of confidence was created for parliamentary staff going into Bowen House, and applause given to security staff. At Parliament the group undertook trust exercises, made body arrangements on the steps, brought water for gardeners, and offered security staff sun shields. Activity for the day finished with waiata (Maori song) 'E Aroha' at the reception of the soon-to-be-folded Ministry of Science and Innovation and a rigorous game of line tag on the pavement outside. The group celebrated with a picnic in Civic Square outside City Gallery.









At 5pm Tao Wells, on the invitation of Mark Harvey, provided a response to the work at Enjoy Gallery (viewable online). Wells talk spoke positively of Productive Bodies' ‘love’ and situated it as being ineffective against the ‘dump truck that would come along shortly after the streets had been cleaned’. The greater part of his address and discussion centred around Mark’s position as a government funded academic, and the wider need for people in such positions to be overtly representing their universities as agents of free thought. 

Productive Bodies worked as a unique, transformative ‘social sculpture’ challenging all who were touched by it to examine their own ideas about work and self-worth. The smiles on people’s faces in the documentation say it all – Productive Bodies created small moments of magic and joy for people and, hopefully through its numerous small group gestures, kernels for people to feel more empowered about making personal change. 

Check out what some of the brave and wonderful performers have contributed in writing, here.



What we did Monday being Productive Bodies

So today, we asked a fireman if he'd like a fireman's lift. He said he was too busy getting to his next fire. But we did synchronize our watches with his.  

We welcomed people to 'our (Wellington City) library' and thanked them for coming. We shook some hands and helped some people carry their books. Security asked us not to take photographs in the library. We arranged chairs in Clerks Cafe in a neat long row, measuring space between them with our feet. When we were asked to move them back we did so.

We offered to read people poetry carrying copies of NZ poets from the library. Indeed, reading work by Jenny Bornholdt and Gregory O'Brien we bumped into Gregory O'Brien himself going to a meeting at MFAT.

At MFAT we arrived to find that foreign affairs had been well briefed on our arrival. Two security guards were on-hand 'for our protection' as much as MFAT's, apparently. (By the end of the session we had almost recruited one to be a member of our team.) For we came in peace: aiming to find the best ways to help people in the foyer. It was suddenly as if the civil service was overstaffed. We pressed the lift buttons, thanked them and gave them handshakes, opened doors and held the lift doors for them. We mulled on whether it was of most help to get as many people into one lift as possible (efficient!) or to ensure they got a lift to themselves. Some people found congratulating, and thanking people, tricky - if their job was under threat would they feel like we were rubbing it in? If they were one of those doing the chopping would they feel threatened?  Most reactions were warm and amused, some bemused. It felt heartening.

As we walked down the road we all tried to nod and smile at people and make eye contact.
At other times we made way for people, stepping aside as a group to ease their passage.

At Midland Park we conducted research into handshakes as a group, giving people feedback on their grip and temperature. At other times, we provided a barrier between pedestrians and cars as they negotiated a particularly tricky pedestrian crossing.

We did the same over a narrow piece of Lambton Quay where lots of people jaywalked and assisted by carrying some people across the road. We were followed and photographed by a Korean couple. We handed out schedules programming of public broadcasting: TVNZ7 and Radio New Zealand.

Finding ways of being productive and of service in public spaces was very empowering. You're welcome to join us.


Love to Queue

A debrief blog conversation between Letting Space's Mark and Sophie and artist Julian Priest.

Julian Priest’s installation for Splore was called Free of Charge

Mark and Sophie from Letting Space, Julian Priest and fellow artist Trudy Lane were on hand for around 12 hours during Splore to process and engage with the public (the Splore community) one by one. Julian had created what looked like an airport security screening system, installed, appositely, next to the marvelous beach and an alternately muddy and sandy path on the way to a chill out area (the marvelous Portavilion from Cut Collective and Emma Underhill (Up Projects) and the ‘Hooha Hut’ (a DJ booth and drinks area).

People were asked to remove their shoes and any electrical devices, put them in trays and have them rolled through on a conveyor. Stepping onto a metal archway they were able to see their electrostatic charge reading and then, by way of depressing a black button on the plate with their right toe, discharge that electricity to a copper earthing rod. They became grounded.

Sophie: So for me, one of the biggest impressions I got from working at Splore on Free of Charge was the sense that people were happy to queue.

As a New Zealander and not a Brit, I have always prided myself on some degree of non-compliance with, or disruption of, the inevitable queues that form in Other People's Countries'. You two, Julian and Mark, both being born in the UK, may feel more affectionately about queues.

I mean, I know the punters at Splore had very little time pressure, could see that we were making some kind of fun/art, were still able to stand in the sun and talk to their friends and get through the line relatively quickly (making the queue more attractive), but I still find it odd that so many of them were happy to queue without understanding what we were doing. Most of them seemed to ask what it was all about only when they approached the machine and didn't seem to mind that they didn't understand. What if the machine was actually reading the status of their bank balances via the rfid wrist tags? What if, like the Skinny campaign onsite, we were a flimsy front for a greedy corporate?

OK, so there were plenty who didn't queue too, who walked on past or came in behind us to watch what was being measured over our shoulders, but they were in the minority. 

Julian: There was certainly an air of compliance with the security apparatus there, but maybe it's gone so far these days that screening is becoming associated with pleasure - after all any international holiday experience starts with a security screening. Also I think people are attracted to queues - queues signify a group of people with about to be fulfilled needs. Then there was the 'free of charge' message scrolling across the screen which must have got peoples consumer instincts going as well.

I enjoyed the role of security officer and the official language that we adopted as the piece unfolded - 'step up to the plate please ma'am', 'please depress the black button with your right big toe.." . It was amazing to be on the receiving end of people's trust as a result of these formalities. The format allowed for really very open conversations to quickly develop with each participant. I loved the way people's expectation of your role pushed back on you and made you adopt security officer mannerisms. And then at that point when people understood that the screening was basically some kind of wellness procedure you suddenly got flipped from being an authority figure of the security apparatus to being some kind of health practitioner - and you'd be into conversations about the health benefits or not of being grounded etc, - you suddenly jumped from one side of state service provision to the other - hawks to doves.

Mark: I don’t think it’s surprising that people were so willing to queue. Its modus operandi at these things on arrival and to buy food and drinks surely? Though Splore I think is spatially generally so much freer and easier in terms of numbers and the glorious site. I agree Soph though otherwise - I was struck by the number of young people (disturbingly young girls in my experience there) who thought that they HAD to pass through the machine to access the next part of the site.

They seemed to be almost magnetically drawn to it… Sure, this is arguably part of the work – people asking as they encounter it  “will there be repercussions if I’m NOT processed” – but it was as you say the willingness. An art installation people were troubled by their relationship too immediately – I loved that.

The air of big brother compliance was heightened nicely by the provision of those cashless wristbands, which allowed the vendors and not the customers to read what their cash balance was. I often joked with the punters that the machine would delete any cash on their bands - given their lack of control this was a joke that was maybe a little to close to the bone.

My immediate impression after leaving is also around people, but as to what a festival like Splore offers the visual arts. So often there’s such a vacuum of immediate response and conversation about artwork that is meant to be socially orientated that you put up in a gallery, or even in our urban projects. At Splore having to individually interact with 1000 people one by one as we did over some 11 hours of operation - talk to them, engage with them, having created a mechanism that allows you to process that number - was a very empowering and interesting experience as an arts producer. Beyond those ‘processed’ you also couldn’t stand anywhere near the work, even when not on, without someone within a few seconds approaching you and asking you WTF it was and whether it was good for you. They were relaxed, high, ‘free’, and feeling confident.

Then there were the 1000s more who just walked past and mused on its relationship to them – it really stuck out nicely against the beach and colourful flags as a piece of grey bureaucratic machinery, engaging but worrisome.

As you say the far scarier face of control was Skinny’s free frisbees, lilos and water toys – but given their huge visual impact I wouldn’t call them ‘flimsy’, they were pretty irresistible, clever candy in this context. Devastatingly effective - but useful at least.

Julian: Yes the 'Free' telco sponsored gifts were a good contrast - a reminder of the 'Free' we are normally sold. I liked the feeling that people would leave 'Free of Charge' with - I remember quite a few exclaiming 'Yes! I'm free of charge!' - they were free to go too. I hope we gave them something by re-balancing their electrostatics.

Sophie: By flimsy, I am meaning that Julian only had to ask the Skinny girl who was in charge of the campaign and she admitted it was Telecom who was giving away a host of plastic beach gear and tats tagged 'skinny' under this new brand. So you scratch the surface of these 'post-advertising' campaigns and find that one of NZ's largest companies is cleverly rebranding to a generation who doesn't do broadcast media.   What I liked most about Free of Charge was that for the Splorers, it was odd yet candid: there were no hidden lures. We were offering an experience, Free of Charge.

 A full gallery of images of Free of Charge and a short video interview with Julian with film of the work in operation can be found here.


Towards a Performance

Over the last two weeks Mark Harvey and Letting Space have held a couple of sessions with people interested in being involved in Productive Bodies May 12 to 16 (though people can just rock up to City Gallery any day of that week at 10am to observe opr join in). One of the most interesting elements of these have been how collaborative the process has been in gathering ideas from discussion and peoples experiences, working always towards group consensus on directions. Below are some of the ideas floated.  Come on along.

  • People shuffling paper - the idea of quantitative productivity.
  • Offering people things in the street and they have to do something in return.
  • The idea of 'Actioning things' - new vocabulary. Doing 'Actionings'
  • Having committee meetings in circles
  • Wiping the floor ahead of people
  • Rolling out the red carpet
  • Stacking chairs - moving and restacking
  • Moving chairs around in cafes that operate in commons areas -  the furniture thats in public spaces.
  • Improving the space.
  • Measuring spaces between tables - ensuring there's room for wheelchairs
  • Measuring space with our feet
  • Using a chair as a measurement
  • Using the body as a measurement tool.
  • Everyone carrying one person "would you like a lift?" as they come out of the lifts
  • When you're not employed suddenly you don't have end of year parties - hold a a welcome party?
  • The awkward farewell speeches when people are made redundant - honesty is exasperated by alcohol. What will they blurt out? Anyone who wants to do an awkward speech
  • Standing in a circle talking can feel very genuine and can invite people in - circles in foyers. Talking and planning in a circle. Inviting people in.
  • Issues of personal space - how much space around you is personal. Experimenting with this
    Moving horizontal bodies on the steps of parliament.
  • Groups holding individuals. Moving them from prostrate position to seated positions.
  • Teambuilding exercises
  • What can we offer people?
  • A team of people creating a personal space around them as they walk - like bodyguards.
  • How to walk most efficiently as a group. Swarms. Arrowheads.
  • Clothes swapping
  • A line of people getting an honorary handshake. Experimenting with different types of handshakes.
    Letting people know the time and the weather outside. Giving them directions. Being of service.
  • Acting as roving consultants.
  • Shaking people's hands continuously.
  • Walking around as a group with empty cardboard boxes.
  •  Market research - how irrelevant and abstract it can become - ask people questions, research handshakes, with someone assessing the quality and working out averages and percentages.