Orientation is a body of work made in response to the February 22nd 2011 Christchurch Earthquake. Conceived as an artist book-cum-walking guide, the photographs were made during countless walks around the perimeter of the central city Red Zone cordons.
With no initial set intention for the outcome of the work, Tim J. Veling simply aimed his lens at buildings trapped within the Red Zone that he used to use to way-find on a daily basis. In the months following the disaster, as information about the extent of damage within city was drip-fed to the public, it quickly because obvious the vast majority of these buildings would be demolished by the time people were let back in.
As photographs amounted, Veling began selecting individual images that seemed on some level to convey the disorienting experiences he was having during his walks. Eschewing the monumental signs of trauma for a deceptively objective viewpoint, the resultant body of work asks the viewer to consider the potential implications of small details found within each frame. Veling pairs this micro with macro detail in the form of location information sourced from Google Maps. The resultant artist book is less a depiction of experience during a concentrated period of time and more a surrogate for experience itself, as brought forth in the way the reader is forced to interact with content.
Veling is currently working on a follow up to this body of work. Drawing on previously unused photographs taken during the time, plus new images taken from approximately the same vantage points nearly ten years on, this new body of work has no set date for completion.
Orientation: City and Memory
We may live without her [architecture] and worship without her, but we cannot remember without her.
John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, 1849.
Tim Veling's recent photographs of central Christchurch pictured from the edge of the red zone bear no relationship to traditional photographs of architecture-with-a-capital-A. There's no heroism, no grand artefact; in these photographs architecture becomes an all-encompassing term embracing the incidental as well as the significant. Neither is he interested in the alternative and commonly captured tectonic drama of our ravaged city's drastically damaged structures and piles of rubble. Instead, he quietly examines the everyday reality where architecture isn't a rarefied design object or a piece of real estate, softly bringing the wider urban, social and psychological context within the frame.
This is a broader view of the inner city domestic street or the rear or rooftop of familiar buildings or sites. In this view are both direct and indirect suggestions of our social, political and personal interactions with the built environment, as it was, as it is and as it might be. An abandoned bike, faded tagging, a child in a buggy, a Unimog casually parked on an inner city street.
In every image one or more towers peak over other structures and form the skyline. Many of them will not push into the sky in the near future. Some, such as the Hotel Grand Chancellor, will be demolished under warrants issued by CERA, the fate of others will be determined by economic equations. By drawing attention to the presence and role of these buildings in our urban lives, Veling raises questions about the consequences of holding knowledge and having experience of a specific urban environment and the matter of memory and the city.
These are the multi-story buildings that Veling uses to locate himself within, and find his way through, the city. By gaining a spatial knowledge and memory of the city and its constituent parts through regular use (probably on foot) these buildings have been come codes for both deliberate and emotional way-finding for many of us in Christchurch. "I'm near the winding Avon; I'm to the north of Cathedral Square; I'm where I shared my last embrace with my lover."
Spatial memory is so important to human survival it is regarded as a 'natural' memory. In the classical world, this 'natural' memory was used to aid 'artificial', purposeful memory. Natural memories of rigid, ordered spaces and objects and places within space, such as the interior of a house or buildings within a city, are used as a structure on which to 'peg' other forms of knowledge. Although an imaginary spatial image could be used, the ready availability of existing memory banks of real spatial relationships between objects as found in the house or the city made them easy architectural mnemonics.
Memories so easily gained and so vital to human survival are unerringly, unwittingly 'pegged' with emotional associations. What will happen to us who live in Christchurch, individually and collectively, when more of these buildings vanish from our knowledge and experience of the city? If our city no longer matches our memories, will we still identify and comprehend it, will it still mean something to us, will we still find our ways through her streets?
Dr Jessica Halliday
Architectural Historian / Director of FESTA, Festival of Transitional Architecture, Otautahi, Aotearoa.
Originally published in The Silver Bulletin #2