The Winter Garden is an ongoing (2012–) documentary project based in Christchurch following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. The work considers Christine McFetridge’s psychological landscape and its connection to belonging, home and post-traumatic growth after this period of transition.
McFetridge immigrated to Melbourne, Australia, from Christchurch in February 2013 and began photographing during short trips home. With distance, her sense of what ‘home’ was became informed by memory and nostalgia. In the same way Barthes sought a likeness of his mother from photographs after her death, The Winter Garden seeks to identify the familiar in a place continually changing.
By examining the space between past and present through McFetridge’s relationships with immediate family, close friends and the natural landscape, the work negotiates the complexity for her in reconciling Christchurch as the place she’d grown up in and an earthquake affected city.
Brick by Brick
It’s different every time you come back.
Mum’s moved the couches around. The TV is newer and bigger. The bookshelves have sagged a little further under the weight of so many paperbacks.
These things happened when you lived here too. You burnt a hole in the carpet experimenting with incense and pulled Dad’s old sheepskin rug out of storage to hide the singe marks. Your sister smashed all the peach mugs. Your brother, toying with the idea of becoming an interior designer, threw out the floral curtains and attempted to convert the household to minimalism.
When you’re home, it doesn’t feel like change. It’s just what happened today, or yesterday, or last week. You make space for it without thinking. You don’t notice your parents’ hair turning grey, the colour fading out of the print above the kitchen table. Your days are pinned to places like the bus exchange, the cafe on High street where they serve something called a ‘toilet bowl’, the part of the Avon that runs by your house.
If you stand still in your childhood bedroom - maybe it’s the computer room now, your old things given away to cousins and charity shops, your new things in a new room somewhere else - and close your eyes, you can picture every room of the house. You can replay the view from the car window of the streets you take the get to school, to swimming, to your best friend’s parents’ old house.
The swimming pool is an artist rendering now. You find it looking through articles about the rebuild - it’s probably on a billboard next to the construction site. The style is modern and makes you think of shipping containers, but maybe that’s intentional. People have been cut out of sunny-day photographs. Stolen from their own backdrops, they now walk hand-in-hand towards what will be the doors.
You used to climb up Rapaki track and look down from the Port Hills, imagining what it looked like when, instead of city, there was swamp. The land remembers. The earthquakes loosen the water table and sink whole suburbs into liquefaction. Packs of uni students dodge potholes to shovel silt from people’s driveways.
When you picture it, the city’s whole still. From Melbourne, or Edinburgh, or Amsterdam you put the buildings back together with anecdotes: Brick by brick, the old railway station on Moorhouse Ave, making space for Science Alive! and the vertical slide. You climbed to the top, putting on the special inside-out jacket to protect yourself from friction burns. You sat on the edge, leaning out over the sheer silver drop, trying, for ten minutes, to make the jump. Finally, the staff sent you back down the stairs you’d come up. The bell tower is reattached to the Cathedral, while your friend in his prefect’s uniform, complete with kilt, warmed up his bagpipes. He had earnt $10 from tourists before he was even ready to start playing. Stories return the façade to the butchery where your dad worked, put the steeple back on the church where your parents were married, move families back into the houses you walked past on your way to school.
You lose the buildings again every time you come back. Lose your points of reference. Is that the corner your brother’s first flat was on? The one above the fish and chip shop, where his bedroom stank of oil? Where’s the arch where you had your first kiss? Which street are we on now? You wonder if you still have the right to call this place home.