Innocent Bystanders:
Jessica Halliday


innocent bystanders may 02 - 19

Innocent Bystanders proposed a series of experimental encounters across Ōtautahi with The Physics Room as a central axis.

Blurring the boundaries between contemporary art and dance, performers Julia Harvie, Josie Archer, Kosta Bogoievski, David Huggins & curator Khye Hitchcock set up a framework from which examined dynamics between audience, performer, and site.

Local artists were invited to create written responses to the work.

A Purposeful Public

Christchurch’s Civic Building was not always civic, not always a public space accessible to the public.  It always had a public purpose. It was built as the central post office - the major distribution centre in the South Island for the government-owned and operated postal service. The building is mammoth - the double height floors and robust construction weren’t merely an expression of the Brutalist aesthetic, but of the functional requirements to support the gigantic, heavy machinery used for sorting mail.

The artists were also not what they looked to be on the surface. They were not the public but had a different purpose in the Civic Building. The artists began by blending in: sitting, standing, walking, moving through the public spaces of this public building. Seemingly innocent bystanders.

Then, a shift in the artists’ behaviour and movement. They replaced blending in socially with blending with the architecture - draped, lying, merging with architectural members. Now members of the public politely looked askance.

During this act of the scripted movement, Julia Harvie sandwiched herself between a trellis screen of pot plants and a wall to edge her way along its full length from one end to the other, splayed in trikonasana. Three people walked by before one man noticed and stopped to speak to her. He was cross. Julia had purpose; this man from the Council had approved her purpose, but he had not imagined that a movement artist would purposefully infringe this liminal space.

Another shift occurs - one not driven by the artists, but by the arrival of a host of not-so innocent bystanders who came to witness this performance. It is clear that these newcomers are looking at art, in the same way that some people stop to look at the Philip Trusttum millennium tapestry hanging on the Civic Building wall. This deliberate watching provides a cue to those who happen upon the artists. Suddenly, the presence of an audience renders the artists as such. A nose held against the moving handrail of the escalator is now legible as an act of performance, rather than the questionable action of an unhinged member of the public.

The design of the post office building started in 1965. By the time the Ministry of Works completed the building in 1981 it was anachronistic: Brutalism was old hat, and central cities were no longer considered as an appropriate location for gigantic industrial buildings. When the building was transformed for civic purposes, Athfield Architects designed a new public space on the north side of the building: a long, expansive ramp and short ranges of steps that act as the grand, formal entrance. It was here that the final segment of Innocent Bystanders took place. This playful episode saw the artists tumble into plantings, crawl over water features and lie upside-down, dangled over steps. A crowd of watchers gathered in the window of a neighbouring building - as if looking down from the gods on a stage.

By the time the performance came to a close, the bystanders chose to become an audience.

Innocent Bystanders
The Physics Room 02 - 19 May, 2018 
Josie Archer, Julia Harvie, Kosta Bogoievski, David Huggins
Curated by Khye Hitchcock

Text by Jessica Halliday
Director - Te Pūtahi - Christchurch centre for architecture + city-making
Images by Stuart Lloyd-Harris