Crack'd for Christchurch: creating art out of misfortune

The latest addition to CEISMIC is a collection from Crack’d for Christchurch. Digital Content Analyst Lucy-Jane Walsh introduces Crack’d for Christchurch and discusses their work:

You come home to find the family china broken on the kitchen floor. Do you:

A) Fall to your knees and sob, or

B) Pick up the china and throw it in the bin?

When Cantabrians were faced with this question after the 22 February 2011 earthquake, most responded with either option A or B. But there were also mosaickers in Christchurch who saw the beauty in the broken pieces. Why not collect them together? they thought, and then think about what to do with them at a later date. That’s how they came up with a third option:

C) Gather hundreds of pieces of broken china from the community and turn them into beautiful artworks.

Over the last two years, a group of Christchurch residents have been making mosaic artworks out of Canterbury’s broken china. They call themselves Crack’d for Christchurch – a name which represents both the materials they work with, and the city they are doing it for.  Their aims are to bring back beauty into the central city, to document the domestic items that Cantabrians have lost, and to provide physical memorials of Christchurch’s domestic history.

Broken china gathered and sorted by members of
Crack’d for Christchurch and stored in a bedroom.

Several artworks have been created by the group, but none are more famous than Flora and Otto, their mosaic chair and ottoman. Flora and Otto took more than six months to make and together weigh over two tonnes. Once finished, they were gifted to the people of Christchurch as part of Greening the Rubble’s Green Room garden, brightening the corner of Colombo Street and attracting much interest from passers-by.

Helen Campbell, from Crack’d for Christchurch, standing next to
Flora and Otto in the Green Room garden on Colombo Street.

Children’s book illustrator, Jenny Cooper, first came up with the idea for Crack’d for Christchurch after the 22 February 2011 earthquake. I asked Jenny to tell us more about Crack’d for Christchurch and how such a fantastic project came to be:

Can you tell me a little about the members of Crack’d for Christchurch? How did they come to be involved in the project?

We put out the word that we would collect broken china, and as part of that people began to contact us and offer to help.  I think saving the china was an idea lots of people had at the same time, and eventually we found each other. It has turned into the loveliest (hardest working) group of people we have ever been involved with.

You collected the stories of the people who donated their china, do you have plans to do anything with these stories?

We have some stories, and lots of great photos, and one day when Flora and Otto have a permanent home, we are planning on creating a limited edition photo book for our members. There are also plans for a website.

I know that when you first began Crack’d for Christchurch, you had several proposals for how you would use the china (including decorating walls, green corridors, seating areas, and rest rooms). What made you decide to create Flora and Otto, the armchair and ottoman mosaics?

The tiny bit of funding we did receive from the Christchurch City Council Transitional Fund was for a moveable artwork. Mosaic is many things, but it is seldom moveable, so we decided to create a chair and ottoman because they could be uplifted (as opposed to a garden/wall mosaic). Also because they were domestic, familiar shapes, and the idea of fabric leant itself to the colours and patterns of the old china we had collected.

Can you tell us about your collaboration with Greening the Rubble. What were they like to work with?

Greening the Rubble were absolutely fantastic to work with: young, inspired, talented, hardworking and creative. We think their fresh ideas about the garden work really well with Flora and Otto. It is great to see people working towards a positive future for Christchurch.

How do you feel the public have responded to your project?

It still amazes us how positive the public’s response is to The Green Room. You only have to spend half an hour down there to see how interested people are, how they love the chair and the story behind her. The Green Room seems to make people feel happy, and feel a bit better about the city.

Crack’d for Christchurch’s collection outlines the gathering, preparation, and sorting of the china, and the construction of their artworks. It also contains background documents such as plans for the artworks, a poster of the launch, and an early logo for the group. CEISMIC hopes to be able to keep working with Crack’d for Christchurch to archive more material as they continue their beautiful and innovative work.