This week Hamilton Garden's are transformed from lovely and special public park by day into a contemporary art gallery by night for the Stations of the Cross, Easter Art Installations. A host of volunteers (90+) set up and pack up about 20 installations - some of them very large- every night for a week. The logistics are boggling. The presentation is museum quality: from the beautiful programme to the mini-host kit (test tube of wine and a wafer in a paper bag) to the little lamps lighting the footpaths to the free coffee and hot chocolate at the end.
The Stations of the Cross is a popular event in Hamilton, with crowds lining up to enter and then milling about in the early stations. As many of the pieces included sound (my favourite was Cooked, the Cook Islands Association drummers) so there was a lot of competing noises from different directions, especially at the beginning. The crowds and the noise made my dominant feelings at the first four or five stations harrassment and irritation.
The art itself was a mixed bag: some of it very powerful, complex and moving and some of it only superficially witty. Most of the strongest pieces were site specific, using the Gardens' features to great effect. For Mara Berzins' Power to the People we had to shoulder our way through a angry flashmob filling the narrow walkway to the Italian Garden; their t-shirts, and b/w photo faces screamed to save Barabbas when Jesus was condemned to death made for an intense experience at station five.
Down along the Road by Stu Barris in the little ampitheatre. Subtle film of clouds passing over the moon were projected on the Italian plastered walls below the real moon in a cloudy sky. A recording of slow bluesy guitar and plenty of room to sit allowed me to space for contemplation that the Zen garden had tried and failed to offer back at the second station (Jesus prays in the garden).
The 'wow' work was Liz Downing's Bonefide Death, a huge (3m? tall) tree/crucifix constructed out of bleached (bovine) bones. The scale and workmanship were stunning, the details of skull-like pelvises, and a couple of tiny sprigs of foliage gave me goosebumps. Installed in the centre of the sundial, one of the roaming poets arrived while I was there and read a verse that made me aware of the nail-like symbolism of the sundial's rod.
The station that resonated most for me was The Common Thread by Jackie Francis. Despite being located in the early chaotic crowd of the first station, it was simple yet sumptious, with luscious red drops reflected in the Cloud Pool. It's not just Jackie's beautiful work that makes the Last Supper station so significant for me, but that Jesus' Last Supper is generally assumed to be a Passover seder and I will be attending two Passover seders this week.
The Stations of the Cross experiential storytelling is similar to what happens at the seder, where the symbolic foods and ritual activities retell the watershed event of the Jewish Torah, Exodus. I have long nursed an ember of an idea that someday I would like to make an artist's book based on the Haggadah (the book that guides the Passover seder). Going around the contemporary art installations of the Stations of the Cross rekindled that thought, refreshing and inspiring me to consider again its possibilities.