Friday, May 09, 2014

Bombing Conifer Grove

Ian Powell and I jumped into Paul Janman's car on Wednesday and headed off down the Great South Road, looking for hillsides, bridges, caryards, churchyards, and gardens of scrub where we could stash our 'conceptual bombs': small but densely packed plastic geocaching boxes that we have been preparing as part of our contribution to the A Sense of Place exhibition, which opens at Papakura Art Gallery tomorrow morning.
Visitors to Judith Collins' local gallery will find a long table covered in maps, texts, photos, toy soldiers, and other helpful artefacts of the history of the Great South Road, as well as a computer on which clues about the locations of our caches will be given (the information on the computer will also be available online after tomorrow, at a website Paul has constructed).
One of the targets that we hit successfully on Wednesday was the mini-suburb of Conifer Grove. Here's some information we've prepared about the Grove, and a description of some of the material we left there:

Conifer Grove: Utopia, with Security Cameras

Utopian communities have been a recurrent feature of New Zealand society since the nineteenth century, when prophets of colonialism like Edward Gibbon Wakefield portrayed the country as a ‘better Britain’ where settlers could enjoy peace and prosperity. Nonconformist Christians founded utopian settlements in the late nineteenth century, and during the World Wars some pacifists withdrew into a set of utopian communities in the countryside. In the early 1970s Norman Kirk’s Labour government set up a scheme that gave free or cheap land to idealistic young hippies who wanted to live communally.

One person’s utopia can be another’s dystopia, and many members of nineteenth century colonial settlements or the counterculture of the ‘70s eventually sought refuge from their alternative communities in the outside world. 
 Just beyond the low income South Auckland suburb of Manurewa, a sort of utopia was established in the late 1970s. Conifer Grove was New Zealand's first 'gated' community, and its video surveillance cameras, grid-like streets, rows of faux-Tudor townhouses, and weirdly dour streetnames - 'Syntax Place' is typical - can still bemuse visitors from the outside world. For many of its residents, though, Conifer Grove was an escape from a city they found increasingly chaotic and incomprehensible. 

Is Conifer Grove a utopia, a dystopia, or both? 

The contents of the Conifer Grove cache include:

A mask, of the sort that might be worn by a burglar
Reproductions of one pound notes issued by King Tawhiao's Te Peeke of Aotearoa in the 1880s 
A copy of Jack London's Call of the Wild 
A copy of nineteenth century Russian futurologist Constantin Tsiolkovsky’s pioneering design for a DIY spaceship 
A printout of Giovanni Tiso’s essay ‘The Spectacle of Surveillance’, which asks whether photography is becoming a panoptic artform 
One of Ian Powell's photographs of the remnants of the high scoria wall built around the army barracks in central Auckland in the 1840s, when the fledgling colonial government feared invasion from Nga Puhi-controlled Northland

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


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