2008, Wellington, New Zealand         

Journée Des Barricades

Various industrial and domestic items, 8 x 21 x 10 m

Commissioned by Litmus Research Initiative at Massey University
and Situations for the ‘One Day Sculpture’ programme

Broken-down cars, rusty bicycles, unwanted furniture and old appliances, and mounds of household and industrial garbage block a city-centre street in Wellington. In its barricade form, the immense structure suggested associations with the history of political actions and social unrest, but as a collection of discarded consumer products it also brought to mind questions about our environmental and economic future. In stark contrast to the work’s scale and grandiosity was its temporality: installed by the artists and a clandestine team of volunteer workers in the early hours of Sunday, 14 December 2008, the work was in situ for just twenty-four hours as part of the ‘One Day Sculpture’ programme commissioned by Massey University and organized by Situations, before disappearing, again overnight.

The monumental structure blockaded Stout Street, a thoroughfare close to the city’s harbour area. Constructed from salvaged materials and urban detritus, it made real the spectre of catastrophe found in spectacular events such as floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, and nuclear accidents, as well as war, terrorism, riot, regime change, and the breakdown of civil society. Journée des Barricades – ‘The day of the barricades’ – also played with the historically resonant form of a street barricade. But in contrast to the urgency and haphazard construction of a barricade, the objects that had been accrued from second-hand shops and garages and the city dump were carefully stacked to produce an assemblage resembling a stylized landslip rather than a hastily built, provisional barrier.

The impact of the scale and complexity of this temporary public sculpture, on an unsuspecting public, was revealing in one key respect: while some people kept a careful distance, conscious of the precariousness of the construction, the majority of passers-by and dedicated visitors who sought out the sculpture cast the work as an event in which to place themselves. At a time when the use of social media was yet to be as pervasive as it is today, the sharing of images of the Morisons’ obstruction was mainly through picture texts, rather than Facebook; even so, the principal reaction to the work was to capture it as a subject for documentation. The performance of this barricade thus mobilized the public to participate as witnesses for a fleeting moment – to witness an apparition of sorts, which might be seen within the context of the artists’ ensuing series of apocalyptic works as an indication of a city of the future.

The first decade of this new millennium is haunted by the spectre of catastrophe, found in spectacular events that invade and haunt the collective imaginary: floods, tsunamis, earthquakes and invasions, as well as the collapse of monuments, regimes and economies. Operating on an epic scale these extended moments in nature and civilisation unsettle our sense of security, shift our consciousness and blur boundaries between the local and the global. British artists Heather and Ivan Morison tend to refer to this “worrying world” through what curator Claire Doherty calls an “ongoing investigation into future catastrophic scenarios and their social implications.” Their most recent project, with its direct allusion to the Parisian revolutionary barricades, also references the blockades of more recent protest and warfare as well as forming a post-apocalyptic image that suggests some “climatic disaster.” Such artwork, which takes on the role of playing between past, present and future histories not only elicits an aesthetic charge within the civic realm, but could also feasibly harness public and private performances...
The monumental installation “made up from the detritus of Wellington” inhabited and bifurcated Stout Street, which provided an ideal urban frame for viewing the sight from Lambton Quay. A colossal mass of inorganic rubbish borrowed from local recyclers and the dump, it was formed from abandoned vehicles, tyres, compacted plastic, household appliances, bicycles, supermarket trolleys and – on closer inspection – garden and domestic objects, including a host of children’s toys. It seemed as if Wellington had violently disgorged its suburban contents only to be washed up onto the city’s original shoreline, now 250 metres from the existing waterfront. Passers-by were drawn towards this massive spill, which somehow made sense of Ruamoko (1998), the Hotere/McFarlane sculpture standing in the foreground. Like Ruamoko – composed of pillars and letters from the State Insurance Building that once occupied the corner site – this behemoth was formed from salvaged materials. However, unlike the smaller public artwork, the wall of rubbish was designed to inhabit the street for a single day; from its construction, which began at midnight on Saturday, to its total disassembly and dispersal 24 hours later: hence Journée des Barricades – The Day of Barricades...
The paradox of the Morisons’ project is that, despite its associations with political resistance (involving radical, hostile or unexpected manoeuvres), the erection of the barricade engaged in neither spontaneous nor furtive action. Theirs was a carefully planned installation that required exhaustive negotiations with the authorities in order to close off a city street, erect a blockade and comply with health and safety issues – all with minimal disruption to the city’s traffic and negligible damage to its urban fabric. This pacified both the object (and its objective), rendering it monumental, sculptural and totalising rather than durational, subversive or communal. The giant barricade – perspectivally framed by some of the most European buildings in Wellington – also resembled a scenic backdrop. Cleared of parked cars, Stout Street became a picturesque space that drew the public in from Lambton Quay towards the artwork. But once you approached the spectacular assemblage, you realised that physical engagement with it was restricted, other than to look and marvel at its epic scale or enjoy the carefully arranged objects within objects – the most delightful being a collection of toys staring out at you from the dashboard of a van. Discretely placed stewards appeared (like museum docents) to prevent people from rummaging through its contents, scrambling up its precipitous structure or even climbing the rusty ladder left invitingly against the back of a battered vehicle. Nevertheless moments occurred where the barricade was breached to the delight of onlookers who tended to stand back and capture it on camera...
The potency of
Journée des Barricades lay in its scenic splendour as a sculpture that fleetingly linked the theatrical and the quotidian with the catastrophic. Confronting the public with an image that suggests some sort of epic failure (social, political or ecological) recalls Walter Benjamin’s conflation of the “moment of enchantment” with the “figure of shock.” Coming across a barricade constructed of refuse indexes the ground on which its stands – reclaimed land constructed over a century ago from barricades of refuse – reminding us that we occupy despoiled shores. It also affirms Victor Burgin’s statement that art itself could be considered a “form of ecological pollution.” Although the barricade was more object than action, returning the sculpture’s contents to the dump and recyclers from which it was borrowed still positions the artwork as a fleeting event: a transitory performance that leaves its traces only in the minds of those who witnessed it as well as in the archival documentation and articles such as this one. 

Dorita Hannah, Constructing the Barricade – an urban performance building between the archive and the repertoire (excepts from), critical response to Journée des Barricades, 2009 

Photographers’ credits       

Journée Des Barricades_ Stephen Rowe

Love Me or Leave Me Alone        


Love Me or Leave Me Alone, The Very Public Art of Heather Peak and Ivan Morison presents a journey through the past decade and a half of the artists’ practice, with an emphasis on their pavilions, escape vehicles, and public artworks.  The book can be ordered from the publishers Art/Books
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