It is finished

It is Finished.’ After 8 years of doing Stations of the Cross installations at Cityside over Easter, my last one is done. 45 Citysiders involved directly in about 80 different roles; 900 punters through the doors over the 30 hours we opened; 80 in the small space at peak times (far too many); newspaper reporting (wrongly) that we’d had ‘hundreds of letters of complaint about photos of naked buttocks being flogged’; dozens of comments that this was the best installation yet and of life changing encounters with the God who is responsible for Easter.

A video welcome in New Zealand Sign Language supplemented the verbal welcome and installation notes at the door. The centrepiece of the installation was a 6 metre (20 foot) x 3 metre (10 foot) oval black water reflecting pond about 90mm (4inches) deep. Everyone was given a candle as they came in and invited to light and float it as a symbol of their prayers for some person or situation, and to also take away a stone from around the pond as an ongoing reminder of what they had done. The 14 pieces of art by Citysiders were installed around the black fabric covered outer walls of our small space.

left: STATION 8IEGHT luke 23 v 27 – 32
title : wail women of the wall
artist : natasha hofmans-sheard
media/materials : bricks, mortar, oxide, enamel, wool ]

Media included video (running on 4 different screens and vcrs), a beautiful handcrafted ‘scrapbook’, oils on canvas, a brick wall, mixed media collage, 6 meter high raffia and wire sculpture, huge recycled brass and copper sculpture, etc. Halfway around the stations our usual church foyer (tiny) was converted into a stunning reflective space with beautifully crafted wall hangings, a crucifix and communion elements. The Exit space ran a video doco of last years Stations (by a couple of Citysiders), comments book and the necessary donations urn. An original ambient soundscape ran continuously in the space and was replaced by an hour of live soundtrack by a solo performer each evening. It was a very beautiful, relaxing, intimate, warm, low lit, ambient space.

This was my eighth pond. Six of them have leaked. Water is really thin stuff, it gets out anywhere! This time the pond would have to last not just a few hours but a full 5 days. So I went out and bought an expensive pond liner, the kind used by farmers to make earth ponds. Thick, rubbery, waterproof membrane. No problem. I lovingly crafted beautifully radiused curved ends from timber and draped the liner over them. When I added water and a ring of underwater Christmas tree lights (specially designed to not electrocute anyone) it looked stunning. And every candle that was added made it look even better. It was magnificent.

8 hours after adding water the carpet around the pond was soaked. The bloody thing leaked! Eight ponds, seven leaks. It was the lowest point of my life – in the last week anyway. I was very tired from 10 days of setup and we still had 4 days of opening to go. I was ready to hang up a ‘Closed due to unforseen circumstances sign’. Or more likely ‘Due to a death in the family…’ But the true alt.w spirit kicked in and a 21 hour day saw the pond deconstructed, carpet partially dried, and a new liner and pond constructed over the wet area, stones poured around it and opened just in time. Four days later and the only water in the carpet was that from the first night. Nine ponds, seven leaks. The average is improving.

So…as I write the blowers are running to dry the carpet, hopefully in time for us to get the furniture back in the church for Sundays services. It took 5 days and $500 last time. It will take longer and cost more this time. And it smells a lot worse. If there are unbelievers out there they will be able to put their hands on the marks on the floor and their noses can smell the carpet. Then they will believe.

[left: STATION 10EN john 19 v 18 john 24 v 24 – 29
artist : kirsten malcolm media/materials : acrylic sheet, paper mache (text from sixteenth century poem by st teresa of avila)
size : 1500mm x 500mm]

All up it cost us about $4500 New Zealand. I covered that by getting sponsorship and hitting on a few friends and family. Cityside doesn’t contribute directly as a matter of policy (my policy! I believe that those who have the dream should fund that dream themselves and not expect others to fund it unless they choose to. And if I bring a project to the church for funding, who is going to vote against it? Cityside doesn’t fund any projects as a church.)

Was it worth it? Sure it was. Our Stations is primarily a Cityside project done by our community as an opportunity for some of our artists to have a project to work toward. Most of those involved never produce art outside of Stations. That we invite the general public in is a by-product of what is firstly for ourselves. That’s why I never take any notice of complaints unless they come from Citysiders. Last year 2 of the Stations made it to the finals of a national art award and one was purchased by that national arts trust. The composer of the very first soundtrack has gone on to become a national figure in the electronic music field. Significant stuff that owes it’s genesis to involvement in Stations.

We were involved in supporting – with advice and art – three other Stations installations in other parts of New Zealand and know of 4 or 5 in other parts of the world that were inspired by what we have done so even if no one else at Cityside picks up the reins, there will be other Stations happening in the future. I’m well into writing my Master’s thesis on the response of punters to our Stations last year, and that material will be included in a book that is well underway on using stations, Stations of the Cross, ambient spaces and vigils in worship. So I hope that will also encourage more groups to use them in worship and to tell the Story out in the market place.

I move to Melbourne in a week and commute back to Auckland every 3 weeks to do a transition week at Cityside. This will probably continue until Christmas when I will move fully to Melbourne, hopefully with my wife Robyn. I expect to be at Greenbelt in August to catch up with a few of you.

And in case you’re wondering, if I had to choose between 14 tons of sand (last years installation, that is still blowing around the street outside the church and in the corners of the church) and half a ton of water…I’d take the sand every time. Except the effect of the water and candles is outstanding…I wonder if there’s any way to do stations underwater….and bigger flames would be interesting…

Mark Pierson is minister at Cityside Baptist Church, Auckland New Zealand, home to ‘Parallel Universe’. He is also co-author with Mike Riddell and Cathy Kirkpatrick of the SPCK book & CD-Rom, ‘The Prodigal Project’.