Sun, Moon & The Dead

The donation of a personal tennis court and public financial donations facilitated the opening of this model maternity hospital with breathtaking views of Wellington Harbour in 1927. It closed in the late 1970’s and was converted into a function centre.

I’ll Send You A Postcard

A comparison between Budludzha monument in Bulgaria as pictured in 1970’s publications and its abandoned state in 2015. The Getty Foundation’s investment of $185,000 in July 2019 to support the creation of a conservation and management plan for the monument hopes to reverse its sharp decline.

Man With Short Arms

A tweaked edit from our 2019 explore. Perhaps there was some kind of neuroscience at play in this choice of images – SpongeBob SquarePants meets the lost city of Atlantis – for a mural painted along the back corridor of the isolation cells of this now-abandoned prison. Presumably intended to calm disruptive prisoners, and engage painterly ones, further intriguing murals adorn the cold cell walls: a man pruning the limb of a tree so anatomically uniform that he might just as likely be an electrician working on wires strung from a lamp post; a Māori wahine wearing a pounamu and a kākahu feather cloak – barefoot on a pedestal – turning her face to the light; a man surveying his upcoming twisting traverse into a landscape crowned by an active volcano, with only a briefcase to sustain him; and the man with short arms – seemingly ill-equipped to utilise the key to freedom that lies beside his truncated frame with its enormous feet.

A Lush Apocalypse

We take a walk through offices at a former “lunatic asylum”. Greenery is steadily reclaiming the site, but hasn’t yet reached a prurient temple to the sexualised female form we were surprised to find in one office that had been repurposed into a home. It didn’t even matter that tripping a security alarm curtailed our fun.

Reverberations of Socialism

In 1961, architect Georgi Stoilov submitted a design inspired by the Roman Pantheon and 1950s sci-fi films for a monument to commemorate the founding of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers Party. The party was established by Dimitâr Blagoev’s group at a gathering at Buzludzha Peak 70 years earlier. Construction began a decade later. Within two decades it had again become symbolic – of the decline of the Soviet Union and Bulgaria’s unwillingness to memorialise its political past. The Getty Foundation’s investment of $185,000 in July 2019 to support the creation of a conservation and management plan for the monument hopes to reverse its sharp decline. The circular form of the Buzludzha monument appealed to Stoilov “as it seemed to symbolize infinity, and thus echoed the popular communist theme of building an eternal future and eternal glory.” [https://buzludzha-monument.com] It also seems to speak of a more inclusive, egalitarian politics. Wild acoustics were an unexpected discovery in this exploration shot in 2015.

My Teacher’s Left

In 1987, the teachers at this now-abandoned Bulgarian school were likely told to destroy all artefacts relating to the Soviet era. Instead, they stowed images of Lenin, the communist flag and other left-leaning iconography in the basement and in the attic. One teacher was committed enough to keep anti-Fascist partisan artwork in the classroom, featuring scenes of the educating of children in secret, the supplying of food and water to resistance units hiding in the woods, partisans and their supporters being apprehended by the military and by their fellow villagers, and the brutal interrogations that swiftly followed.

Pooh Corner

This 17-hectare hospital site features nine buildings including a three-storey main hospital, maternity ward, maintenance and laundry. It was closed in 2006 when it was forecast $20 million of upgrades would be required over the next two decades to meet minimum legal and operational requirements. New hospital facilities constructed nextdoor have encountered their own issues, with $845,000 in earthquake strengthening completed in 2019 with more to come following.

This former children’s ward with its heart-warmingly cheerful Winnie The Pooh murals appears to have been temporarily repurposed as a repository for books donated to charity. It must have been a large enterprise judging by the amount of rooms involved, each dedicated to some area of the Dewey Decimal System. This is Part Two of a three-part series. Part OnePart Three.

But They Can Die

It was the pigs of George Orwell’s Animal Farm who proclaimed that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. Pigs are similarly the object of resentment in under-the-mattress graffiti in Cell #26 of this former prison.

The poem began burnt into the wood:

Pigs CAN’T FLY

and continued in blue pen:

BUT THEY CAN DIE

NEXT FINE DAY

BLOW A Pig away

IF YOU KILL A Pig a day

it WILL Keep the doctor away

Nowhere more clearly did we find articulated the smoldering frustration of incarceration, channeled into the kind of blind hatred that negates any opportunity for insight.

Elsewhere was a mixture of light and shade. In the kitchen the relative gentleness of a rainbow framing the extractor fan was juxtaposed with murals depicting fearsome hyper-masculine muscularity. No such diverting decor was provided for prisoners in solitary confinement, who were required to surrender their tobacco products and were issued with fresh water, a chamber pot, one mattress, one pillow, one pillow slip, one sheet, and blankets or duvet “in accordance with climactic conditions”. How some of them obtained implements sharp enough to partially chisel their gang names and insignia into the stone walls and into the paint of their cell bars and doors is anyone’s guess.

Puzzling at what we had experienced, and all the more aware of our own freedom of movement and expression, we walked for ninety minutes back down the road through pine forests to where we’d parked our car.

This is Part Four of a four part video series. Part OnePart TwoPart Three.

 

Dreamspun Sherpa

It was a Monday night: the 18th of March, 1946. Forgoing the novelty of home television, including Caspar The Friendly Ghost, the audience travelled in to the heart of the town, found their seats, and fell into a rapt hush as the house lights came down. Joe Houlihan led with a roll on the timpani, Vince Burke chimed in on the newly-tuned grand piano, and Frank Parsons and Kelly Kydd entered into a sensual dance between the violin and the trumpet, respectively.

It was “The Amazing . . . “ according to graffiti pencilled onto the bricks that form a passageway leading from constriction to unknown vastness above. The remainder of the show’s title, of that night, and of the following 73 years, has surrendered itself to time.

In 2019, forgoing modern cinematic entertainment rumbling through the walls, three individuals began in the rabbit warren of basement rooms where presumably the stars of yesteryear prepared themselves. Slowly and quietly they explore their way up to the stage, where a painted hypermodern cityscape complete with nuclear reactor looms large on the back wall. Projection detritus litters the stage floor. An arch – both humble and imposing – through which the audience once entered pays tribute to the Italian Renaissance and serves as a reminder that all the world’s a stage. A wooden ladder of unknown provenance looks just sturdy enough, propped up against a side wall. The rest is history.

 

Out Of Bounds

Prisons have existed on this site for nearly a century. For the duration of the Second World War, conscientious objectors were detained here. In the 1950’s the site housed a prison farm which was further developed in the late 1970’s. The large size of the site – thousands of hectares of commercial and native forests, farms, wetlands and a river – meant that a perimeter fence was impractical, and the site was only ever suitable to house up to 600 inmates at a minimum to medium security level.

From 1998 the prison began to suffer repetitional damage, first involving a seizure of almost $1 million worth of cannabis plants growing on site, followed by the revelation that buckets were being used in place of toilets, two inmate drownings involving Maori cultural training, canoes and parachutes, and the conviction of a prison guard for supplying cannabis to a prisoner in return for a bribe.

The closure of this unit – one of four we visited as the autumn sun was falling fast – was announced in 2012, and the land and its buildings have now been returned to their original owners. No signs of the commencement of demolition were evident, and – gratifyingly – no signs yet of vandalism. A 360 degree panoramic mural painted around the walls of the dining hall conveys a sense of geographical placement among the majestic landscapes beyond the perimeter of confinement, tantalisingly out of reach.

This is Part One of a four part video series. Part Two. Part ThreePart Four.