Living Halls is a growing collaborative project. The paintings, drawings, honour boards, documents, databases, books, photos, stories and audio recordings that make up the many facets of this project form a living archive of the war memorial halls of Aotearoa. Following the Second World War, New Zealanders wholeheartedly embraced the idea of constructing utilitarian memorials to honour soldiers killed in action instead of the ‘traditional’ monuments favoured after the First World War. Government subsidies encouraged the widespread building of community centres and halls as ‘living memorials’ for all to share. These were monuments with an inside, conceptually complex spaces that were built by communities to symbolise their grief, but also to solve a practical need for a place to gather for everything from dancing to voting. To look further at our research and exhibitions for this project please follow the various links below.
Kim Hill interviews Fiona Jack about Living Halls, June 2010
The initial intention of this project was to use the existing available information about war memorial community halls in New Zealand as the start point for a series of artworks. However it quickly became clear that there wasn’t detailed knowledge about the memorial halls that to me seemed to be everywhere in New Zealand. There was no resource that listed the names of halls, nor was it known how many existed. In the 1980s Jock Phillips, Chris Maclean, Joe Bolton and Stuart Park sent thousands of letters around the country in an attempt to catalogue New Zealand’s war memorials. Their research formed the foundation of the Memorials Register, but as comprehensive as that register now is, it was mainly focused on cenotaphs, obelisks and statues. My particular interest was in war memorial community halls, of which it seemed clear to me that there must be a great many. So the project grew, and in addition to the focus on making artwork for exhibition about this subject, we also began to carry out the large task of trying to list and archive the memorial halls of New Zealand. Over the past couple of years (2009 – 2011) we have worked on an unruly database and ss of now (October 2011) our list stands at 325 memorial halls. Not all of these halls still exist, and we can’t be sure that we haven’t missed any out, or put any in that shouldn’t be there, but at this poitn we believe that it is relatively comprehensive.
Most of New Zealand’s Memorial Halls were designed and built by local people, for local people. The National Archives in Wellington houses over 700 correspondence files relating to each Memorial subsidy application, and within the occasional file there is a drawing that sketches out a vision for the hall. Some are overly ambitious, some are little more than a square drawn on a scrap piece of paper, but almost all the drawings are very close to what was eventually built. These drawings have been faithfully replicated in minute detail, honouring the vision and effort of the people that spent many years toiling away to fund, design, build and maintain their halls.
Today a great many War Memorial Halls are still loved and maintained by their communities. In response to the original impetus for communities to decide for themselves what their hall would look like, Jack invited local painters around the country to depict their neighbourhood Memorial Hall, creating a rich visual archive that reflects the close and active relationships between these buildings and those who use them.
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery June 19 to Sept 5