Interview: The Physics Room

We interviewed the team at The Physics Room after their recent move…

The Physics Room has moved! This is a big deal after many years in your current space, please tell us the reasons behind the move

As an organisation, we have considered moving for a number of years in order to better serve our artists and our audiences. We believe our new space, at 49-59 Worcester Boulevard, offers greater visibility, accessibility, and proximity to other galleries and cultural organisations.

The Physics Room is an organisation that prioritises experimentation and self-reflexivity so as the post-quake rebuild continues to re-shape Ōtautahi we remain open to modifying our approach to presenting and supporting contemporary art and artists. This year, we are partnering with a number of public galleries across Te Waipounamu, the South Island to create collaborative exhibitions. By doing this we hope to draw on shared strengths and resources and embrace the flexibility, urgency, and connectivity that comes from working alongside, and within, other institutions and contexts.

Who will be involved in the Physics Room in 2018?

We’re still developing some aspects of this year’s programme but we have confirmed partnerships with a selection of South Island galleries, including the Suter Art Gallery in Nelson, Ashburton Art Gallery, and the Aigantighe Art Gallery in Timaru. These projects will be presented in addition to our Christchurch programme and give us the opportunity to re-imagine The Physics Room in a broader South Island context: an exciting opportunity to take The Physics Room on the road and return to our origins as South Island Art Projects. We’ve just opened the first of these collaborative exhibitions at The Suter Art Gallery in Nelson, titled (Un)conditional II, this exhibition brings together new work by Ayesha Green, Cushla Donaldson, Eve Armstrong, Gabby O’Connor, and Rob Hood and has been curated by Jamie Hanton and Sarah McClintock. Alongside our national programme, we’ll also be heading to Australia to present new work by Ayesha and Cushla at the Melbourne Art Fair Project Rooms in August.

How has the changing nature of Christchurch’s inner city affected the art scene do you think?

There has been a major shift in geographic community: the area around The Physics Room and High Street used to be a bustling area of small galleries, affordable apartments, and independent businesses, but the post-quake blueprint, which has involved the precinctification of the city and monolithic new buildings leaves little room for the ’fine-grain’ that was present in 2010.

Prior to our move The Physics Room was in the centre of the proposed ‘Innovation Precinct’, yet within these parameters it was hard to see how creativity was valued outside of an economic proposition. We’re interested in how we can discuss and promote the non-economic worth of art. How does a non-profit, charitable trust that values experimentation, focuses on process and supports practitioners to create non-commercial work, thrive in a system that is geared towards the market and is therefore vulnerable to market pressures? We realise this is a challenge that extends beyond Christchurch, but amidst massive and near-instantaneous gentrification–nearly all of the older buildings which housed artist’s studios and galleries were either destroyed by the earthquakes or subsequently demolished–these pressures feel more explicit here.

What is your current show in the new space?

We’re currently showing (Un)conditional I with work by Ayesha Green, Cushla Donaldson, Eve Armstrong, Gabby O’Connor, John Vea, Mike Hewson, and Rob Hood alongside work from the collections of The Suter Art Gallery (Nelson) and Ashburton Art Gallery. This exhibition is partly intended as a contextual show that situates the (Un)conditional series of exhibitions, which has been developed alongside—and draws on the kaupapa of—our operational shift.

Most simply, the idea of something being unconditional can be thought of in the context of love; of the unrestricted and unlimited gesture of giving affection without expectation. Outside of this particular—and relatively rare—occurrence, a myriad of overlapping conditions dictate how and why we give and receive on a day-to-day basis. The (Un)conditional series explores the concepts of hosting, being a guest, trade, exchange, reciprocity, utu, and manaakitanga.

(Un)conditional I closes March 29.

Thinking about your recent publication HAMSTER (second issue soon to be released), if The Physics Room was an animal – what would it be?

It’s never too early to start thinking about your 2018 New Zealand Bird of the Year vote so we’d like to put in a plug for the humble Tītipounamu (South Island Rifleman). According to New Zealand Birds Online, Tītipounamu are New Zealand’s smallest bird, a wren with a call like a laser-beam, a big character, and a frenetic wing-beat that creates a whirring sound similar to a hummingbird. These agile little birds are constantly on the move and like to live and work in cooperative groups which support each other and share resources. We’d like to think we embody at least some of those characteristics!

Main image (above) Eve Armstrong’s Trading Table (2003-current) at The Physics Room, 7-9 March

Ayesha Green

Ayesha Green, Transit, 2018, acrylic on plywood


Cushla Donaldson, composite for a happiness that forgets nothing, 2018, The Suter Art Gallery, Nelson