Christchurch was rocked by an earthquake on 4th September 2010. Several houses where damaged, nobody died. On 22nd February 2011 at around noon, the earth quaked again. This time the whole city stopped breathing. Lots of buildings collapsed, 185 people died in the rubble.
A fence cordons off the part of town, which used to be the second largest town of New Zealand. Within this Red Zone, lots of tearing down and tidying up is going on.
The quake has spread fear and terror and destroyed lots of lives. A fifth of the population has to leave their houses there within a week. Alcohol consumption, depression as well as stress and fear increase.
I visited Christchurch in January 2012 and January 2013. I found distressing emptiness and fear, a deep sadness and tall cranes.
Nevertheless nobody gives up and everybody tries to be very creative.
There are attempts to revive the city, for example "re:start", which is a shopping mall made from smartly assembled shipping containers or "Gap Filler", which is an organisation that tries to fill physical and social gaps, with an open air cinema powered by a bicycle or Dance-o-Mat, which is an open air dance floor with a washing machine that offers light and electricity for iPod and speakers in exchange of some coins.
During my second visit, this impression was confirmed. The city has become more colourful and lively. People improvise and tourists are back. The Red Zone has become smaller, but still people are busy with tearing down destroyed buildings or repairing them. It will take a while to re-build the city even though there are almost as much helpers as people who have left the city. The reconstruction of Christchurch is still in the planning phase. The city has invited all residents to submit their ideas and preferences. The feedback was enormous.
People here have learnt how to live with fear. "What else can we do?!", they say, "We make the best out of it." By the time I left Christchurch on 20th January 2013, there had been 11383 aftershocks.


Christchurch - Resilient City


Photography by Jana Kempe 15.09. - 19.10.2017

The earthquake on 22nd Feb 2011 changed everything within minutes. The citizens of Christchurch divide the calendar differently now: before the quake - and after. Jana Kempe visited the town in the years 2012/13 and 2016/17. Her pictures show the devastations as well as steps of resurrection of the second biggest town of New Zealand and the biggest of the southern island. Christchurch should become a resilient city, a town which is enabled to react quickly to catastrophes and changes, to withstand and renew itself. In 2013 Christchurch became a member of the Fitzgerald network of "100 resilient cities".

Jana Kempe does not show photographs of a natural disaster, or of horror like journalistic photographs. She focuses the beholderÕs attention on what "town" means to man.By a town man finds his self, his phantasy and planning become visible in architecture which again enables the individual to develop his potentials and structures his dealings with others. Simultaneously condition and visible mark of this is its boundary against the country, nature.
The earthquakes did not leave nothing, mere nature, but they isolated the elements of the town. By this they stimulate the photographerÕs sensitive view. She shows the fragility of the infrastructure through its destruction. And she shows this fragility also where she shows the humble efforts to save or restore it.
The separation between private and public by walls and windows is suspended Ð fences are only a feeble replacement - many photographs even leave it to the viewer to decide whether the photographer took a photograph from the inside or the outside.The ephemeral containers offer an inside again; Òto containÓ just means "to keep inside" "to give borders".The empty walls become screens for phantasy that turn the urban space into an art space.
With reconstruction pictorial promises appear on the fences of the building sites. The "false front" does not, as the phrase is normally used with an critical intention, cover the ugly substance behind it but appears in the literal sense of the word as the "real front", the visible form of urban space for life. This corresponds to a photographic composition that praises the view into the sky in a constructivist way. Even damaged buildings turn from relics to projects for renewal when combined with elements of new architecture; they are integrated into the structure of the photographs as they are integrated into the urban one.
Whether the new Christchurch will answer the modern necessities and the wishes of its inhabitants remains to be seen. It will take years till the reconstruction of the city will be completed. It is much to be hoped that the acid test will not come.