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The idea for Noise Vacancy came into being in 2020 over the course of an evening in which a group of friends, Nikki O’Connor, Lina Marsh, Katy Wallace and myself had come together to discuss an event in which for local artists to show their stuff, potentially as a part of the upcoming Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival.

Over the course of the evening the topic of vacant buildings in our inner city came to the fore and the concept of NOise VACANCY was born.

Last year’s NOise VACANCY was a grand experiment. We initially envisaged a walking tour winding through the streets, an otherworldly coming alive of disused spaces strung across the city. However the months passed and landlords were not exactly jumping at the opportunity to have a group of artists bring their unused buildings to life for a night.

The answers we received were always the same, “it’s about to be leased” or “awaiting earthquake strengthening” or in most cases no reply at all. Many of the buildings we enquired about in those first few months still stand in the same state today. Empty.

There were two wonderful people who had a different answer for us however and so it was that Patrick McHugh and Jill Tomlinson handed us over the keys and told us to ‘go to town’ in their two level Lowe Street building. 

A couple of months later they were amongst the most excited audience members as a night of magic and mystery unfolded for both those who participated and attended. Hundreds of people explored, discovered, pondered and puzzled alongside each other, with much excited chatter about how they had never experienced anything like it – at least not in Gisborne.

This year’s event was no different.  Another landlord stood apart from the rest with Tony Robinson opening the doors to the Public Trust building on Childers Road for a bunch of artists to explore and occupy for a few days during Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival. Despite the Covid restrictions meaning that the audience had to book into specific time slots the air of discovery and excitement remained.

The brief to the artists is to respond to the space and its history using sound.  By its very nature art will also reflect the socio-political contexts of its time and some of our current issues were certainly in evidence in this year’s works.  

Curator Nikki O’Connor is always interested to see how the artists and sound makers connect to the kaupapa, and how they incorporate sound, “As they spend more time with the space and it’s stories it’s fascinating to watch the ideas take shape. The range of creative disciplines and approaches adds to the surreal dreamland feeling of the night”. 

As the original tenants of the building, the Public Trust Organisation gave some artists the nudge to explore notions of trust, the housing crisis was given a few strong nods and Wendy Kirkwood’s vintage clothing store ‘Unfinished Business’ and the Family Planning Association also inspired installation and performance. Other pieces responded directly to the space in experiential forms such as dance, chanting and spoken word.

As the audience meandered around the two storeys of the building in the changing light, projections spoke into various corners including the street outside and the yard out back. A few hardy performers kept going for the entirety of the experience – no less than 4 and a half hours – while others popped up during each session. 

One of the things about the altered reality of an experience like this – both immersive and sometimes interactive – means that the lines between art and real life can become blurred. And so an empty paper cup set upon a window sill might be picked up and turned over for clues as to its purpose, and a couple passionately kissing on a corner may be unflinchingly observed as a courageous piece of performance art (in a small town such as this), until it becomes clear that actually, the performance is just about to begin…

It was great to have a few more young people involved this year with a stairwell installation speaking directly to the regenerative power of rangatahi.  12 year old artist, Wolfe Jackson says he felt really lucky to be a part of NOise VACANCY, “It was really cool and inspiring being around so many other different artists.  It was my first exhibition and I was a bit nervous that my art would be just seen as kid’s drawings, but the feedback from people was surprisingly good so that was a relief.  It was a great night, a bit tiring but so worth it in the end”.

One of this year’s curator’s Katy Wallace loves the way in which “NOise VACANCY gives local creatives the chance to push their practices in different ways and to work with or alongside each other. It is a refreshing challenge to any creative practice considering sound, installation, and performance in one package”.

One of the highlights for curator Lina Marsh was working with a great team of wahine who were open to giving anything a go. This included launching NOise VACANCY 2021 online during lockdown. “Neither of us really knew what we were doing and it made it hard to communicate online as opposed to in person, but we embraced the opportunity and created a kookie zoom recording announcing our aims for this year’s performance. NOise VACANCY definitely pushes you out of your comfort zones”. 

NOise VACANCY provides a fantastic opportunity to show what local creatives are capable of, for our community to experience something out of the ordinary, and it also achieves the original intent of bringing energy to spaces which had been previously forgotten. 

In a happy epilogue to NOise VACANCY episode one, 64 Lowe Street is currently occupied by a bunch of creatives and the record store Spellbound Wax, all of whom are overjoyed to have an affordable and inspiring space, which they otherwise might not have, if it were not for the NOise VACANCY experience. 


If you were at NOise VACANCY we’d love to hear what you thought! Let us know in the comments below or drop a line to noisevacancy@gmail.com or @noisevancy on Instagram.

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