Filling the gaps with whimsy in demolished Christchurch

Coralie Winn

Coralie Winn of Gap Filler

As the piles of rubble are cleared out of Christchurch, big empty sections remain. Where once high rise offices, shops and apartments stood, now there is more carparking space than there are cars. Not that it is used for parking, these lots – more than 1300 commercial lots – are vacant, often still fenced off, and frankly, a sight of sadness.

But that’s where the bubbly and clearly energetic Coralie Winn comes in. She worked at the Arts Centre until the September 2010 quake, when she started randomly making some of these desolate gaps into places of whimsy. She is ridiculously creative and just foolish enough to think that not only would she be given permission to create fun and quirky art spaces, but that she could also mobilise a bunch of other Christchurchies to volunteer.

Gap Filler book library

Bring a book and take a book at the Gap Filler Library

Thus Gap Filler was born. Pop up installations that appear in vacant lots to brighten up the day of the person who glances at it. Some are temporary, others (like the library in an old glass doored fridge) has just turned a year old.

After the February 2011 earthquake her idea was formed into an official charitable trust with a board and now there are three people in an office (if you can call it that! It’s really a garden shed plonked beside a coffee caravan in an empty section – but it does have sustainable solar panels on the roof charging batteries inside.)

Gap Filler

The 1st Gap Filler project at the Mexican

When I arrived to meet her, it was a foggy grey morning with a chill in the air. She arrived on her bicycle and brought a hottie over to where I was standing, hugging my coffee, for the barrista to fill it up with steaming water. Then over we went to her shed where I learned about the 23 projects they’ve undertaken to date, and a few more top secret ones to come.

The 1st project was a pop up park on the former site of a Mexican restaurant. They laid fake grass and dotted it with potted plants, erected colourful beach umbrellas, collected stuff from the dump and gave it a coat of paint. In her own words, it was very kitsch. They were granted a license to occupy for 2 weeks from the land owner and people came and sat there for lunch, there was live music and movies were screened on the newly exposed wall. It was an epic undertaken, but a huge success.

They’ve had a dance floor called the Dance-O-Mat where you brought your iPod, paid $2 and your music played for 30 minutes so you – and anyone else who dared – could dance. Then there was the cycle-powered outdoor cinema which needed 6 people cycling fulltime to power it. They used 10 at a time as no one was an Olympic athlete. It’s high-tech stuff!

Check out the Gap Filler website for upcoming Gap Fillers – and go on, donate some money to the cause of brightening up Christchurch.

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