LIVING HALLS is a growing collaborative archive. The paintings, drawings, honour boards, documents, database, photos, stories and audio recordings that make up this archive tell us about 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’1, 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.
DRAWINGS: Most of New Zealand’s Memorial Halls were designed and built by local people, for local people. Archives New Zealand in Wellington houses correspondence files relating to each memorial subsidy application, and deep within these files there are sometimes drawings that sketch out a vision for a 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. Jack has faithfully replicated these drawings 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. PAINTINGS: 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.
HONOUR BOARDS: While most War Memorial Halls continue to exist as ‘living memorials’ in the truest sense, some have been demolished or have succumbed to fire. A number are currently under threat from financial pressure, council audits or urban drift, and no doubt in years to come this will continue to change. Fiona Jack’s roll of honour boards list the names of New Zealand’s Memorial Halls, noting with an asterisk those that have gone, moved, or are no longer considered to be a War Memorial. The boards are unvarnished and unfinished, reflecting the vitality and impermanence that is at the heart of a truly living memorial.
ARCHIVES: Before the Living Halls project there was no comprehensive knowledge about New Zealand’s War Memorial Halls, and it was not known how many there were/are. The Living Halls archive now lists over 400 hundred halls, and includes research, ephemera, stories and histories from people all over the country. Contributions, corrections and additions to the archive are gratefully received.
Fiona Jack and Rhana Devenport (exhibition curator)
1 Tom Nicholson, in comversation with Fiona Jack and Sam Durant about Living Halls