Sculptor Michael Parekowhai has revealed his sculpture The Lighthouse to the public eye. It cost $1.5 million, funded primarily by Barfoot and Thompson.
Natural questions always get asked about whether this amount of money should be used for, well, homes for the homeless. I mean, it’s a house!
Let’s look again.
It’s a functioning lighthouse. Or was until a budget cut. So instead it’s full of chandeliers. Meaning: it should have been able to radiate its pure idealism of protection and shelter as a state house, built by public money for New Zealanders who needed it. But instead the old idea of the state house is filled with chandeliers, as many of them now are. And $1.5m is only slightly above average for just one Auckland house.
It now rests within some of the most expensive residential real estate in New Zealand: the Auckland waterfront. For over a decade this same waterfront has been planned and developed by Auckland’s councils. Can we still remember when local councils built, owned and operated quality affordable housing, for the good of the public who needed it? Some can. Now this state house replica stands in front of the largest luxury condo development ever devised by a council in this country, built by taxed rates out of citizens’ pockets, for the 1%. A tombstone to social housing.
It’s funded, mostly, by real estate multimillionaires, those who poured petrol on the housing boom and warmed their hands, taking commissions selling off state houses by the thousand. This artwork is the funders’ announcement to Aucklanders of their own wealth and power through the privatization of the state house. The chandeliers are fitting, in all their gauche class-climbing glory.
This sculpture of a state house is everything the state house has been, has become, and will be.
Whole suburbs, whole towns, whole generations were shaped by these structures here. Turning them into an artwork simply underlines their status as icon in this country. The ‘state’ in state house is rapidly fading, and is making the housing crisis worse and worse – that story is told here too.
But art should not be mere didactic lesson. Not even one this obvious. After all, the state house – with the old State Advances programme – has been a vital accelerant in intergenerational wealth. This thing will be a thing well made. The Lighthouse, like those thousands of made from Matai and Rimu, will last in the public mind for a long time.
It will shine as a memorial, as contradiction, as icon, for all to see.