Saturday, April 13, 2024

Exhibition to celebrate 150 years of UC life and learning

A century-old bicycle, a 1967 computer as big a chair, and a lecture theatre desk etched with old graffiti are all part of a new exhibition celebrating the University of Canterbury’s 150-year history.

Whiria te tangata: Weaving the People together – 150 years of College and Community opens at Pūmanawa Gallery, the Christchurch Arts Centre, on July 20.

The free exhibition features heritage objects, photos and other treasures, and traces the development of Te Wānanga o Waitaha  University of Canterbury (UC) from its foundation in 1873 as Canterbury College – on the central city site that’s now the Christchurch Arts Centre – through to its migration to the current Ilam campus in 1975, and beyond.

UC Amokapua | Assistant Vice-Chancellor Engagement, Brett Berquist said that over the past 150 years the University has evolved into a world-class institution.

“What hasn’t changed is that our academics and students continue to make an impact locally, nationally, and internationally,” he said.

“This exhibition is a celebration of our history and our connections and contribution to the community. We’re looking forward to people coming along and finding out more about UC.”

The exhibition’s guest curator, Bojana Rimbovska – a UC PhD Art History student – says the heritage objects have been chosen to help visitors think about what it means for a university to be part of the community for 150 years

“We’ve tried to capture different aspects of university life, such as pomp and ceremony, everyday student experience, teaching and community outreach,” she said.

“There are objects that I hope former students of UC will remember from their time here and feel a bit of nostalgia from seeing again. We’d like to prompt people to reflect on their own university experience, which is often a time of opportunities, personal growth and friendships.”

Artefacts include a hand-made microscope built by the renowned botanist and the first head of the School of Forestry Charles Foweraker, and an electrostatic generator, known as a Wimshurst machine, that once featured in the Rutherford’s Den display and was used in public lectures to demonstrate electricity generation.

The University’s ceremonial mace, which is a still a feature of graduation celebrations today; part of an early lecture theatre desk graffitied by well-known graduates including Sir James Hight; a bicycle used for collecting scientific specimens by staff and students in the 1920s at Cass Field Station; and a massive 1967 IBM console from one of the earliest computers ever owned by UC, also feature.

Ms Rimbovska says the objects that resonate most for her are those that capture the liveliness of student life, such as an old photo album that includes cheeky messages handwritten by students.

“Sometimes I think with historical objects it’s easy to see them as very serious, especially within the university context.”

“But if you think of students’ lives, there are so many similarities to today. They’re finding the fun in the everyday around the edges of their studies. Often, it’s those mundane, everyday objects that when you look a bit closer, become more interesting than you initially think,” she said.

Whiria te tangata: Weaving the People together also features a series of short videos, showing current UC researchers talking about an object and how it relates to their work today.

Ms Rimbovska features in one of the videos herself, talking about lantern slides. The glass slides were projected on to screens during public lectures in the late 19th century, and she has studied them as part of her PhD thesis on 19th century New Zealand art.

UC Teece Museum Curator, Terri Elder says it has been fantastic having input from current UC students, like Rimbovska, in putting the 150th exhibition together.

“What I am most proud of is that we have ensured the project has given as many students as possible a chance to get hands-on experience and gain new skills,” said Ms Elder.

“The objects in Whiria te tangata aren’t just illuminating our past, they are actively contributing to learning opportunities for current students. They have the power to be an outstanding resource for the future too.” 

Whiria te tangata: Weaving the People together – 150 years of College and Community – 20 July – 9 September, Pūmanawa Gallery, First Floor, Boys’ High Building, The Arts Centre, free entry. A special Children’s University activity has been developed for younger visitors, and school classes or curator floor talks are available by appointment.

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