Eel SculptureArt at Parklands Library

Imagine you’re sitting on the banks of a river, book in hand, as shoals of eels swim past your feet. It’s a vision that Christchurch artist Bing Dawe created for Parklands Library, which opened in August 2005 in north-east Christchurch.

The aim was to develop a building to hold stories which itself told a story. The result was a series of unique artworks telling the story of the Parklands Waitikiri area before European settlement, offering a stunning backdrop and added interest for visitors to the library.

Christchurch City Libraries commissioned local artist Bing Dawe to create a huge river of eels under the feet of library visitors, running through the building from its street side to a striking sculpture in the form of a large hoop with three eels on its top edge, placed on the librarys rear terrace.

Both the carpet and sculpture evoke the wetlands which existed across the Parklands area before European settlement, teeming with wildlife including native birds, fish and eels. They were a major source of food for local Māori tribes. Nearby Travis Wetland is one of the few reminders of what the area once looked like. The artworks are also intended as a reminder that what goes into our waterways today affects our environment tomorrow, including the birds and fish which rely on our rivers and wetlands.

WharikiThe river carpet was specially produced by local carpet specialist Custom Carpets NZ to cope with the tough demands of the library, where furniture is constantly on the move to create different layouts at different parts of the day. The company sourced a special type of hard-wearing carpet from Europe suitable for printing with Dawe's design.

A third major artwork, the 'Whariki Matariki', is a magnificent 8-metre flax weaving in the shape of an eel swimming overhead as customers enter the library. The whariki was created by customers of eight Christchurch libraries over four weeks to mark the opening of the new library. Customers added to it at each library before it was presented to the library as a gift to the people of the Parklands area.

When the artworks were installed, the library’s art and design consultant, Mark McEntyre, said they would help to make the library an exciting space:

"They’re real, they’re accessible, people will be able to touch them and walk on them. As children play on the library floor, they’ll be playing in the river. While they’re reading their stories, we’ll also be sharing the story of the area with them through Bing’s work."

Learn about the Christchurch City Libraries' art collections