In the waning days of 2011, I walked around the city of Christchurch sketching, in a private mapping exercise, a re-calibration of the destroyed city I no longer recognised, layering the old with the new in my memory. I say destroyed but I may perhaps more accurately say unknown, as the changes in terrain, the ruptures in the fabric of the recognisable, were layering up as successive quakes resisted any kind of new map solidifying itself. The territory was changing faster than any map could catch it. This process of the continual un-knowability of the city was noted vividly by its residents, and was by no means over : two earthquakes on the 23rd December, a magnitude 5.8 and then soon after it a 6.0, shook the street I was standing on, their arrival to be followed by swarms of smaller quakes in the days after. Walking around was an exercise in experiential disorientation as the lack of familiar landmarks bred an atmosphere of collective memory loss and the ongoing quakes literally caused the terrain to crumble as you watched it.
To walk these streets I formerly knew 'like the back of my hand', was akin to walking down a hotel corridor in a dream I often have, in which decayed green doors with brass numbers rendered near-illegible by verdigris bracket a passageway that stretches on to infinity. Trying one after another of the doors and finding them barred, without warning the dreamer may find herself on the outskirts of an unknown town in a swampy marshland, or in a dank basement room with a single small cracked window covered in cobwebs. It felt like the city was my dream when, in only one example among many, a towering structure stumbled upon in the park, staffed by territorial, growling officials whose threatening tone seemed to come from a more military context than those I was used to in this place i'd walked through a thousand times, was, I found out later, the Telecom Christmas tree, lights broken because of the quake. Bombastic and forlorn at once, its spindly presence over the night trees punctured the sky like a useless transmission tower, broadcasting nothing, representing nothing.
On the day of the Radio Cegeste transmission, Monday the 2nd January 2012, there had been 41 earthquakes in 24 hours. I had originally wanted to locate myself in the Salisbury street house, for various reasons : it had been the last place I had lived in, its dramatically tenuous hanging on to the edge of its own verticality - still upright, but only just - was certainly pretty evocative, and lastly because the landlord, who had bought the building because she had loved it and flatted there herself when she was younger, had once told me of the rumored ghosts in windows, and the colonial era story of a butler murdering a maid in the room upstairs from mine. However, after a particularly nasty shake of 5.5 the night before, I had decided this location was too dangerous. Recording 5 minutes of audio with a portable device within unstable buildings was one thing, but a sustained period of time in which one couldn't leave in a hurry seemed too much to ask of the precarious lower level rooms of Salisbury Street. Instead, I went to Churchill St, and conducted a transmission for just over 15 minutes, crouching on the dust-covered floor of my old bedroom. The house's emptiness seemed to record a moment of violence which was no longer immediately accessible experientially, but cycled in re-play endlessly in the silence, as the whole structure, its piles gone, wavered and swayed subtly under my feet. Its lived history was like a screwed up piece of paper in a corner. Not blank, but overwritten to the point of illegibility.