About the time this issue makes it to the letterbox, those Americans not glued to chat-shows or the latest update on alien abductions will be treated to a documentary on recreations of ancient monuments, in which New Zealand’s infamous Fridgehenge features.
The summer before last, Fridgehenge was held on our Gordonton farm, a recreation of Salisbury’s Stonehenge made from 41 clapped-out fridges. The artists responsible (Graeme Cairns, Sean Burke and Andrew McGovern) wanted to make a comment on the way that the summer solstice has changed over the past 4000 years, from a time of religious observance to a festival of material acquisition. And to have a party. Originally intending to stage it in Hamilton’s own Garden Place, talk of permits and engineer’s reports soon had them seeking a more user friendly venue.
Commemorating pagan festivals may seem strange behaviour for Skeptics, but it struck us as a sound idea, with a large helping of fun, and also made a valid point. My brother John, who also farms here, (and is also a Skeptic), had been to Britain earlier in the year and was struck by the many Neolithic monuments he saw there and felt it would be nice to have a stone circle of our own. We could align stones with significant sunrises and sunsets and keep track of important dates in the farming year. When to put the bull out, when to plant the summer crop, when to go to the Agricultural Fieldays, that sort of thing. I was quite taken with the idea as well, and mentioned it to Graeme a few months previously. He’d had some thoughts of his own on the subject, and had at one time considered building a Stonehenge out of Anglias, but it was when Sean came up with the idea of fridges that the whole thing fell into place.
At first they thought it would be hard acquiring so many fridges, but a trip to the dump showed there was no shortage of the old beasts. The consumer society which Fridgehenge was lampooning worked in the artist’s favour on this occasion.
Each fridge corresponded to one of the major Sarsen stones of the original; fallen stones were represented by toppled fridges. An avenue was mown in the grass pointing towards the midsummer sunrise, and two fridges corresponding to the Heel Stone and Slaughter Stone were positioned along it.
The original plan was to have a ceremony to mark the solstice at 3.24 pm on December 22, at which time the sun stood directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, but since the Waikato Times and TVNZ both reported a dawn event (and if you can’t believe the media, who can you trust?) we had to attend for the sunrise as well. About 14 people turned up; we just outnumbered a group of 13 (don’t know if the number’s significant…) fundamentalist Christians from a nearby community, who’d missed the point entirely; presumably they thought we were going to perform satanic rituals or something. They stood on the other side of the road for a bit and prayed for our souls, then sang half a verse of a hymn before deciding that 14 people standing around in a paddock sharing a single bottle of Australian bubbly weren’t going to bring about the end of civilisation as we know it. Graeme thanked them for coming and they went home.
The afternoon’s event was altogether livelier. The wind had got up and a warm drizzle was driving horizontally (had we established a cosmic link with the Salisbury Plains?) which added to the atmosphere, if not the comfort levels, then, with everyone (about 100) assembled at the Heel Fridge, the sun broke through for the only time that day, precisely at 3.24 pm.
The resulting improvisational, audience-participation “ceremony” was a bit like a kid’s party and worked very well overall. We thanked the rain for coming (we were having the driest summer for at least ten years) and three guys who turned up in loincloths and white body paint were ritually “sacrificed” (we were skeptical about them being virgins.) Sean then did a live-to-air interview with the BBC World Service — media interest was amazingly high; this was the silly season. Newspaper reports appeared in Britain, Australia, the US, Australia and Hong Kong.
In the evening the rain cleared and we had a fire in the middle of the fridges and sang songs to musical accompaniment provided by Graeme, who plays rhythm ukulele with the Big Muffin Serious Band which featured at last year’s conference. Fridge racks make fine percussion instruments.
Fridgehenge was a great success, but, sadly, is no more. Fridges don’t last too long these days, especially out in the weather, and we needed our paddock back for the cows. We are determined however, once we get the time (or energy) to have a permanent stone circle one day. We did take some video footage of the event, and this is what was sent to a Californian documentary crew late last year. We just hope that we don’t get American cosmic types sending us fridges in the post — one new model would, however, be welcome.