A group of Otago Polytechnic Communication Design students have been tuning into the kaleidoscopic world of Dunedin band The Chills in recent weeks.
Six third-year Otago Polytechnic Bachelor of Design (Communication) students have collaborated with Chills founder Martin Phillipps, Otago Museum Head of Design Craig Scott, curator Michael Findlay of Museograph, and others to create the exhibition “Things Change: Martin Phillipps and The Chills”, which opens at Otago Museum on Saturday 23 June 2018.
Busting out of this university town at the bottom of the world in the early 1980s, The Chills were at the forefront of the musical movement that became labelled the “Dunedin Sound”. Early singles Pink Frost, Rolling Moon, Doldrums and Kaleidoscope World, released on iconic independent music label Flying Nun Records in the early 1980s, saw The Chills become the darlings of US college radio along with the likes of R.E.M. and the Pixies. Supported by a range of international labels (including Warners/Slash and London Records), The Chills’ music seeped into lounges in the UK, Europe and the US. Breakthrough album Submarine Bells and single Heavenly Pop Hit reached No 1 and No 2 respectively on the New Zealand charts in 1990. The same year, the band packed the Dunedin Town Hall.
However, late last year, Martin Phillipps received a dire medical prognosis, resulting in a desire to preserve the legacy of himself and the band. Always a collector and archivist, he has now picked apart a lifetime of memories and discovered precious items that will be showcased within the exhibition.
Otago Polytechnic Bachelor of Design (Communication) students Scott Kingsbury, Mitchell Allen, Shaun Funnell, Mary-Jean Heap, Jessie Hamilton and Josh Caldwell have worked on elements of the exhibition for the past six weeks as part of their third-year portfolios.
“We did lots of research about The Chills as we didn’t really know much about them. It also helped that one of our lecturer, Martin Kean, was actually in the band for a time. And Craig Scott is a former Otago Polytechnic student, so it’s good to have that connection.”
The group worked on two key installations. One is a structure comprising old TV sets, which display footage of the band as well as of locations around Dunedin, revealing how Phillipps sometimes gained inspiration from the landscape. The other is a graphic chronology — a band family tree.
“We got lots of sketches and files from Martin Phillipps himself and had a range of audio material, too, including interviews, live gig recordings and music videos. Looking at The Chills’ album covers and videos, we were able to build on certain themes. The experience has helped give us a deeper understanding of an aspect of Dunedin’s cultural history. We’re really excited to see it all put together.”
The exhibition and the process of its creation is being captured by Notable Pictures, as part of a feature-length film documentary expected to premiere internationally early in 2019. The exhibition is also a finalist in the 2018 Best Awards.