Lighting up Wellington’s Waterfront

In this year’s annual LUX Light Festival, Te Ao Mārama, Victoria University is represented by two works of light – Edge of the Universe and Ngā Tautiaki o te Waonui a Tāne.

Academics from Victoria University of Wellington are behind two installations in the 2018 LUX Light Festival on the Wellington waterfront.

Professor and Associate Dean at the Faculty of Architecture and Design Daniel Brown has created an installation called Edge of the Universe. Letters of light tumble onto the sea and rise again like the tide, forming excerpts from New Zealand writers’ work included in the Wellington Writer’s Walk. The accompanying musical soundscape was composed directly from the rhythms of the words by recent New Zealand School of Music (Te Koki) PhD graduate and musician Mark Johnson.

The installation explores the theme of being on the edge. It sits on the waterfront right between land and sea, subject to the ebb and flow of the tide. The excerpts themselves have been rearranged to create a “new, bold theme that engages all poets at the same time and tells a story about taking risks, learning from mistakes, making a difference, seeing the light within the darkness, and gaining wisdom over time,” says Professor Brown. The use of New Zealand writing grounds the piece firmly in Aotearoa, a country very conscious of its own position at the edge of the world, Professor Brown says.

Mark composed the soundscape by analysing the structures of the excerpts and coding them to create a melody that came directly from the words themselves. The number of syllables, where the stresses fall, and the length of the phrases have determined the musical notes and their duration. This approach to using structural aspects of texts to create rules and sets of parameters for composing music, rather than treating the words like lyrics in a song, is an algorithmic-based composition style that was one of the main focuses of his PhD dissertation last year.

Professor Brown says installations like Edge of the Universe blur the boundaries of art and architecture, which is how he views his work. He has prepared installations for several cities across the world, including Rome, Venice, and New York, many of which have explored similar themes of temporality and identity. “I take an urban public environment that’s underutilised and allow art to infiltrate, returning the space to the public and giving it an identity. All my works have political statements.”

The connection between art and architecture is central to Professor Brown’s approach to teaching. He encourages all his students to read, watch films, and listen to music. Like these, “architecture is also a storytelling device – if you can see how one medium translated an idea, you can think about how that might be translated by architecture. It can transform a building into a work of architecture.”

A second installation in Odlins Plaza features small geometrical lights decorated in Māori designs, glowing from their fixed positions on the timber pou.

Ngā Tautiaki o te Waonui a Tāne is an exhibition by lecturers David Hakaraia and Ben Jack and recent Bachelor of Design Innovation graduate, Paora Douglas from the School of Design. In English, it translates to “The guardians of the great forest of Tāne.”

The lights reference Te Ao Mārama, the World of Light. They represent kaitiaki (guardians) and are scattered in the timber forest of Tāne in Odlins Square. This area welcomes the people into the LUX festival, and the idea of greeting was part of the inspiration for the display.

“Lights are usually just to light up a space, but with these there is an interactive and personal element. The sounds and lights are set on sensors, so that as people approach the kaitiaki they activate,” says David. “The kaitiaki glow from afar, drawing you closer, revealing themselves as you journey through this urban forest.

“Each kaitiaki has an associated sound – a karakia, a Pao (similar to a karanga), the sound of breathing to represent the breath of life like in a hongi, a heartbeat, the sound of Māori nose flutes. Some are loud but others are quieter, and you have to lean close to hear them.

“It creates a personal connection between people and the lights, the guardians.”

The 2018 LUX Light Festival is on from 18 to 27 May 2018.