Shining a light on the city

Tauranga Arts Festival volunteers are putting in the work to execute the events this year, including free light show Pou Rama. Photo: John Borren.

It’s not just a bunch of pretty lights that have popped up in the Tauranga CBD.

The series of free-standing light structures at Masonic Park mark the beginning of the Tauranga Arts Festival.

Visual artist Desna Whaanga-Schollum says the installation is an opportunity for people to reconnect with each other and reconnect with the places they occupy. It is a collaboration between Desna and creative studio StoryBox.

It is called Pou Rama and is inspired by pouwhenua. It reminds onlookers to consider their connection to place and it will be on display at Masonic Park until November 3 for the Tauranga Arts Festival.

Desna says this show came to life after she was digging into ideas around wairua generated from te taiao - creative inspiration from the environment.

The Whakairo designs on the light posts signify cycles of creativity and connections to place.

She hopes this show will encourage residents to take care of the land around them, due to rapid development in Tauranga over recent years.

"Tauranga has been undergoing a lot of development for a long time now, the urban landscape has transformed majorly.

"When we are developing these urban spaces, we need to be mindful of tangata whenua and their connection to place.

"How do we hold space for that, and be respectful of the environment we should be developing with rather than bulldozing over the top of?"

Pou Rama has travelled to Auckland, Wellington, Rotorua and Queenstown.

Each light post in the show slowly cycles through a series of colour changes, accompanied by a soundtrack composed by Al Fraser.

Al Fraser has been composing and performing with nga taonga puoro since 1999, working with a vast range of New Zealand’s top art practitioners. The pukaea - long wooden trumpet - and hue purahau - blown gourd - used in the soundtrack draw people’s attention to the light posts and grounds them to the land.

The koauau rakau - wooden flute - and poiawhiowhio - swinging whistling gourd - provide light and guide the viewer's eye to Ranginui.

Desna reiterates the show is not a static artwork, as the soundtrack was only incorporated into Pou Rama this year.

"We see room for growing the story around it, and we are trying to be responsive to our audiences."

StoryBox project manager Andrew Croot says they added music to the installation after seeing how people interacted with the light posts in previous years.

“We weren’t expecting people to touch and walk through and around the light posts. After seeing this we decided to make it a more immersive experience through music.”

He says initially the show was created to show something of beauty that related to New Zealand culture, but Desna was the one to give the art meaning.

“It’s about getting a reaction out of people, and hopefully they will understand that it is about people and our connection to the environment.”

Desna, who is the chairperson of Nga Aho, has a background in a wide range of mediums. She says all her work is based in kaupapa Maori frameworks.

"I work in advocacy for creating spaces for tangata whenua and mana whenua and nurturing Maori design creative practices.

"I am constantly looking at cultural frameworks that reconnect us to place, people and our practices."

Tauranga Arts Festival director Jo Bond says the light posts caught her eye in Wellington last year.

"It's just putting something into the festival that's free and everyone can enjoy. Pou Rama is just beautiful and it really activates and transforms the space it's in.

"The real bonus is the soundscape made with traditional Maori instruments."

Desna believes this show promotes well-being, encouraging communities to come together outdoors.

“You tend to get a really wide range of communities coming to light shows. It’s a healthy thing to do – good for the mind, heart, and soul.

“It’s awesome tamariki can get outside safely and have the opportunity to experience art outside – it’s a nice way of generating community.”

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