Not just bright lights, the art of Spectra

“What is with that noise s**t?” says the bogan just near me. Just ahead an old woman in a wheelchair is being slowly pushed up the hill toward the towering lights. Spectra beams its way skyward seeming to reach to the very heavens. I crane my neck and almost fall backwards as I try to see where it ends. I thought the fifteen kilometre high claim might have been an exaggeration, now I believe it. It really does look awesome. Mad props to my mate Nick Monk for letting me use his images for this post.

Usually at this time of year Tasmanians are hunkered down staring at their own navels feeling depressed, complaining about the cold and the state of the Tasmanian economy. As one of my Facebook friends put it... for Tasmanians...
...Winter is the season where people try to keep the house as warm as it was in the summer, when they complained about the heat.
 Instead this winter Hobart was buzzing with Dark MOFO. If you’re from out of town Dark MOFO was a winter festival of music and art the brainchild of David Walsh and the folks from the Museum of Old and New Art. The crowning awesome was Ryoji Ikeda’s Spectra, a light installation on the Domain Cenotaph stretching fifteen kilometres up into the sky.

For a week my Facebook newsfeed was filled with pictures of the Spectra instead of baby photos and nightclub style selfies. I saw everything from grainy insta-phone images to professionally photographed shots. Unmissable in rain and fog, Spectra had become the night-time unifying point of reference for everyone in Hobart. It felt like everyone had to see it and get their little piece of it.

It got people talking. Discussions as to if a big bright light in the sky actually constituted art. Other arguments were had about the environment and effect that powering the huge beams had. There were even calls to make the installation permanent, as great herds of rugged up people could be seen flocking to Spectra like moths to a flame. The festival also had an alluring effect, with a flood of ex-pats coming back to Hobart to visit. Ordinarily this only happens during the warmer months and for family shenanigans at Christmas and Easter. Instead people were flying BACK to Hobart... for a festival... in the middle of winter. It’s unheard of for Tasmania.

I think the real success of Spectra was its accessibility. It got a huge number of people talking about art who wouldn’t otherwise have, from academics, to small children. People of all classes and socioeconomic statuses were united in looking toward and talking about the "great light in the sky".

There was also some discussion about what Spectra stood for. Quoting from Genesis 1:3 “Let there be light” the artist himself described the work as “Pointing a fleshless finger at our town straight down, it seems, from some sort of imagined, omniscient seat in the sky.” For me Spectra reminded me to look upward especially in the depths of a cold Tasmanian winter. It reminded me that the world is bigger than just me and my small life that I share it with many others. It reminded me that I’m linked to the hundreds of thousands of other people here in the greater Hobart area all who can see the same things I see. It pointed me to something bigger that despite my very best efforts I can’t quite reach.

For Tasmanians, it reminds us that we actually have a lot to be proud of. Thank-you David Walsh for reminding us that we have in Tasmania is unique, awesome and worth coming back to even in the depths of a cold winter.

Thanks again Nick for this beauty taken from Mountain River. Jump over to Facebook and add him as a friend.



Holly said... 7/01/2013 9:57 pm  

The response to DarkMofo was incredible.

I think part of what made Spectra so interesting in Hobart was also the way we relate to our surroundings. Here, we often know where we are because the mountain centres us. It is our guiding landmark. Suddenly, we had another landmark, one that reached beyond the mountain. It was almost bewildering. Other cities tend to relate differently to the space around them - the endless horizon or enclosing tall buildings with which we are quite unfamiliar in Hobart.

It was fun to feel so divided, if briefly, between Spectra and the mountain, but I'm glad to have my night sky back, with my mountain and my moon.

mike said... 7/04/2013 3:21 pm  

Hey Holly thanks for your comment. I think your observations are pretty spot on. It got me thinking about one of my other favourite cities and how it relates it's environment. You might want to have a look at my latest post... thanks again.

Luke Isham said... 7/06/2013 2:50 pm  

From the perspective of a fundamentalist hillbilly I found it morbidly beautiful and like the rest of MONA deliberately ambiguous, "Beam in Thy Own Eye" hmm. I've always assumed art is the beautiful expression of an idea, what's the idea in this case?

Now, let me quickly add this problem doesn't negate your or even my (don't tell the rest of the Milita) enjoyment of looking at it and discussing it. Neither is the lack of obvious artistic intent a barrier to the good things you've described Mike.

But, something bothered me, l felt like it was summoning Ring Wraiths. (Don't get me started on the BreastWhale.)

Charles Flaum said... 12/02/2013 6:28 pm  

It is our guiding landmark. Suddenly, we had another landmark, one that reached beyond the mountain. Picture Lighting

Post a Comment