LET THERE BE LIGHT
At first startling, then effulgent, artist Drew Hill’s description of the universally understood starting point of creation pops with poetic aptness.
“The orgasm of nature,” he says of the inspiration behind his sculpted work, Te Po Papatuanuku and Ranginui.
“The beginning of nature and everything in the forest and mountains and sea.”
The pou is sculpted from clear acrylic, also known as poly(methyl methacrylate), acrylic glass, or plexiglass acrylic. Illuminated by LED lights inside a mount made of rusted metal plates at the base, the pou will be part of Luma, Queenstown’s annual illuminated art, light-sculpture, and performance experience.
The pou is carved and inscribed with abstract textures that represent the forest, rocks and the wind, says Hill. Of Ngati Porou descent, he has invested in his work the tangata whenua story of creation.
The piece is called Te Po Papatuanuku and Ranginui, he writes in a brief about the pou.
“They were the ancestors of all parts of nature, including people, birds, forests, fish, winds, and water. Papatuanuku (the earth mother) and Ranginui (the sky father) came to exist in the darkness (te po), and held one another in a tight embrace.
“(Papatuanuku) is seen as the birthplace of all things. It is said she came from under the water, and that after the land rose from the water it gave birth to all life.
“This is about taking the story and making it a universal piece.”
Matauranga Maori educational site Te Kete Ipurangi outlines in its account of the story of the separation of Ranginui and Papatuanuku.
“Tawhirimatea (the sun) lived between the embrace of Ranginui and Papatuanuku as did the other children of his whanau.
“A meeting was called and the majority of the children decided that their parents had to be separated.”
Tane Mahuta braced himself between their parents and pushed them apart.
“Tawhirimatea roared with fury, ‘No!’ But it was too late. Ranginui and Papatuanuku were forced apart, and light filled the world.
“As time passed, animals, plants and people grew in the light of the sun.”
The translucency of Hill’s chosen medium lends itself to lighting effects.
“When I polish it up it glows even in the day. The light refracts inside it and bounces around so it takes on a different mood in the day than it does in the dark.
“Acrylic is a different medium from anything else. It’s almost like a liquid.”
To work with acrylic Hill uses a type of rotary tool. The tool can be used for drilling, grinding, cutting, cleaning, polishing, sanding, routing, carving, and engraving.
“If the piece is lit up and you put your tool in it disappears. It’s like it’s lost in space.”
The piece of acrylic Hill has used for the pou was left over from his 2012 public artwork, Guardian — Te Tairawhiti, installed outside Kathmandu in Gladstone Road. Inscribed with biomorphic forms that flow and overlap with changing viewpoints, the four-metre high plexiglass cylindrical sculpture lights up at night.
Hill has since created several more works from acrylic and light and this will be the fourth year he has a piece included in Luma.
“It’s nice to be invited to the festival,” he says.
“Because it’s a light festival the acrylic works really well. I love using light in my sculptures. Acrylic is the perfect medium and Luma is the perfect exhibition for me.”