Leading Lights

Shapes of Summer light exhibition, orchestrated by Angus Muir, has joyfully illuminated Tauranga’s waterfront. Head along with the whānau to experience the world-class installations.

Shapes of Summer light exhibition, orchestrated by Angus Muir, has joyfully illuminated Tauranga’s waterfront. Head along with the whānau to experience the world-class installations.

This festive season, downtown Tauranga’s waterfront strip is aglow with colour and light.

During daylight hours, visitors to the Shapes of Summer art installation will encounter flamboyant structures to clamber over or perch on or admire, alongside light tubes that emit sound when touched. As dusk descends, the same structures become illuminated sculptures.

“They just transform and become even better,” says project architect Angus Muir.

His Auckland-based company, Angus Muir Design, curates these kinds of light-filled events and artworks for clients around the globe, including Moscow, Amsterdam, Beijing, Iceland, Sweden, Singapore and Israel.

In Belgium, the Brussels by Light winter festival is currently hosting several of his designs. So Europeans are wrapping up warmly to ogle New Zealand-made artworks while their Tauranga counterparts don sunscreen to enjoy the same class of creativity along the Strand Reserve. 

One of the Tauranga installations, Triangulum, has previously appeared in Sydney’s spectacular Vivid light festival. Another piece, Trilogy by South Island Light Orchestra, was scheduled to appear at the Australian event before Covid struck. This year’s works also include Bloom, a larger-than-life set of neon flowers by Angus & Harris Keenan as well as Flamboyance, a flock of digital flamingos. 

Flamboyance by Human Moth

Bloom by Harris Keenan

In New Zealand, the Muir name is associated with major light, music and arts festivals, illuminating events such as fashion week or Splore. His company has strung a waharoa (gateway) across Auckland’s Queen Street for Matariki and lit up Tauranga’s own Bay Dreams music festival. Last summer, he managed to deliver a Christmas in the City event for Tauranga despite having to curate it remotely due to Covid. This year, he was able to visit the site and design pieces inspired by the harbour’s shapes and colours.

The award-winning light artist shrugs off any kudos that might come with his international or higher profile commissions.

“Coming down to Tauranga is kind of like a dream really,” he says. “To be able to create things on a large scale is pretty awesome; we brought three truckloads of equipment down from Auckland.

“We’re transforming an entire space, not just putting one piece in a show. That’s what I love doing. It’s something people can walk along the street and enjoy, or step off the footpath and walk through. We’re considering the whole environment and it’s such a stunning place, an amazing site.”

The project includes work by artists from around New Zealand, alongside pieces Angus’ team has built in their Auckland workshop. 

“We have 40 beautiful flags, big colourful shapes you can play on, interactive things. We’ve thought about colourful shapes parents can sit on and watch their kids. There’s lots of audio, you can walk through and around everything and everything, it’s accessible, colourful. I think that’s what public art should be. And it has to be super robust to be
able to withstand the public.”

Arc by Human Moth

Triangulum by Angus Muir

Angus traces his interest in lighting back to intermediate schooling years. After dividing his early childhood between Whangarei and Dunedin, Invercargill and Melbourne, the Muir family eventually settled in Christchurch. It was the garden city that led him to theatre. 

At age 12, the boy who liked to tinker and create was directed to a theatrical lighting course for children. From there, he found himself working on stage and lighting design in every school production. As a teen, weekends were spent working for a professional pyrotechnics company that designed fireworks shows for major public events and live music shows. “So I was thinking about the sky as a canvas, learning all about composition. And doing a lot of work for different theatres. 

“I had two lives, really. My creative roots and this academic one my parents wanted me to do. So I did theatre, drama, art. But also stats and chemistry.”

Thanks to a love of both graphic and industrial design, Angus found himself enrolled in an architecture degree. He was not, however, destined for a career designing buildings. 

“It’s been a bit of a journey. I find houses not super-interesting. The architecture I liked was quite temporary and installation-based. My thesis was the architecture of events.”

The 33-year-old marvels at the way  technology has dramatically transformed his chosen trade. In those high school production days, he was working with filament light bulbs and colour filters, using an overhead projector and a pen to transfer an image onto a wall. Though he still carts around a pen and sketchbook, computer driven machinery and increasingly advanced lighting technology are now the major tools of his trade. “I’m doing things now I couldn’t have dreamed of.”

Tauranga City Council arts and culture manager James Wilson says the installation helps draw people to the central city and reminds them there is plenty happening in the area, despite ongoing construction in the vicinity.

Shapes of Summer is walking distance from Tauranga Art Gallery and Baycourt theatre events, social gatherings on The Strand and Wharf Street as well as outdoor movie events or sunrise yoga sessions on the waterfront.“It’s a real joy to see families out exploring the waterfront and people of every age playing with the installations and taking selfies,” James says.

Trilogy by South Island Light Orchestra has three large fully interactive light surfaces. Each pillar has its own unique sound and light elements and is responsive to touch.

“Some of the interactive works respond to touch so you can create your own soundscape — I love the way light festivals and light artworks can connect with everyone. I’ve been a huge fan of Angus’s work since my time at Q Theatre and have seen it in various light festivals in Auckland. Since then, his work has been seen around the world.

“He is an artist in hot demand so I’m thrilled that Angus has curated a special collection of works specifically for Tauranga Moana.”

Shapes of Summer runs from 4 November until 7 February, on the seaward side of The Strand, between Wharf Street and Dive Crescent.
Story by Sue Hoffart
Photography by Luke Foley-Martin