Creative Kōrero, Visual Arts

Stunning new Sara Hughes artwork to bring new life, and light, to troubled Tauranga bus shelter

A spectacular, immersive artwork by New Zealand artist Sara Hughes will give new life to the Willow Street bus shelter in central Tauranga.

Midnight Sun, which has been in development since early 2021, is commissioned by Supercut Projects in collaboration with Tauranga City Council and with support from Creative New Zealand, Tauranga Art Gallery and Techlight. The expansive, illuminated outdoor painting, captures the final setting of the sun on the eve of the Winter Solstice and, fittingly, will be unveiled during te tau hou Māori, Matariki.

Sara Hughes is a dynamic and highly regarded artist with a well-established career in Australasia. An artist with a special interest in the development of cities, Hughes has undertaken a number ofhigh-profile public commissions including Magma, 2017, a large 500sqm painting in Auckland, and a series of striking outdoor works for the reopening of Cathedral Square in Ōtautahi Christchurch from 2014 to 2016. Her most recent project is being installed on all four sides of the soon-to-open New Zealand International Convention Centre in Tāmaki Makaurau. It will be the largest integrated public artwork in New Zealand.

Suspended above the Willow Street bus shelter and wrapping around the wall and front of Tauranga Art Gallery to Wharf Street, Midnight Sun will create a beautiful corridor of coloured light. It is an active artwork; an endless performance in which everyone participates as they walk along Willow Street. As clouds pass overhead, shades of pink and golden light will flicker and dance on the pavement, bathing everyone in its glow.

The artwork comprises 96 individual panels of glass, most of which are three metres in length, together creating a total of 260 square metres – epic proportions given the bus stop is 20metres long and the adjacent canopy around 80 metres.

Come night, Midnight Sun will be lit. The illumination of the work will replicate, by Kelvins, the luminosity of the setting sun and serve to make the surrounding area more beautiful – and safer – by night.

Supercut Projects Director Sonya Korohina, who selected and commissioned artist Sara Hughes, says, “I wanted to enable an artwork that would ‘lift the spirits of our weary community’. Sara is one of New Zealand’s most dynamic artists. Her bright and bold installations activate galleries and outdoor sites around the world. Sara understands how colour and light bring forth emotions such as joy and happiness. She transforms grey urban spaces, creating expansive artworks that encourage us to see the world in fresh, new ways.”

According to James Wilson, Arts and Culture Manager for Tauranga City Council, the installation signals the city’s commitment to its new artistic vision.

“Tauranga has attracted one of the country’s most significant installation artists at a time of great transformation. We want people to know that in this city we take public art seriously, we invest in it, we encourage artists, and we commission for work,” Wilson says.

The launch will take place during Matariki, during the last sunset until the winter solstice – when the sun dies at the end of the year and then rises the following day after the longest night.

As a regular bus commuter, Sara Hughes was compelled to create the piece after feeling unsafe in the shelter on a trip to Tauranga years ago. She spent time there, talking with residents, as part of her research.

Hughes says, “Midnight Sun refers to an extended period of daytime that lasts 24 hours, in which the sun remains visible through the night. And while it’s not sunset the entire day, for much of the time, the sun lingers near and on the horizon, creating the many colours in the artwork. It is also in keeping with my work in the way it will be illuminated for 24 hours – either from natural light or artificial light. While the artwork refers to sunsets, it is also a sun that never sets.”

Midnight Sun will be free and accessible by everyone, and welcomes schools, tamariki and rangatahi, when it comes to the study of local art.

“The Willow Street bus shelter is a familiar – and hotly discussed – site in the centre of our city. We hope that this new work will shift how people view the shelter and bring beauty and light into the central city at a time of new beginnings and transformation. It is significant and signals our commitment to making public art part of Tauranga’s transformation strategy. We hope Tauranga locals and visitors will take pride in it, and kaitiaki for it, in the way they have with other public art projects, such as Hairy Maclary Park and Tauranga and Mount Maunganui’s famous street art,” Wilson says.

“The site has been carefully selected as an opportunity to create a welcoming and engaging space for local communities and visitors to Willow Street. The artwork builds on Tauranga’s commitment to creating a vibrant city centre and joins recent public art commissions by Kelcy Taratoa (Te Whānau-a-Tauwhao, Te Materāwaho, Ngāti Tapu) at Masonic Park, and Whare Thompson (Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Whātua and Te Whakatōhea) on Wharf Street,” Korohina says.

Midnight Sun is a temporary project, for two years.

Creative New Zealand granted its funds from Ngā Toi ā Rohe, a 2020 initiative established to incentivise local and regional investment in the development and presentation of new local arts activity outside the main centres of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

Creative Kōrero, Visual Arts

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