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Featherlight

Taken from ‘Aotea Centre Works of Art’, edited by Tara Werner, written by Karen Scherer and Katherine Findlay.

‘Featherlight’ was created by Neil Dawson as one of a group of artwork's commissioned in 1988 as part of the building of Aotea Centre. ‘Featherlight’ hangs above the BNZ Foyer in Aotea Centre near the main entrance way. It can be viewed either from below on the BNZ Foyer, level 4, or above from the Air New Zealand Foyer on level 5.

This work, and its companion piece ‘Spectra’, replace the chandelier that traditionally hangs in the foyer of a theatre. Instead of being a source of light, it picks up light from a variety of sources and reflects it back through its prisms. The design of the sculpture allows two different perspectives, above and below, while still achieving the artist’s aim of reducing the architecture to a more personal level. Although based on an easily recognisable natural form, this is only part of the sculptural experience which also explores the use of materials, space and light in an architectural setting.

Neil Dawson, speaking about ‘Featherlight’: "My aim was to surprise people with the familiar: Contemporary art does not have to be difficult, and a feather is something people of all ages can identify with."

Hidden in the ceiling are several spotlights to direct light towards the sculpture. Like a traditional chandelier which amplifies light, Dawson's feather breaks down the beams and projects prismatic pools all over the foyer. At night the effect is spectacular, giving an air of splendour to the surroundings. During the day, the work tends to reflect the colours inside the building.

From tip to tail, ‘Featherlight’ is 10 metres long. The central quill is made of aluminium and polyester resin, and the barbs were crafted from prismatic strips of acrylic. Each two-metre strip was softened in boiling water then bent over separate wooden moulds to form the shape desired. Altogether there are approximately 750 barbs – placed end to end they would stretch one and a half kilometres.

‘Featherlight’ took a team of five people eight weeks to construct in Dawson's Christchurch studio. At Aotea Centre it took another week to assemble.