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

'Spectra' is a permanent installation artwork created by artist Neil Dawson as part of a group of works commissioned for Aotea Centre in 1988. ‘Spectra’ hangs in the void above the Foodtown staircase at the northern end of Aotea Centre.

A companion piece to ‘Featherlight’, the huge paua shell sculpture is a bold diversion from the traditional theatre chandelier. The paua and the feather work together to reinforce the basic themes of sea and air.

There is whimsy in Neil Dawson's work which intentionally catches the viewer off balance. ‘Spectra’ is a light sculpture. Spectra light the natural shells we find at the beach. Paua gets its brilliant hues from the diffraction of light – in itself the shell has no colour. 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: "I wanted something festive – it's not a subtle piece – ‘Spectra’ blazes with light."

Made of PVC foam covered with fibreglass, the 6.5 by 5.2 metre shell is suspended from the ceiling over the main staircase to the auditorium. Spotlights are directed at the sculpture. Its surface is covered in hexagonal tiles of diffraction film. This film is laser-etched with very fine grooves and has similar visual quality to a compact disc.

The work is on a dramatic scale, and the spiralling form and ever-changing light effects draw the viewer up the stairs. At night the light effects are intensified, with strong reflections appearing throughout the foyer.

Neil Dawson was born in Christchurch in 1948. He gained a Diploma of Fine Arts (Hons) from Canterbury University and also has a graduate Diploma in Sculpture from the National Gallery of Victoria Art School in Melbourne.

Among his best known New Zealand installations are ‘Echo’, permanently installed in the Christchurch Art Centre in 1991 and ‘The Rock’ outside Wellington's BNZ Centre. Dawson divides his time between small works, temporary installations and permanent commissions, often collaborating with architects, engineers and landscape designers.

Dawson has a passion for natural objects; both of the installations at Aotea Centre are works with “natural kiwi flavours”, the feather and the paua shell.