Light Nelson


Celebrating the Darkness

2013 saw the creation of an artistic experience unique to Nelson, an ambitious artist-led concept whereby local people are actively encouraged to engage with multiple light installations that celebrate and respond to the winter darkness, a concept that is called Light Nelson. Established by Nelson creatives for the people of Nelson, it is a completely free event held in open public spaces. With a strong belief in ‘keeping it local’, the emphasis is on community participation.

Light Nelson 1 107six pictures for youLight Nelson 2013. Image supplied by author
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Light Nelson 3 picasabackground 025Light Nelson 2013. Image supplied by author
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The inaugural Light Nelson event took place in Queens Gardens, Albion Square and the Chinese Garden, involving various other locations nearby. Planned to coincide with the Winter Music Festival at the Nelson School of Music (NCMA), with the hope of enhanced visitor numbers for both events, it saw overwhelming and somewhat unexpected success  - 16,000 visitors over three days, which resulted in the formation of the (Charitable) Light Nelson Trust.  The Trustees, Brian Riley (Chairperson), John-Paul Pochin (Co Founder & Artist Collective Representative), Anne Rush (Co Founder & Artist Collective Representative), Jo Kinross (Chair of the Selection Committee), Charlotte Reith (Secretary), Caroline Marshal, Bronwyn Monopoli (Treasurer) and Frances McElhinney, will collectively oversee the growth of this immensely popular event over a proposed 10 year period. The trustees view the excellent topography of Queens Gardens and surrounding area as simply the starting point for Light Nelson. Their ultimate wish is to see the event evolve and grow, eventually stretching down to the sea.

Light Nelson 2 P7190173Light Nelson 2013. Image supplied by author
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Light Nelson is very much a family affair, offering visitors of all ages a magically immersive organic experience, through art projects involving illusion, beauty, interaction and fun. It is also a uniquely non-commercial event showcasing the emergence of Art, Science and Technology, described by Light Nelson co-founders Anne Rush and John-Paul Pochin as a ‘marriage between the creative and the technical’ and the ‘blurring of art and science’.

Light Nelson P7190175sixpictures for you 1Light Nelson 2013. Image supplied by author
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The Trust aims to keep Light Nelson both manageable and sustainable, recognising the sum of its many small parts help make the bigger event, whilst acknowledging the high expectations of its visitors. They want the wider Nelson community to make the event their own, for it to be a new ‘winter ritual’, where local people can experience the magical sensation of being immersed in a darkness illuminated solely by creative light.  The hope is to stimulate the community’s curiosity with low tech/high tech artwork, to encourage reflection and interaction between creative people, leading to an appreciation of modern art.

Installation is an integral component of contemporary art practice and Light Nelson fully embraces this ingenious, innovative and often multimedia-based approach with great passion. Through positive engagement, artists from various genres are keen to collaborate with IT specialists, scientists and technicians, resulting in diverse and exciting work that addresses the practical and academic aspects of contemporary creativity.

Light Nelson P7190175sixpictures for you 2Light Nelson 2013. Image supplied by author
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Light Nelson P7190180Light Nelson 2013. Image supplied by author
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Reflecting positively on Nelson’s untapped artistic potential, innate ingenuity and can-do attitude, Light Nelson highlights the diversity and strength of its collaborative community spirit. There is a palpable sense of artistic boundaries being stretched, perhaps leading a quiet evolution of Nelson culture. Being named the third most culturally diverse city in New Zealand (2013 Census), Nelson is a vibrant place that positively encourages reinvention, where anything is deemed possible, aspects that attract creative people from all over the world to come and be part of an imaginative artistic community with bold aspirations.

Light Nelson 2014  took place in Queens Gardens and Albion Square, at Nelson School of Music and Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, with huge attendance.

Chrissie Cleary wrote this in her final year of her Bachelor of Arts & Media at NMIT, 2014. (Updated July 2020)

Talking Trees

One of the installations created for Light Nelson 2014 lived beyond the duration of the Festival. The Talking Trees project1 was a a multidisciplinary project, combining the expertise of Nelson-based lighting designer Wendy Clease and associated technicians, local arborists, and a creative writing tutor and students from Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. Together they developed a walking trail that combined storytelling - short, quirky poems written in the first person, as if the trees are telling their own stories - with smartphone technology, in the form of an application called STQRY. During the Festival the trees were illuminated; after the festival, anyone downloading the Stqry app can still access the trees' stories on a visit to Queens Gardens.

Read the poems created for the Talking Trees project, by Cliff Fell and NMIT Creative Writing students,  and download the Queens Gardens Talking Trees map:

Sources used in this story

  1. Gillie, J. (2014, June 30) If the trees could talk. Nelson Mail. Retrieved from Stuff:

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