Stumbling in the dark

July 4

PHOTO: SIMON WILLIAMS

ONE OF THE MANY THINGS WE LOST IN 2020 WAS THE LUMA SOUTHERN LIGHT PROJECT. AS WE WELCOME IT BACK, MUSICIAN AND LIGHT ARTIST SCOTT KENNEDY PONDERS LUMA’S FLICKERING DREAM OF “MAYBE”.

As I write this, it’s two weeks before the start of the LUMA Southern Light Project, and as you read this, it’s at least two weeks after. But right now, I’m sitting in the dark staring at a strobe light trying to get the damn thing to sync to the music. Such is the life of a light artist. Stumbling in the dark, looking for the light.

But first I need to rewind six years, to where this all began. June in Queenstown
is colder than a well digger’s arse and as dark as a landlord’s heart. It’s a time of year when people do some combination of the following: hibernate, get out of town, get ready for winter. Smack in the middle of this is Queen’s Birthday long weekend, ready- made for a festival that needs a few days and a uniquely dark environment. And that’s where, and when, LUMA was born.

LUMA began humble and small at the Queenstown Winter Festival in 2015, a preview event with four light sculptures. It has grown into a festival that attracts local, national and international artists who fill Queenstown Gardens with more than 30 light installations that start at the simple and go to the sublime. Every year, the lights have grown brighter and bigger and more numerous (except for 2020, but let’s not mention 2020). So, too, have the crowds. 2015 felt like a garden party compared to the 60,000 people who trek through the Gardens over the course of the weekend these days.

“June in Queenstown is colder than a well digger’s arse and as dark as a landlord’s heart”

What makes LUMA “LUMA” is burned deep into its ethos. This can be best defined by what you won’t see at the festival. There’s no big naming sponsor. No activations with easy-up tents, goodie bags full of crap, no competing radio stations pumping out their own flavour of music. What you will see is giant flame-tipped moths, a girl playing piano in a fairy-lit grotto, a hexagonal tunnel outlined in coloured neon, a forest twinkling with tens of thousands of individual lights. LUMA grooves to its own tune.

But back to me, the dark and this damn strobe light. I’ve been a part of LUMA since the beginning, along with my band/art collective ‘EchoKnot’. We play emotionally anthemic, loud, quiet, instrumental rock’n’roll, but for LUMA we put on a show that goes beyond a band in the bush. We build a sculpture, and we play in it. Or on it, or around it.

Year one was simple. We performed in front of a movie screen with some cool visuals. Year two, we leveled up and built a translucent mesh box and projected imagery onto the mesh, then played live inside. When the band was lit, you could see us, and when the projections were on, it became a three- dimensional movie screen. The next year we leveled up again, literally. This time it was a two-storey mesh cube with a massive

projection surface and enough lights inside to illuminate a book read in Wānaka. In 2019, we took over a disused glass house, lit it from the inside, and lived in fear of death by glazed decapitation when the whole thing inevitably crumbled from the sonic vibrations. We don’t talk about 2020, come on, we’ve been over this.

LUMA 2021 (I hope), from your perspective, was jaw dropping. It was the biggest and the most inventive yet, an emotionally cathartic end to what’s been a shithouse year. But from my point of view, LUMA 2021 is a circle on the calendar a fortnight away that haunts my dreams. We’ve got new songs to run through, a stage sculpture to build around a rock the size of a house, projectors to mount in trees, and more lights to program than ever before.

This is the part where I say I’m sure it will be fine, this is what we do, but the truth is, I’m not sure it will be fine, this is what we do. Every year, we fight for the edge of our artistic comfort zones, running hard from what is safe, what we know we can accomplish, and drawn like moths to what we might be able to do.

And that idea, the flickering dream of “maybe”, is the heart of LUMA. Artists whose medium is light pushing themselves and inviting us to take that leap with them. The possibility of the barely possible is the light to the shadow, the quiet to the loud, the cold to the warmth of spirit that is the flicker that has grown into this flame.

As time loops in on itself and my future and your past collide, know whatever happened, happened. No matter what timeline you are in, the future of LUMA, maybe even the whole future, is looking… bright.

SCOTT KENNEDY


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