11 Feb 2017

Inside The Lighthouse: 'It's not an ordinary house at all'

10:01 am on 11 February 2017

A controversial Auckland artwork that resembles a state house will be unveiled to the public for the first time this weekend.

Michael Parekowhai's The Lighthouse, is being opened to the public on Saturday night.

The two story weatherboard house sits on prime real estate on Queens Wharf, commanding brilliant views of the Waitemata Harbour.

However, other than the seagulls atop its roof this house shall remain uninhabited.

Funded by Barfoot and Thompson and other anonymous donors it is a $1.5 million addition to the Auckland Council's art collection.

Today black paper remained over the windows and a fence was yet to come down ahead of tomorrow's public opening.

The Council's Manager of Arts and Culture, Kaye Glamuzina, took RNZ for a tour of the finished piece.

"It is a standard weatherboard house it's just in the finishings. I think one of the beautiful things when you walk towards the house is that it looks an ordinary familiar form but the closer you get to it you realise it's not an ordinary house at all.

"You can see it's a beautiful day today so you'll see the colour of the outside of the work sparkles like the water does, like the Waitemata. As you walk closer to the work you'll notice that it's finished with an automotive paint so it's got a luminescence to it so it very much reflects the Waitamata on which it sits and the colour sort of reflects the space between the sky and the water.

"As a sculpture it's very much about looking through the work so it's not like a painting where you look at a painting and you have the same experience. This house has been designed very much to look through so when you look at what's inside you'll see that you're peering through and you'll see people looking from the other side probably but if you're looking from the south side you'll see the Waitemata."

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An interior view of The Lighthouse. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

The inside will remain closed to the public, but a select group were taken through this week.

"Coming inside you'll see that it's not an ordinary house. What this house holds is lights representing the known universe, the cosmos. So all these lights are constellations of stars from the Southern Hemisphere and then within that sits Captain James Cook."

The neon lights of different colours are scattered across the shining white walls and windows and reflect off every surface, including the highly polished stainless steel Captain James Cook sculpture.

"There is so much to take in just visually let alone politically or however else you want to process the work, you can't see everything in one visit and also it will change so much during the day and night, and the weather. It is a work that will look quite different and you will experience in quite different ways.

The piece has been controversial, with some criticising the amount of money spent on a state house look-a-like given the issues around housing affordability and homelessness.

"People like to say controversial but I'm not sure if it really is controversial. I never think it's a wise thing to judge a piece of work before it's finished. Whether it's a rugby game or a piece of art you don't pass judgement on a game before it's finished and I'd say the same for art. Come and see the work and see what you think of it."

She said while it touched on current issues it also related to events hundreds of years ago and to 40 years ago around Bastion Point.

"I think it's all of the things we want great public art, quality, enduring, significant and I think it hits all of those things and I think it's a work that will be loved by Auckland and Aucklanders."

'It's an eyesore, mate'

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The Lighthouse sits alongside The Cloud on Queens Wharf. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Ricky Hunt fishes from the wharf most days just metres from the work. He said it was not welcome.

"It's an eyesore mate, people are struggling on the streets and here they are building houses at ends of wharfs that no one can live inside. We've watch it come in, we'll watch it open and it's a waste of time."

Another fisher, Lani Jane, did not see the meaning of it.

"It's a bit of an eyesore. I don't know, it's supposed to be art but why plonk a state house here?"

'What is the role of art other than to provoke discussion?'

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Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Geoff Lill, who was visiting from Christchurch said it was great.

"It's fantastic. It's a two story structure that is obviously unique in terms of where it's at. It's created a lot of conversation which is obviously a good thing.

The chair of the Advisory Panel for Art in Public Places Auckland, Ross Liew went through the house this morning and said he was impressed by what he saw.

"It's very pleasing to come see something that's in the shape of a house but the finish is beyond what you'd ever encounter in a house.

"The interior space is something of it's own, it's like an artwork within an artwork so I'm still actually trying to get my head around what I've seen inside. Essentially [it's] just very impressive."

He said commentary on housing had no doubt been factored in by the artist.

"What is the role of art other than to provoke discussion and lead discussion and ask questions? I think there couldn't be a more appropriate symbol actually in terms of comment on the climate and the struggles we have"

It is opening to the public tomorrow night with live music and the lights on full display.

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