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18 Oct 2011

Piki Mai lights up Nelson

A 3D digital projection on a scale normally seen only in major cities has taken the small city of Nelson by storm, drawing huge crowds from darkness each evening. Created for the Nelson Arts Festival and REAL NZ Festival, Piki Mai is an audio visual artwork which transforms Nelson’s Christ Church Cathedral and the Church Steps into a vibrant pulsing wall of colour and movement. Snapshots of Nelson’s history are brought to life as the Boulder Bank forms, Cathedrals rise and fall, war precedes prosperity, rockets fly and time is warped right in front of your eyes. 

Piki Mai was created by video installation artist Michael Hodgson who was raised in Nelson, singing in the Cathedral by day and hanging out with friends on the Church Steps in the evenings. Now based in Auckland, his client base includes Louis Vuitton and the Brancott Estate World of Wearable Art.

Hodgson created the sound design and worked on the video for the film being screened in Tourism NZ’s giant rugby ball which toured the world to promote New Zealand as the host country of Rugby World Cup 2011. Currently located in Queen’s Wharf, the inflatable ball continues to draw queues of visitors keen to experience the ten minute audio visual experience projected on the inside surface of the ball.

In Piki Mai, moving images and text are projected onto the facades of the Steps and Cathedral bringing them to life in a stunning animated display. “This is the most ambitious building projection project that I’ve undertaken to date” said Hodgson. “Most building projections take place on a vertical plane on the exterior of a building, but Piki Mai is projected over a depth of 63 metres, so we’re really pushing the envelope on this one.” 

Two giant projectors, each with a rating of 20,000 ANSI lumens, project images and text onto the Cathedral and Steps using visual mapping technology to create amazing illusions. 3D software was used to map key physical points and objects to create a 3D map of the surfaces and artwork was made using this mask to take into account the 3D nature of the surface. 

Nelson audiences have been entranced and enthralled as the solid structures of the Cathedral and Church Steps transform into a fluid medium where the real world and virtual worlds intertwine. Crowds ebb and flow throughout the evening with many watching the 15 minute artwork several times. “Every time I watch it I see something different” said 14 year old Sarah Whyte. “It’s really cool.”

In true relaxed Nelson-style, viewers can sit and watch Piki Mai unfold in a specially-created Kiwiana-themed viewing area complete with deck chairs, white picket fence and artificial grass.  Apple crates topped with cushions and a knitted pavlova complete the scene.  “It is fantastic to see that an artwork can have such universal appeal within a community, engaging both young and old” said Nelson Mayor Aldo Miccio. “Piki Mai is a spectacular highlight of the Nelson Arts Festival that no-one should miss.”

Hodgson and his digital collaborators Chris Macmillan, Dan Mace and Jay McDaniel worked directly with Nelson artist Lori Davis, her son Tom Patchett and the Nelson Provincial Museum drawing imagery, text and audio from earlier times. Visually weaving hints of the story of Nelson, Piki Mai creates a narrative tracing the beginning of time to a world beyond, creating illusion on a grand scale.  “It has been great to have had so much creative freedom on this project” said Hodgson “and the response from the public has made it all the more worthwhile.”

Piki Mai runs from darkness until midnight each evening until Monday 24 October.