The Lighting of the Osmanthus Gardens

4-8 April 2018, Cornwall Park, Hastings
By Jess Soutar Barron

Hastings doesn’t get too many ‘Firsts’. The ones it does have should be celebrated (aerial photography and something to do with wine and monks). When the lanterns are hung and lights are lit in the Osmanthus Gardens every April – saluting our Chinese ‘sister-city’ Guilin (yes we were the first city in NZ to get a ‘sister’) – it’s fitting the whole community turns out.

And they do. Big families with toddlers in buggies and Gran on her walker. Friends. Lovers. Random loners. Little kids waving glo-sticks. That guy taking selfies, his hot flash drowning out the beauty of the background he’s trying to capture.

The hero shot is the collection of 100+ red Chinese lanterns. They hang in careful lines, marching in twos across the expanse of the duck pond. There are slight imperfections in their symmetry as if to hint at the human hand that has placed them there. The design becomes organic and more satisfying to the eye when it is just a touch off.

Each lantern has its multiple partners, the real to one side, the mirrored-self settled on the still water below, the shadowed other resting on the walkway. And tiny versions of the same running in threads through the undergrowth. Here the modest palette of red is broken with green and blue cutting in. It’s a shame. The red is so striking and refined. A simpler palette would separate this from the more garish, exuberant Fiesta of Lights at New Years. It doesn’t need more than this iconic red.

The reflections of light play across the architecture of the space. The lines of bamboo cut the image in multi strips. It’s a disorientating experience with the place reimagined as a strange mashup of the Orient and Pacifica. It’s so perfectly here and now. The crazy rocks that jut from the pond become limestone karsts; our bold children clamber out and traverse them fearlessly. The Pagodas become tea houses painted on blue willow; old friends find each other, laugh together, enjoy the serendipitous encounter, gossip.

The pathway through the experience gives multiple views of the same but each is different. It’s an ingenious use of the Gardens. First you see the lanterns right there in your face, and somewhere beyond the curved petals of the paper lotus flowers dancing on the water. Next, you turn a corner and the double strands of lanterns are framed in the pagoda’s symmetrical edging. Then, around the bend, the lotus flowers become the star in centre stage and the lanterns float back in chorus position. For a series of static inanimate objects they put on quite a show. And the audience is active and involved, they have to be, it wouldn’t work without them.

The four-night happening lines up with Daylight Saving and so even just-after-tea it’s midnight black out here. In a place we’ve all walked/run/yahooed through a hundred times in daylight (and avoided after-dark) these few precious nights are when Osmanthus makes the most sense. It’s still a crazy corner of the Stings, but in this week it means a little more, it’s a celebration of us, and our random networking webs out into the world.




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