Several months ago I met with people from Vivid including …

Comment on Festival in Light ignores local advice, talent by Mike Gillam.

Several months ago I met with people from Vivid including Artistic Director, Giles Wesley, a lighting specialist with a well deserved reputation for excellence. I got the impression they were being directed to use Mt Gillen as a backdrop for the show. I’d hazard a guess they were receiving instructions at a political level and less so from Desert Park staff.
I encouraged them to re-think their choice of site and pointed out the advantages of using the many multi faceted features of the town centre as a canvass for projection. The wide pavements, various buildings, parks and sky offer appropriate surfaces with the added advantage of better reflecting human scale and offering greater intimacy for spectators. Imagine various nodes connected by short walks that could be value added by local storytellers and guides bringing to life cultural elements that are invisible to most of us. This would add a rich and softer layer to the built environment and expose many more people, on multiple occasions to the offering.
I highlighted the retail downturn and the great social and economic benefits of revitalising the town centre through story-telling delivered by a strong programme of visual and performing arts.
I showed them through my photographic light box exhibition (just before it was dismantled) in a long vacant office and recounted the community response we’d received. Vivid representatives seemed receptive but they were acutely aware of the upcoming Territory elections.
I reassured them the Giles Government was unlikely to be returned and we agreed that Vivid was ultimately responsible for the art direction and perhaps this should include the site/s.
I pressed the point that cultural and environmental restrictions should not be viewed as impediments to a creative enterprise, rather, that such conditions helped designers to think laterally, step away from the obvious and often enough, avoid the hideous cliché.
Vivid were talking to a number of arts organisations and I was hopeful that most would express some concern and maybe, just maybe, respect and unity would win the day.
In all fairness, I’ve yet to experience the light show, deciding to wait until the rehearsals are over and the crowds reduce. I’ve seen some segments of imagery but not heard the narration.
On opening night, I drove to Ilparpa to take some photographs looking over the range to the north. The light spectacle was not designed with this view in mind. The range was visible in silhouette and the light beams pointing into the sky, looked like WW2 searchlights so I waited for a plane to enter the image.
Then I turned and looked the other way. With much lower light pollution, Ilparpa residents are living the dream. Could the spectacle hidden behind the range to the north really compare with the unfathomable beauty of this night sky experience; this primal sense of peace and wonder denied to city dwellers who must console themselves with city lights and light sculptures?
I overcame a surge of envy and took a few images of the brilliant stars to the south and south-east. All the proceeds from the sale of TIO could not match this or for that matter, the cloudscape at sunrise this morning.
In my view the outrageous spending spree of the final year of the Giles government is marred by autocratic decision making and politically expedient time frames that profoundly short-changed our community.
Given political dictates and the short lead time for Vivid’s creative team, I’m not hopeful that this public money will deliver great outcomes for the town’s artistic reputation or our economy.
On this score, accountability and evaluation will be needed and I hope the data is being gathered for objective analysis.
As our social problems loom ever larger, lacklustre governments will continue to serve up distractions, made even less palatable by the spin. Thanks to the Alice Springs News Online reporters for asking the big questions, taking some personal heat and doing their job.

Recent Comments by Mike Gillam

Vale Paul Darvodelsky, 1961 to 2018
Incredibly sad news, our condolences to his family and friends. Maria Giacon and Mike Gillam.


Road Transport Hall of Fame is saved
Fantastic. Well said Alex. This helps to curb my rising cynicism.
Too many bureaucrats are quick to squeeze their little bags of power but so very slow to offer genuine help.
Few understand what it’s like in Liz Martin’s world or comprehend even remotely the difficulties faced by small enterprises.
The term tall poppy is wholly inadequate for Liz but thankfully she’s NOT going to be sacrificed on the altar of mediocrity just yet.


Another river giant goes up in flames
I’m still trying to unravel the story behind this tree’s ignition, probably from an existing basal hollow, but this is not always the case. Yesterday at sunset we returned to this magnificent tree and an old fire scar (dead timber on the north side of the tree) was alight. Fanned by a strong wind this decaying section would have burned through and formed a new entry hole to the centre of the tree, full of cavernous hollows.
The importance of returning to ‘extinguished’ tree fires regularly cannot be over emphasised. Tragically, when people actually see smoke/fire coming out of hollows in the canopy it is often too little, too late. The expense of calling out the fire brigade (who may be otherwise deployed) to deal with an obvious flare up combined with the massive risks of losing the tree, make close monitoring vital and cost effective by a country mile. Unfortunately, this ‘community’ monitoring is ad hoc at best.
Incidentally, the most recent flare up was caused by a patch of compost, very fine vegetative material mixed through soil that had continued to smoulder unseen 100 – 200 mm underground, shielded from the fire hoses. Hot dry winds on Saturday had dried out the ground surrounding the tree trunk and the smoulder zone had crept about 1.5 metres to ignite the tree trunk.
Bob Taylor’s right, couch grass Cynodon dactylon is responsible for a great many tree losses in desert rivers. In the past this was the main problem for fire managers working in the Todd River. Couch remains a great threat but for the time being buffel is ascendant. Land care volunteers give no quarter to either of these invasive grasses. The tree in question had couch grass on the underhanging banks but buffel, including numerous woody rhizomes just below the surface and mixed with leaf litter, formed the greater fuel load in this case. Occasionally, subsurface smoulders can travel many metres through termite hollowed tree roots and cause the ignition of nearby trees. Moreover, the ferocity of buffel fuelled fires often dries out and ignites the leafy Eucalypt regrowth, a stress response from one or more previous fires, that grows around the base of too many river giants. In combination these fuels can flare into the higher canopy where terminal hollows are also catching alight. Fuel reduction is key and our proactive efforts across the government and community sector are woefully inadequate, a dire situation that will be further highlighted in coming months.


Another river giant goes up in flames
I know this tree very well. Full of hollows that provide vital shelter for owls and microbats it’s arguably the most important for 100 metres in any direction. We greatly appreciate the efforts and inventiveness of fire-fighters in saving this highly valuable giant. This river red gum was identified as very high risk and volunteers recently slashed the waist high buffel and raked away the deep accumulated leaf litter in an effort to improve its chances of survival.


Raising the bar: the art of keeping your shop safe
Alan Thorpe is right, there is great energy in Alice Springs.
There’s also incredible generosity within our immediate neighbourhood. Once again we are indebted to Alan, Wayne McLean and Judy Barker for their engineering advice.
Anton of Anton’s Recycling was immediately fascinated and receptive of our plans for his old steel battery boxes.
We’re especially grateful to our boilermaker, David Boffie, for his trust in our plans and efforts to deliver the exacting craftsmanship we wanted.
It took us three months, working side by side, to refurbish the public face of 8 Hele, a rigorous process that certainly tested and strengthened friendships.
David’s capacity to weld materials collected over many years, often rusty, of almost any gauge and variable metallurgy, was truly remarkable.
Many claim the ability to weld but his skill enabled us to achieve a high degree of strength and safety in all the right places while retaining an overall sense of lightness and transparency.
Maria and I are blessed with a brilliant brains trust, too many tradesmen and women to mention here, who have supported us over the decades.


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