Alan Parkinson's ARBORIA : : Art Infinitum

Opening late last month and running for about another week, Auckland Live and Insite Arts is currently delighting Auckland with a unique experience in colour and light through their latest installation, Arboria.


If you make your way down to Aotea Square these school holidays, you’ll likely be met with crowds and chaos. This is a direct result of the work of designer Alan Parkinson, of Architects of Air. Parkinson has been experimenting with pneumatic sculptures since the ‘80s, and Arboria is the latest product of his work. Concerned with one’s “encounter with light”, these luminariums are intended for all ages. With this accessibility, it is unsurprising that tickets for Arboria are in very hot demand.


Nahyeon, my filming companion, and I entered the labyrinth on the sunny Friday afternoon before school holidays had started. It was a stroke of genius/luck we went when we did, as in the days that followed I found myself forwarding her pictures of patron’s complaints in regard to the verging on two hour waits to enter the experience. In the days before we went, it seemed Auckland was still firmly stuck in winter weather, so we both fronted at Aotea Square in long sleeves and coats. Immediately after entering Arboria, we realised this was a massive mistake, as the hot air quickly became overwhelming. Relief was offered through multiple vents in the walls, blasting cool air on our embarrassingly sweaty faces. After becoming marginally comfortable with the heat, Arboria morphed into a pleasant and other-worldly experience. The bright sun outside illuminated the maze, creating beautiful and serene moments. Looking around I saw multiple people resting in the many bubble-like corners, taking in the inspiring enclosure. Upon entry I was first more concerned with avoiding my friends’ camera, wary of getting caught on film. However, I quickly lost thought of this as I became immersed in the bright colours and patterns. Arboria features multiple tree-like sections, apparent on the handy map supplied on entry - though this proved inadequate, as I walked in circles attempting to exit. This imagery is complimented by sounds of the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest, recorded by musician and soundscape ecologist, Alice Eldridge.



Breaking this serenity was the movement and murmur of countless children, though undoubtedly less than would appear the following week. Rather than a disturbance, these children provided a personified example of the joy blatantly apparent in Arboria. For me personally, the many facets of Arboria demanded further understanding, and with this in mind I emailed my curiosities to the foreign creator. Parkinson offered illumination in regard to both the actual experience and creation. He commented on this surging presence of adolescence, explaining that some adults “would prefer children to be refused entry”, but ultimately, the structures have “something to offer everyone”. This inclusiveness was also apparent through another group visiting the maze when we went. Entry to Arboria is staggered, and in our allotted number was a group of mentally and physically disabled patrons. In our Q&A, Parkinson explained to me that “we encourage all our host presenters…to reach out to such groups”, and it is easy to see why. The luminarium offers an amazing spiritual experience to every person; it is fantastic and admirable that the structures are “always designed with wheelchair accessibility in mind”.


Arboria is an arguably difficult experience to ‘review’, as it demands participation to really be understood. Parkinson describes it not only as a “reflective space”, but also as facilitating connections and journeys. Like all his luminariums, Arboria provides a platform to “bring people together” through “the sharing of a common and new experience”. With this in mind, I suggest you take both your best friend, and your worst enemy – you might just find yourself bonding through the luminosity.


Arboria is open until this Sunday, and at $12 a ticket, it is definitely worth your time and money. Pre-booked tickets are predictably sold out, but if you find yourself willing to risk a wait, door sales are still available for all sessions. Failing that, you and I can both look forward to Parkinson’s next project, Katena, starting touring summer 2016.


Click here to check out more information about the inflated structure, otherwise take a look inside with our immersive video. Almost as good as actually going, it offers a pre-entry peak and post-entry keepsake.


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