A shining “beacon of hope” on Cape Town’s Signal hill comes in the form of the 24m high “SunStar”, a dramatic artwork by Artist and founder of the Robben Island Art Company and Trust (RIACT), Christopher Swift. The work was unveiled on 19th November after three years in the making. It is one of the biggest pieces to be exhibited as part of the World Design Capital programme and coincides with the South African 20 Years of Democracy celebrations. 

The SunStar is a star-shaped, aluminium truss structure, the eight points created to represent the sun’s rays. The outer star shape encases a 6.4m wide sphere enclosing sections of the original Robben Island fencing from the time of Nelson Mandela’s incarceration there. From its perch on the hilltop, the SunStar has a commanding presence overlooking the Cape Town City Bowl below and Robben Island further out.

The Artwork is “off the grid” and at night is lit by 4000 solar-powered, repurposed LED Strips. For the launch evening, however, the sculpture’s inbuilt lighting was supplemented with Gearhouse fixtures making for a very impactful launch event.

Gearhouse South Africa was invited to provide the technical Lighting elements for the launch of the artwork. The event, according to Gearhouse Project Manager, Ryan Shepherd was a predominantly lighting-intensive event. 

“Other than the exhibit itself and the VIP tent, we needed to light surrounding pathways and trees over an area of around 200 x 100m. Using mainly generic fixtures we were able to unify the area and create an atmosphere in keeping with the event. The VIP tent required general mood lighting which was achieved with six Robe 600 LED Washes, 24 Robe LED Force 18 and ETC Source 4 for highlighting the Lectern.”

The “reveal” of the SunStar itself was done using floor based fixtures including Robe ROBIN 600 LED Washes for truss toning and Mac 2000 for Hollywood-style sky beams. Half a dozen Megabrutes on the structure ensured that the SunStar blazed brightly for both event attendees and the general Cape Town populace.

“One of our biggest challenges onsite was the sensitivity of the area,” says Shepherd. “Approval was received from the City of Cape Town, the Department of Public Works, and South African National Parks to place the structure here, but San Parks kept a close eye on us to ensure that our presence in no way impacted the environment. Fire was also a concern, of course, and extra care was taken throughout the event to ensure that these issues remained top of mind.”

Like other Public Art works of late this installation has drawn its fair share of contention.

Sun International contributed to the funding of the landscaping, lighting and installation of the artwork, and their commitment to community, environment and sustainability fitted in well with the symbolism and messaging of the artwork. Sun International’s recent statement reiterates the hope that “being able to stand beneath the SunStar with spectacular views of both the City of Cape Town and Robben Island in the distance will give people a powerful incentive for contemplation, reflection and conversation about our future.”

The sculpture will remain in place for six months before being moved, possibly to one of the Sun International properties.

Story Robyn D’Alessandro photo Ryan Shepherd

Feb 2, 2015

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