Bruce Munro Tropical Light

Katy Moir

Katy Moir is a graduate of architecture who moved up to Darwin in 2015 to work at the highly regarded architecture firm Troppo Architects. She became interested in place-based design and at last year’s Fringe Festival created a large-scale fabric art installation. The Territory creative, who was also recently selected for the 2019 Creative Artist in Residency Program with her project, ‘Hypothetical Darwin’, is one of six local artists taking part in ‘Bruce Munro: Tropical Light’. Here, she talks about what’s so special about Darwin, how architecture has helped with her artwork and encouraging the community to reimagine space.  

What do you love most about living in Darwin?
It was actually through my first job Troppo Architects that I came up here on a trial. I was only here for a month and I don’t know, but it was a really easy decision to stay. There are a couple of key reasons that I always tell people down south when they ask me about this. It’s really a choice about living. There are many places that we could work and where we could have fun but Darwin is a place where I feel really comfortable living in my day-to-day life. There’s also lots of interesting opportunities, especially when you want to be freelance and independent as opposed to having a classic nine to five job. There are a lot of nine to five jobs you can find all around the world but I think in terms of opportunities and setting up your own thing Darwin and the Northern Territory really provide that. I’ve also never lived in a place, in a capital city, where Indigenous culture is so present. There are so many events that are about celebrating Indigenous art, music or culture. I know this exists in other major capital cities but just not to the extent that I have experienced here, and I like that about Darwin. 

What do you like about the wet season in Darwin?
I like the fact that things slow down a bit. It’s a really good time to solidify relationships and friendships. It’s really easy to get distracted during the dry. There’s a lot of movement and the transient nature of relationships coming and going. The wet season’s a nice time to know who’s sticking around, and to kind of solidify those relationships. And the sunsets. Everyone comes for the dry to see the sunsets, but sunsets in the wet are way better. They are much more vibrant and interesting with all the colours and those storm clouds rolling in. 

What’s something you can only do during the wet season?
It’s much easier to relax in the wet season because the weather just forces you to. It’s harder to relax in the dry because you feel like you’ve got this limited time to do things and everything’s happening, especially in the arts. Whereas in the wet it’s like, ‘Ahh. I can just chill out a bit’, and really I have to because if I move for more than an hour I am going to dehydrate myself to exhaustion. 

What are you doing as one of the artists contributing to ‘Bruce Munro: Tropical Light’? 
I’m a big believer in working with what is already in the city, expanding on the existing built environment, encouraging the community to reimagine space and drawing attention to what would make it better. We already have a lot of things in Darwin terms of infrastructure and we need to do a better job of capitalising on what we have, rather than trying to reinvent ourselves. 

Darwin in the wet season is hot and sticky and people need to continually escape to cooler places in the middle of the day.  My project, the ‘Yellow Quick Road’, aims to highlight connections, encourage curiosity and offer a journey of discovery by guiding locals and visitors to the most direct, shaded and interesting routes through the CBD. It shows a different way through the city. 

One arrow will lead the curious to their next direction, a strip on the door explains what’s inside and a yellow beam of light will be seen at night in laneways and malls.  I’m excited to be given the opportunity for my type of design to be part of the ‘Tropical Light’ exhibition and the public realm more broadly. 

How long have you been a designer/installation artist?
I studied a Bachelor and Masters of Architecture at the University of Queensland and then I started working for Troppo Architects in Adelaide. I was there for a year before moving to Darwin, and continued working for Troppo for three years up here. That’s when there was a growing conversation around reactivating and revitalising the Darwin CBD. That was a conversation that really interested me but also really concerned me in terms of who was leading it and if there was going to be a holistic approach. So I stepped away from full-time work and got a part-time job so I could be more available to be a part of that conversation. I wasn’t arrogant enough to think I would be invited to be a part of that conversation but at least I wanted to be available. For the last three years I’ve been working in and around the arts. Obviously, I’m still a designer and always will be. That’s my training. But my involvement in installation art really started in the Darwin Fringe Festival in 2018. I was engaged to do their flagship event, which was a large scale fabric art installation constructed at Civic Park. That was completely made out of recyclable, reusable materials. There was over 300 square metres of completely reusable material, so that really kicked off my broader interest in installation art.

How has studying architecture helped you with your artwork?
The thing with architecture is it really encourages you to have a much broader perspective on things. It’s a very place-based process. An architectural project doesn’t start without a site and that’s important to think about in the context of an artwork. Focusing on how artists use place/site/location to influence the design outcomes of their work is an important part of the process. Architecture also teaches you a lot of problem solving skills and provides a broader picture and perspective. For example, I am designing this project but how does that relate to the space it is occupying? How does it affect the streetscape? What does that street or space look like in the broader context of the city? It’s always that broader thinking and perspective which informs installation art. 

How have you developed as an artist and where do you draw your inspiration from?
One of the early people that I was inspired by was an architect called Paul Pholeros, who has sadly passed away now. He was the Director for an organisation called Healthabitat, which worked on improving Indigenous housing. His methodology was very simple and low key. He said, ‘a new house makes a pretty picture but fixing someone’s showerhead that’s what really makes a difference’. That always had a big influence on me; trying to encourage people to do less rather than more. If you can do something, an artistic project, for less with less, why wouldn’t you? That is definitely reinforced by working in the arts more broadly. Anyone who works solidly in the arts knows they make a lot happen with very little.

How does an exhibition like ‘Bruce Munro: Tropical Light’ benefit you as a local artist?
Just being in that public realm. Sometimes, there’s a disconnect between architecture and the arts with the broader community which happens for many different reasons. So for me any opportunity to connect with the broader public is great and to provide ideas for conversation.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists who want to capture Darwin and the Top End in the lead-up to Tropical Light and during the event?
For me, it’s always about going back to the place, to where you are, and what your life experience and perspective is. The things I notice are very different to the things that someone else will notice and also very different to the things the visitor notices and that’s really great as well. There’s an interesting tipping point when you have lived in a place for a while. Sometimes your ability to see certain things starts to reduce. Sometimes an outside perspective can be really great, creative and beneficial and sometimes it can be patronising and that’s a really tricky balance to strike. But it’s always worth remembering that every single person has a unique perspective and a unique experience of a place and if you are presenting your perspective and experiences of a place, as long as it’s sticking within your cultural place, there’s no reason why that shouldn’t then translate to something that’s of interest to everyone else.