A tired but relieved Reg Mombassa has admitted letting millions of people around the world peer ”inside” his head as part of Sydney’s New Year’s Eve extravaganza was a somewhat nervy experience.
The short fireworks show, between the main fireworks at 9pm and midnight, was based on Mombassa’s work Cranium Universe and depicted the inner workings of the artist’s brain as a group of planets and stars.
”It’s about the idea that every human perceives the world and the universe at large in their own head, really,” he says. ”It’s an illusion in some respects although I do believe that reality exists.”
The centrepiece of Mombassa’s contribution to the night was the unveiling of a single blinking eye on the Harbour Bridge gazing down on the 1.5 million revellers.
”Eyes are interesting,” he said. ”Everyone is fascinated by eyes. The first thing you look at in a face is the eye. Also with the harbour setting, the eye is like a watery harbour in the landscape of the face as well as being the window to the soul – and the soul is theoretically a fairly deep piece of work.”
Mombassa’s characteristic absurdist artwork was seen all around the city on hundreds of 4.5-metre banners as well as on the sides of buses and on thousands of posters before the event.
”I really appreciated being asked to do it,” he said. ”There are hundreds of artists who would have liked to have a crack at it. I really appreciated having a wider audience for my stuff.”
Mombassa, who was involved in the 2000 Olympic closing ceremony, said New Year’s Eve 2013 was a career highlight, but he was not expecting a repeat performance for 2014. ”I think it’s a one-shot job, really. I probably could do it again but I’m not sure I’d want to. Someone else should do it; you shouldn’t hog something like that.”
Art critic John McDonald is not entirely convinced about the artistic merit of Sydney’s New Year’s Eve spectacle – despite the input this year from Mombassa.
”He’s a recognised artist and a very versatile figure,” he said. ”Whether that gives the whole spectacle more integrity, I think that’s really in the eye of the beholder. I don’t think you can analyse fireworks very deeply.”
McDonald was surprised at Mombassa’s role, describing him as an ”intimate artist”. ”He does very lyrical and quirky things, but usually it’s on a pretty small scale. It was kind of strange to see him dragged up into the spotlight.” He also said the pressure to keep making the fireworks bigger and better would only become more intense each year.
Former Sydney Festival director Leo Schofield agreed. ”You’ve always got to do something as good as your last,” he said. ”There’s always this urge to do something novel and new, and a public expectation that should be such.”
Schofield was not present at Tuesday night’s celebrations but had a more liberal approach to the artistic merits of the display.
”I think they are a great celebratory and ceremonial thing,” he said. ”Once upon a time, they were works of art. Great historical celebrations have always been marked by fireworks.”
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