Long White Cloud by Bill Culbert

'Long White Cloud' by Bill Culbert

  • <p>Bill, Culbert, <em>Long White Cloud, </em>1985, plastic bottles, fluorescent tube, transformer, 1500mm x variable, Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, purchased 1996. Image courtesy of Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection.</p>

Story by Brianna Gillanders

Museum and Heritage Studies, 2021.

Artist:

Bill Culbert

What is it?

What are plastic bottles doing hung up on a wall? What sort of image is the artist trying to create? What does this sculpture have to do with Aotearoa? These are some of the questions that may come to mind while you are looking at Long White Cloud.

Consisting of a diverse range of plastic bottles strung onto a fluorescent tube, Bill Culbert’s Long White Cloud (1985) is located on the first level of Victoria University’s library and is a familiar feature for many students and staff due to its prominent placement. This is a fascinating piece within the university’s collection although it can come across as difficult to understand.

What does it mean?

Long White Cloud can be read in several different ways.

The Māori word for New Zealand, Aotearoa, roughly translates in English to ‘long white cloud’, so this sculpture is perhaps a representation of New Zealand in some form.

Long White Cloud is often thought to represent the mountainous peaks of the South Island where Culbert spent his childhood. However, due to the non-representational nature of Culbert’s art, it is likely that the sculpture holds a deeper meaning, going beyond a simple representation of mountains.

What can materials tell us about the meaning?

The materials that Culbert has used are an important component of the artwork’s meaning. New Zealand is a country that shamelessly labels itself as ‘green’. The use of plastic bottles flips the script, associating a supposedly eco-friendly country with a material that directly opposes New Zealand’s green image.

Light is also just as much a material in the sculpture as the plastic bottles are. Manipulation of light is something that Culbert played with extensively throughout his successful art career and Long White Cloud is no exception. In this sculpture, containers that once held liquids have now become vessels for light.

Every component of Long White Cloud has been thoughtfully curated by Culbert to express something about his homeland, Aotearoa. However, it seems that when it comes to the meaning of this sculpture, there is no right or wrong answer. The power of this artwork lies within the viewer.

Challenge yourself to spend time in front of the artwork and answer these questions:

  • Why do you think this sculpture has been called Long White Cloud?
  • What sort of image is the artist trying to create?
  • What does this sculpture make you think about Aotearoa?
  • Why do you think plastic bottles have been used?
  • Look at how light plays a role in the painting. How does the quality of light change depending on which bottle the fluorescent light runs through?
  • How does the artwork make you feel?

Refurbishing 'Long White Cloud':

Due to its fragile nature and the lifespan of the fluorescent light tube, Long White Cloud has undergone numerous refurbishments throughout its lifetime. The most recent refurbishment took place in 2018. Interestingly, each refurbishment used a different selection of plastic bottles each resulting in a different ‘feel’.

Scroll through a few of the different variations below:

  • <p>Bill, Culbert, <em>Long White Cloud, </em>1985, plastic bottles, fluorescent tube, transformer, 1500mm x variable, Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, purchased 1996. Image courtesy of Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection.</p>
  • <p>Bill, Culbert, <em>Long White Cloud, </em>1985, plastic bottles, fluorescent tube, transformer, 1500mm x variable, Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, purchased 1996. Image courtesy of Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection.</p>
  • <p>Bill, Culbert, <em>Long White Cloud, </em>1985, plastic bottles, fluorescent tube, transformer, 1500mm x variable, Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, purchased 1996. Image courtesy of Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection.</p>

Go see 'Long White Cloud' in person:

Victoria University Kelburn Campus, Kelburn Parade, Wellington, Wellington 6012, New Zealand