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From waste to wonder: The transcendent beauty of Kōwhai Grove art installation

04 Jul 2023

In a remarkable display of creativity and environmental consciousness, artist Bobbie Gray has created a captivating art installation that has taken over the Grey Street Arcade in downtown Tauranga. This impressive project, titled Kōwhai Grove, was brought to life through Resene paint colours and people dedicated to upcycling plastic bottles and reducing waste. 

The intricate details and the transformative power of this installation include 14,784 single-use plastic bottles that were transformed into 2,464 flowers and leaves, each adorned with programmable LED lights.

The abundance of these kowhai flowers offers an important message about recycling alongside their beauty. These flowers were painted in the shades Resene Pizza, Resene Japanese Laurel, Resene Limeade and Resene Half Limerick. 

The primary shade used for the sepal, the top part of the flower, was the captivating hue of Resene Pizza. This vibrant colour formed the base, which was skilfully mixed with various shades of green, including Resene Japanese Laurel, Resene Limeade, and Resene Half Limerick. The resulting fusion produced a captivating range of hues, mimicking the natural tones found in nature and within the kōwhai flower.

The vibrant shades of Resene Pizza, Resene Japanese Laurel, Resene Limeade, and Resene Half Limerick represent the true beauty of the Kōwhai flower, lit up with LED lights.

Each flower required five distinct bottles to fashion the sepal, outer petal, inner petal, stamen, carpel, and a separate bottle for the leaf. Bobbie, with the help from locals in the community, meticulously hand-cut and melted the bottles before expertly coating them with vibrant Resene colours.

In the spirit of community engagement and environmental education, several workshops were conducted in collaboration with Envirohub Bay of Plenty. These workshops offered participants an opportunity to actively contribute to the creation of the art installation, fostering a sense of shared ownership and pride in the final result.

Brightening this public space, the 2,464 flowers and leaves bring joy to passers-by. Painted in Resene Pizza, Resene Japanese Laurel, Resene Limeade and Resene Half Limerick.

The true magic of the Kōwhai Grove installation lies in the final display of the upcycled plastic bottle flowers and leaves. Each meticulously crafted piece was fitted with a programmable LED light, allowing the installation to come alive in a mesmerising dance of colour and light. Suspended in clusters above the Grey Street Arcade, the illuminated blossoms create an enchanting and immersive atmosphere for visitors and passers-by. 

Commissioned by the Tauranga City Council, the Kōwhai Grove art installation is part of a broader initiative to rejuvenate the city centre. With its semi-permanent status, the installation is poised to grace the urban landscape for a minimum of two years, serving as a captivating symbol of creativity, sustainability, and community engagement.


Artist Bobbie Gray standing proud next to her art installation, Kōwhai Grove. 

“Kōwhai Grove was an opportunity to create a welcoming and engaging space for local communities and visitors to my hometown of Tauranga,” Bobbie says. “It was a chance to reimagine a public space, Grey Street arcade, a place that ebbs and flows, where people come and go, meet, and gather as locals go about their day to day.

“The work is designed to impress with its sheer scale, not only representing our native kōwhai - one of the best known native trees and our unofficial national flower - but also being made from single-use plastics the work highlights the sheer scale of our plastic pandemic.

“Kōwhai Grove is a collaborative light-based installation showcasing the potential of used plastic as a material for making art. Each delicate flower has been hand crafted by myself, as well as members of the Bay of Plenty community using plastic water bottles that were collected locally, diverting thousands of single-use plastics from landfill. 

“Kōwhai Grove serves as a stark reminder of the impact our waste has on the planet and its inhabitants and hopes to inspire viewers to rethink their own consumption.”

Visit Kōwhai Grove for yourself at Grey Street Arcade, Tauranga.

Published: 04 Jul 2023