Melbourne is brought to life during White Night as over half a million people surge into the city centre for an all-night display of light, music and carousing. These crowds are invited to enjoy an array of attractions, comprising various installations, projections and performances. However, some critics assume that large light festivals offer a spectacle that is passively consumed by bedazzled onlookers. This was emphatically not the case at White Night. First of all, certain installations solicit the participation of visitors, without whom they would not be invigorating. Carla O’Brien’s Angel Wings encourage people to position themselves between two large illuminated wings and assume a heavenly pose for the camera, while Pierre Ardouvin’s installation, Purple Rain, devised in homage to popular music icon Prince, entreats visitors to collect a transparent umbrella and walk through a fine purple rain, an experience accentuated by the venue of the event: the narrow Little Lonsdale Street, with its tall buildings and reflecting wet tarmac.
Secondly, numerous festival-goers dress up for the occasion, some wearing absurd wigs or glamorous clothes, others clutching light sabres or adorning themselves with illuminated headgear. These participants significantly contribute to the festive atmosphere of White Night; they are an integral part of its success.
Thirdly, putting themselves firmly in the picture were around 100 protestors who were campaigning against the city’s rather harsh rough sleeping laws. Assembled across the forecourt of the State Library of Victoria upon the façade of which a colourful projection played, they chanted and sang, held aloft banners, brandished an illuminated sign, ‘No Homeless Ban’ and occasionally projected the same slogan across the portico of the library. In hijacking the display, they thoroughly contributed to the sense of event while powerfully making their point.
February 20th, 2017 - 04:42am
For me, the Carlton Gardens offered the most exciting experiences of Melbourne’s White Night. The south-facing façade of the venerable Royal Exhibition Building provided a superb screen for the captivating projection Rhythms of the Night by Sydney based Artists in Motion. The Southern edge of the park hosted the enticing Sonic Light Bubble by Iness and Tim Newman’s ever-changing Pixel Tree. But I was particularly lured to the Melbourne Museum Plaza. Situated here was the wonderful Nebulous, a pulsing, kinetic sculpture designed by Alex Sanson, a.k.a. Metaform, a strange cyborgian entity that seems to be both organic and mechanical. The intricate frame of the spherical creature, formed from delicate steel spokes and large, shiny sequins, slowly expanded and contracted, offering a quiet, mesmerising counterpoint to the wild Pyrophone Juggernaut some 300 metres away.
The Pyrophone Juggernaut, a futuristic ship assembled from junkyard metal and plastic lay enigmatically quiescent as coloured light played across its strange form. Suddenly though, a giant flame shot skywards from the mast and six riotous crew members clambered aboard to bring it to life, producing an unearthly, cacophonous music and a whirl of movement. The large freight liner alloy wheels and gongs were percussively thrashed as the three steel pipe organs that formed the ship’s sails emitted deep, resonant moans. These primeval sounds were generated by fire, that most elemental of light sources, projected from propane torches and shooting out of the top of the tubes. Swathed in ever-shifting colours of projected light, swirling dry ice and surging flames, the juggernaut is an awesome, compelling spectacle that conjures up both a post-apocalyptic future and an ancient, tribal pre-history.
February 20th, 2017 - 04:38am
Alice Barnaby’s recently published book, Light Touches: Cultural Practices of Illumination, (https://www.routledge.com/Light-Touches-Cultural-Practices-of-Illumination-1800-1900/Barnaby/p/book/9780415663373) offers a fascinating, theoretically sophisticated and critical exploration of the development of 19th century light. By drawing on a remarkable range of examples, Alice demonstrates how the everyday world was dramatically transformed by the use of illumination and daylight, with the emergence of new materials, innovative designs and novel aesthetics. Yet rather than considering this as a top down process through which capitalists, scientists and bureaucrats dispensed illumination, people themselves were intimately involved in the evolution of new ways of presenting public space, their homes and their own bodies. In middle class homes, ladies of leisure experimented with new forms of painting that relied on light to produce transparent images. They also investigated the properties with muslin as a material with which to drape across windows, furniture and their own bodies, playing with its diaphanous qualities. Gin palaces and sites of amusement lured in visitors to enjoy the multiple reflections produced by new technologies that deployed mirrors, creating spaces of fascination, sociability and display, with their refracting shimmers and multiple reflections. People participated in illuminated patriotic, royalist and military celebrations, yet such occasions could be unruly, offering opportunities for violence and political protest before their later evolution into more peaceful events. And in developing a range of contesting aesthetics, artists and gallery owners initiated the use of daylighting to enchant the works they displayed. In drawing on a diverse array of theories and examples, Light Touches reveals that the radical transformation in sensory experience heralded by new techniques of illumination was not merely part of governmental systems of control and rationalisation nor generated by passively consumed spectacles. Instead, in working with the possibilities offered by these developments in illumination, ordinary people fully participated in the dramatic changes in how the world was perceived, produced and judged through experimentation, imaginative play and adaptation.
January 23rd, 2017 - 00:53am
Besides the vernacular endeavours featured in the entry below, Melbourne has also commemorated the festive season by installing a giant illuminated bauble in the city centre’s Federation Square. Like the huge Christmas lights in New York featured on this blog two years ago (http://www.lightresearch.mmu.ac.uk/the-seasonal-lights-of-manhattan/), the bauble reimagines and honours an ordinary domestic decoration, a familiar adornment on the Christmas tree in millions of homes, but defamiliarizes it by enlarging it to gigantic scale.
From a distance, it looks magical, especially with the façade of St Paul’s Cathedral in the background. This six meter high white bauble, however, has an entrance on two sides and invites visitors to enter into it, so they may be surrounded above and laterally by thousands of tiny, glittering lights, so that they may also engage with the installation at close quarters. This is a design devised for the selfie generation, and indeed, throughout the evening, numerous photographs are taken of groups and individuals both outside and inside the bauble, producing a sociable, interactive hubbub on the square.
December 29th, 2016 - 10:00am
Melbourne’s Christmas lights shine brightly across its suburbs, installed by householders to bring a seasonal splash of colour, animation and illumination. Unlike the Christmas lights that adorn the exteriors of British houses that we studied back in 2009 (see Edensor, T. and Millington, S. (2009a) ‘Illuminations, class identities and the contested landscapes of Christmas’, Sociology 43(1): 103–121), most of these houses are owned by middle class residents and do not seem to suffer the abuse meted out by others, who deride them and their inhabitants as tacky, irresponsible, showy, wasteful and worse. Instead, the displays are widely popular, and while in the UK they seem to be dwindling in number, in Melbourne they are expanding as a key element of the Yuletide experience. Newspapers and websites detail where the most extravagant displays can be found, and car loads of festive celebrants visit them, chatting to their creators and taking photographs and videos. They clearly demand a great deal of time and energy to arrange and establish, as well as technical expertise. These ordinary suburban houses and gardens and the streets to which they belong are transformed into sites of sociable fun and spectacle. At one upmarket street, The Boulevard, in Ivanhoe, thousands of visitors arrive each night, with many small children hoisted up to see the illuminations that garb the houses and gardens of dozens of adjacent properties, carrying on a tradition initiated by these residents of this area in the 1950s. We feature these examples to highlight the diverse forms of lighting that are employed, from the choreographed shows set to music, and others, equally animated, that rely on lighting alone.
December 27th, 2016 - 09:16am