This year, Melbourne celebrated its fourth annual White Night, a feast for the senses displaying all things creative, laid out through the city for one night only. From 7 pm to 7 am, the city is transformed into a wonderland of the unexpected, and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to discover it.
Conceived in Paris in 2002, Nuit Blanche (White Night) is an all-night arts festival which allows the community to experience a city’s creative scene in a completely different way. It didn’t take long for the concept to catch on, and now White Nights are held in over 120 cities around the world. Melbourne held Australia’s first White Night in 2013, drawing crowds of over 300,000.
For this celebration of culture and creativity, Melbourne’s streets and laneways, public spaces, parklands and cultural institutions are taken over by lighting, installations, exhibitions, film, music, street performances and interactive events. Streets are closed off, public transport is reconfigured and businesses change their hours as the masses descend on the Central Business District. All I can think is that it must really be a bitch to organize. But the result is so worth it.
Being that the peak hours of the event are from 9 pm- midnight, in an effort the avoid the worst of the crowds, I arrived in the CBD around 1 am. Functioning at this time was a feat unto itself, but I had many hours of exploration ahead of me. I’ve done the math, and with over 70 unique locations to visit, even if you attended the event for the full 12 hours, you would need to squeeze in 6.4 sites per hour. That’s less than ten minutes at each spot, not even factoring in travel time, lines or the fact that the run time for many of the displays is well over ten minutes. Conclusion: it is quite literally impossible to catch all of the offerings of the evening. I plotted out my must-sees, and still didn’t manage to visit them all before calling it quits around 6:30 am.
With the precinct map at the ready, I started in the northernmost section and worked my way to the bottom. The following are the highlights of what I experienced, but they don’t scratch the surface of all that the festival had to offer.
Pitcha Makin Fellas
The first display we came across was simply stunning, and set the bar high for the night. On the facade of the Royal Exhibition Building, a lighting projection by the Pitcha Makin Fellas told the story of the six Aboriginal seasons. The gorgeous colors and imagery paired with the sheer size of the Exhibition Building resulted in a mesmerizing production, and had the crowds to prove it. I caught the show a couple times through from different angles, captivated by the level of skill and creativity that must have gone into its execution.
“Incubator,” designed by Craig Walsh in the Melbourne City Baths, turned the pool into a “petri dish of luminescent life forms” using projections and 3D animation. I was excited for this exhibit, and a little underwhelmed by its presentation. While some orbs floated around the pool, a reptilian-looking creature waded through them. I was prepared for something a little more eerie and unexpected. While it was still an interesting exhibition, I wasn’t blown away.
Melburnian artist Lisa Roet reflects her interest in the relationship between humans and primates in her work. For White Night she created “Golden Monkey” for display at Melbourne’s Town Hall, the details of which were kept discreet until the night of the event. What we received was a ten meter, larger-than-life inflatable monkey scaling the facade of Town Hall. It was a fun sight to come across whilst walking down the main strip of White Night on Swanston Street.
When there is a line wrapped around the side of a building until the wee hours of the morning, you know whatever is showcasing inside has to be good. We queued up outside the State Library to check out “Ideation” well past 3 am, surprisingly still full of energy. What awaited us inside turned out to be my very favorite part of the evening. Inside the La Trobe Reading Room, soundscapes and illuminated projections across the domed ceiling celebrated “the power of libraries to teach, inspire and grow.” The reading room was absolutely filled with people, many of which were lying on the tables and floors to better take in the images soaring over them. The multi-sensory exhibit was intended to create an “ecosystem of imagination,” and I believe the artists created just that. The beauty and scale of the show were amazing, and I could have watched it again and again.
You may have seen my post about Melbourne’s famous laneways full of street art. “Neon Laneway” turned part of the famous Hosier Lane into a spooky, fluorescent-glowing alley of intrigue. The graffiti was so vibrant it almost seemed to pop off the walls. There were even dance performances in the laneway throughout the evening, which I would have loved to see, but unfortunately missed. However, I did not feel at all deprived with my experience, and spent a good deal of time wandering through the laneway to take it all in.
Staged on the Yarra River which runs straight through the city, “Aqua Vitae” was a laser and light show celebrating the vital resource that is water. Set to music and hovering above the water, the show was entrancing, especially to my fatigued mind, as at this point it was around 6 am.