Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Melbourne on a White Night (Part 2)

Last post, I described the first part of our evening exploring Melbourne's first White Night festival. The adventure continues...

After we left the NGV we headed back across the Yarra River via Princes Bridge. This sturdy old thoroughfare was decorated with solid letters spelling out "WHITE NIGHT", being progressively decorated by artists as the night wore on:


The intersection of Swanston and Flinders Streets, though a vast expanse, was almost completely full of people listening to music played on a temporary stage. The musicians were performing "under the clocks" of Flinders Street Station, the time-honoured Melburnian meeting place, while the building's facade flickered with impressive illuminations:


Across the intersection we were surprised to find a relatively unpopulated space, the car park in front of the Chapter House next to St Paul's Cathedral. It was a brilliant place to pause, as the building was the screen for a dynamic series of animations which were tightly mapped to its facade. I shot a short sequence - check it out below:


The station and the Chapter House were the prelude to what the White Night organisers called Wonderland, "evoking memories of grand illuminations and re-imagined carnivals". The name was a fair call, as every single building on the north side of Flinders Street toward Russell Street had its own set of changing projections:


Best of all was the ornate 1920s Forum Theatre on the Russell Street corner. While waiting in a queue for a burger truck which closed for restocking when we were second from the front (sigh), I took these shots:



We ate pizzas at a cafe in Federation Square, and were impressed with how prompt the service was at 2am. That was something we noticed all night - officials running things and staff serving food and drink were friendly and efficient. It was impressive, given the stress that must have been caused by the unexpectedly large crowds.

Crossing the Flinders/Swanston intersection at 2.30am was much more difficult than it had been an hour or two earlier, because popular local band The Cat Empire was on stage by then. This was the only time I thought the crowds were a potential hazard, as the area was now packed tight with bodies and it wasn't hard to imagine someone getting trampled in a panic.

But we made it across, stood for a few minutes to take in the music (the acoustics were terrible), then decided to move on up Swanston Street. At City Square, there was an entertaining show involving both "interactive shadows" and the general public:


We finished watching the shadows, then realised we were very very tired and weren't going to make it to dawn. So we walked back to our apartment, the happy crowds thinning as we reached Elizabeth Street, and went to bed.

Melbourne's first White Night had been a great experience; I often found my thoughts wandering back to it over the next few days. There were obviously issues involving space and crowds which would have to be worked out for its next occurrence, but most people agreed it had been a huge success.

What made it special wasn't just the conjunction of unconventional art with an unconventional all-night timeslot. It was above all the vibe, the friendly, enthusiastic, joyous mood that coursed through the crowds all night. I've always found Melbourne an unusually positive city for whatever reason (there's a PhD waiting for someone on that topic), and here was that positivity again on display.

It was a great night. Can't wait for White Night 2014.

An official date for Melbourne's next White Night has yet to be set, but will likely be the final Saturday in February 2014. Check the White Night website closer to the date.