Thursday 28 February 2013

Melbourne on a White Night (Part 1)

On 23 February 2013, Melbourne held its first White Night. Based on the model established by Paris' Nuit Blanche back in 2002, the one-night festival ran from 7pm to 7am in the heart of the city. Along the main streets and laneways were bands, illuminations, exhibitions, and over 300,000 people enjoying it all.

The numbers surprised everyone, frankly. Melbourne has always been a city in which people turn out for events, but this first White Night had been put together on short notice and faced challenges in getting the word out over the holiday period after Xmas.

I'd heard they were hopeful that 100,000 might turn up; that attendance was over three times that was a great tribute to the city's love of the arts.

As it had been a hot humid day, Narrelle and I decided not to venture out onto the streets until 9pm, after the sun had set. The first hint we had that the attendance was going to be impressive was when we crossed Flinders Street on the western edge of the White Night zone:

We walked under the train station past a series of screens playing video of artists discussing the crumbling interior of Flinders Street Station, then joined a multitude on the pedestrian bridge across the Yarra River, some looking west toward large white balls onto which were projected short messages of love submitted by the public.

I did find myself idly wondering how many people the bridge had been designed to carry, but it held up all right. Looking east, we could see the big White Night sign on Princes Bridge:

Given the crowds, we decided to bypass the core of the event and start at the Arts Centre on the river's south bank. Miraculously managing to score two wicker chairs at the cafe in the forecourt, we awaited the coming of Joey at 10.30pm. The huge puppet horse from the War Horse production at the Arts Centre was scheduled to make a one-off appearance in the forecourt, and it was an impressive one.

People crowded close to the "horse", smiling and taking photos. What was remarkable was how convincing it was as an animal even up close; whenever it reared or neighed, we flinched as if it might panic and trample us. Our brains knew it wasn't real, but our emotions had their own ideas.

Here's some video I shot as Joey returned from his circuit through the forecourt:

Next stop was the National Gallery of Victoria's international branch, right on the southern edge of the White Night zone. There were big crowds here, but movement was relatively easy and there were some great things to see.

On the outside of the building were rolling projections depicting famous works from the NGV's collections...

... inside the entrance was a relaxed zone where people could draw comic books...

... and within the Great Hall beneath Leonard French's famous kaleidoscopic ceiling, this huge temporary structure of foam by Michel Blazy was immensely popular. So popular, in fact, that the rowdier element within the crowd were pressing against the barriers and grabbing handfuls of the sticky stuff. Oh well, the night was supposed to be about interaction with art.

A wave at the odd guy seen below, and we were out into the night...

It was well past midnight now - surely that'd mean that many people would head home on the last trains of the night and the crowds would thin a little? We would soon find out...

NEXT POST: A visit to Wonderland, Fed Square in the wee hours, the Cat Empire crush and shadow play like you've never seen it before.

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

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