Dark delights: why nighttime is the time to get out in the world

Large-scale public events held after dark have been happening for years, but offerings today are next level, hosted in locations otherwise deserted at night.

For the first time, Abbotsford Convent has been transformed into a wonderland of artwork and illumination, thanks to Interspecies and Other Others. It’s a free, month long festival that comes to life after sunset, showcasing photography, projection, performances and music, with work by Abdul Abdullah, Megan Cope and more.

Reflected in the Sky by the Electric Canvas, part of this year’s White Night Bendigo.

At White Night Bendigo this Saturday, works by First Nations artists Troy Firebrace and Natasha Carter will be projected onto the historic city’s buildings, while a 10-metre-long golden lion-like creature will shimmer as it moves through the streets. There’s also a nine-metre-high unicorn head that pulses with light, a glowing human head of a similar size, and a Neon Dog Park.

Geelong will follow suit in October, its own White Night showcasing neon marine life along the foreshore, glowing eels under the water, with exhibitions and performances along the waterfront. The Shepparton event in June attracted 30,000 people and was roundly lauded.

The Guardian by A Blanck Canvas will appear at both Bendigo White Night on September 3 and in Geelong on October 8.

At the Royal Botanic Gardens, last month’s Lightscape was a joy to behold with those magnificent trees lit up, various light shows across the lake and the paths, the garden beds and in amid the foliage. Such a simple idea, I couldn’t help but wonder why it hadn’t been done before. It gave Melburnians and visitors a reason to head into the city, which needs all the help it can get, and will return next winter.

This year, Rising embraced the outdoor evening theme more ambitiously than ever. The Wilds saw giant inflatable neon sculptures dotted through the King’s Domain, while over the Yarra River, Robin Fox’s several kilometre long laser light capitalised on the river scape. A kooky, kitschy neon cathedral of sorts by Paul Yore on top of a city car park in Chinatown – and indeed all the programming as part of Golden Square this year – showed just how creative we can get about repurposing outdoor spaces.

A few years ago the Fire Gardens show at the Botanic Gardens as part of Rising (then the Melbourne International Arts Festival) was an absolute highlight, an extraordinary staging of the French Compagnie Carabosse’s work. But a show doesn’t have to be over-the-top to delight – that’s the joy of nighttime illumination. The added dimension of darkness and the inherent later scheduling means there’s an element to all such programming that makes it special even before you’ve started.

At the Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne, an after-dark bandicoot-spotting event scheduled for next week is selling quickly. I remember going on a similar wildlife hunt as a kid, at Brimbank Park in Melbourne’s west. My siblings and I wore our pyjamas and carried torches, eagerly looking for possums and whatever else might be looking down at us from the trees above. It stands out in my mind precisely because it was so unusual to be outside in the world in the pitch black; usually, we’d be tucked up and dreaming by that time. There were others on that nocturnal trek, too, which was also memorable: literal strangers in the night.

Lightscape at the Botanic Gardens attracted about 200,000 people and will be staged again next winter. Credit:Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria

Providing work for our artists is also a massive benefit of these undertakings. Smashed by COVID, the sector is struggling and needs support from the government and the community.

To embrace our outdoor spaces, to re-envisage and re-energise them is wonderful. In Melbourne and beyond, there’s a movement to reclaim the night and I am all for it.

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