Wednesday, March 21, 2018

White Night Ballarat

On Saturday (18th March) I went to see White Night Ballarat. This is the second time it has come to my home town; the first time was last year. Before then Victorian white nights were only in Melbourne. 

This year was a success by all accounts, with an estimate of 60,000 visitors, impressive for a city of only 100,000 people, and more than came last year. Some of the works were imported from the Melbourne White Night a few weeks ago, but by no means all (and I didn't see the Melbourne White night this year, so I'm not making comparisons; I also saw only about half of the Ballarat event). It was a very windy night in Ballarat, and this caused a couple of things to be cancelled, including the chandeliers by Debra Goldsmith, but otherwise things seemed go very smoothly. There was a good atmosphere, with people of all ages simply having a good time. Central Ballarat suits White Night well, with plenty of historic fa├žades for projections and several suitable venues for indoor events, all compactly located in two or three blocks.

What sort of work succeeds at a White Night? The audience consists of all ages, including young children, and there are large crowds moving through the streets and the venues. So, colour and movement is a big plus, "adult" themes are problematic, and a duration of five minutes or less is good. And a surprise twist of some kind is an asset.

I felt that certain things have become close to routine at these events, and I have seen a number of White-Night-like events in several cities in the last few years. Firstly, projections onto historic buildings. The technology has matured: in Ballarat the images were bright and clear, and the precision with which windows, columns and other architectural features were outlined and made use of was remarkable. Unfortunately, I have tended not to pay much attention to the content. The only projection that has really stuck in my mind was from a Melbourne White Night a few years ago, in the State Library: it showed various viruses, including the HIV virus, at enormous scale.

Secondly, illuminated sculptures, which move or are interactive. Not so evident in Ballarat this time, though the work Metamorphosis, by Indirect Object and A Blanck Canvas, provided an example. This is a group of interconnected cocoon-like shapes, which respond with sound and colour when touched (or thumped by small children). A work I found more appealing was Enlightened Disciples by Skunk Control, a large collection of flower-like objects (with several prominent thistles), illuminated with changing colours.

Thirdly, works that move through the streets, including performers on stilts and mobile sculptures. The White Night Messenger was in Ballarat this year, an engaging work, part of whose appeal is that the puppeteers who control the work are out in the open. I am sorry that I missed Utility Kinetic Insect.

And fourthly, music and dance stages, providing a festival within a festival.

There are certainly many events outside these four categories. As some examples, in Ballarat the Art Gallery of Ballarat, the Post Office Gallery (Federation University) and the Lost Ones Gallery showed the various exhibitions they currently have on display. There were events related to the Eureka Stockade rebellion, a defining moment in Ballarat history. And among the many events I missed was the blitz chess tournament (very fast play) at the Ballaarat Mechanics Institute. ("Ballaarat" is an older spelling of the city's name.)

I'll close by mentioning two works that have strong Ballarat connections, one out in the streets, one inside (in a small theatre space). The first was Bunjil, consisting of 48 sculptures of a flying eagle. These lit up in quick succession, providing a kind of stop-motion animation. The reference is to the creator spirit Bunjil who is prominent in the Indigenous culture of central and Western Victoria; the Indigenous artist consultants for the work were the prominent Ballarat artists Marlene Gilson and Deanne Gilson. This work was in Sturt Street in the centre of Ballarat and was impressive, simple and effective; good White Night material.

The second work was Random Number Generator by Christine Tammer and Erin McCuskey, two active local creators. This is a three channel video, which I thought was the most interesting thing I saw on the night, but was not good White Night material. It was too long, too complex, and it needed a hint: this is the world as seen through the eyes of a poker machine. Fortunately I knew the hint (from the White Night website), and I found the work engrossing, but most of the audience evidently found the work mystifying and boring.

So Ballarat's White Night was a great success and a good event all round, but not surprisingly there \are definite limits to the sort of work that will go well in a White Night environment,


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