When the switch is thrown tonight in the Parliamentary Zone and the six national institutions come to life in a parade of colour for the Enlighten Festival it won’t just be a time to stare in wonder.
See, Eat and Explore is the festival mantra and this year there will be more interactive installations than ever for people to touch, play with and be amazed by, as well events inside the national attractions and more food stalls around the precinct to augment the Night Noodle Markets.
The festival has taken up multiple themes this year, including the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and 50 years of gay law reform. And for the first time, the National Gallery’s projection has gone digital, allowing moving images.
Both the National Portrait Gallery and Questacon will feature imagery related to Apollo 11’s 1969 mission to the moon, with the ever-popular interactive photobooth returning to the NPG. It will snap you in a space helmet or as an alien and project your image on to the building. Later you can head to the selfie area to capture it for posterity.
Peter Milne from the company responsible for the projections, Electric Canvas, says thousands lined up in the previous two festivals and he expects even more to participate this year.
He says there are 25,000 lines of code involved in the program, which is adapted each year to look and behave differently.
Over at the National Gallery, Electric Canvas has adapted the work of celebrated Indigenous artist Tony Albert and crafted a literally moving six-minute visual and textual journey. Make the effort to view it from different vantage points.
Meanwhile, the facade of Old Parliament House will come alive with spectacular illuminations featuring graphics from some of the Museum of Australian Democracy’s biggest exhibitions, including Democracy. Are You In?, Behind the Lines and DressUP: Change the World.
The other institutions – Parliament House and the National Library – will also come to life with their own unique illuminations across the extended 11-night Enlighten season.
Outside of the main festival area, the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings in Civic will feature work by local artist Hannah Quinlivan, commissioned for the light rail stations, while the National Botanic Gardens is hosting the fourth Luminous Botanicus on two weekends of the festival, including an after-dark, self-guided discovery tour and illuminated trees paying tribute to the koala.
Peter says the Gardens job was probably the simplest but one of the most enjoyable to do.
But on the ground and in the water, the installations, all 11 of them, will be calling for festival-goers to get involved.
Festival executive producer Vickii Cotter said one of the key things organisers wanted to do this year was increase the number of installations in the festival precinct. There is even for the first time a sound installation, Beneath the Surface, by Tim Duck, an immersive soundscape that shows listeners what they would hear under the waters of Lake Burley Griffin.
It is staged in conjunction with a 40 metre long, water-filled inflatable sculpture called Animalcule, based on a single cell organism, sited in the Reflection Pond. It has been created by Sydney artists Maurice Goldberg and Matthew Aberlime, who revel in people touching and having fun with their works.
“We like people to touch our stuff. We’re not frightened of people interacting with our stuff. A lot of our work is about what causes happiness,” they say.
They have also collaborated with Indigenous artists from the Pilbara on another installation, Red Air, a vibrant 4m high, 10m long work positioned in front of the Reflection Pond.
The artists say it’s a surreal landscape that is a new way of talking about what it means to be Australian.
You can also try your hand at creating melodies and light shows with Light Chimes or make customised glowing sculptures with Morphology as you make customised glowing sculptures.
Over in Civic, the Canberra Centre will be bringing back the popular Jellyfish Bloom installation, with giant interactive jellyfish being installed within the centre, on Bunda Street. And the City Renewal Authority will stage the Haig Park Pickture Festival from 1-3 March.
The national institutions, of course, are opening their doors for a rare after-dark experience with special events such as the collaborative evolving artwork 33 Revolutions at MOAD.
It gives people the opportunity to creatively express opinions and political ideas, inspired by the transformative power of music, and explores songs of protest and covers themes including People Power, Equality for All and Celebrate Diversity.
Visitors are encouraged to decorate a vinyl record relating to an issue they are passionate about and contribute to the collaborative artwork that will take shape in King’s Hall and continue to grow and evolve throughout the festival.
Look out for plenty of family activities at the institutions such as the brand new DressUP and Zine Lounge at MOAD for older kids.
Tonight, the NGA will hold an opening night street party.
“I love the fact that they open the buildings and people are able to go and see them in a different light,” says Vickii.
There will also be entertainment on the main stage, the Bentspoke Beer garden and Enlighten Alley.
Activities start from 6 pm and switch-on is at 8:15 tonight, after a smoking ceremony in collaboration with the Tent Embassy to welcome the festival. All other nights the illuminations go up at 8 pm.
The Enlighten Festival runs from 1-17 March, with events across Canberra.
For the full program and calendar go here.