6 March 2023

It's wild out there on the streets: Enlighten is here, in time for autumn

| Genevieve Jacobs
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National Portrait Gallery, Enlighten Festival.

National Portrait Gallery, Enlighten Festival. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

There’s a chill in the air, wild beasts are roaming the streets and it’s a jungle out there. But fear not: autumn is here and it’s time for Enlighten.

With the aid of a gigantic ornamental power point, the switch has been thrown on the city’s annual festival of lights, bathing the Parliamentary Triangle, Canberra’s light rail stops and destinations throughout the city in light.

Cooleman Court pharmacy assistant Danielle Peel and her mother Judith officiated at the ceremony after Danielle won a competition run by HIT 104.7FM, asking listeners to dob in parents who were strict with turning all the lights off at home.

It turns out that Judith wasn’t just pernickety about the light switches, but every power switch in the house, so as the clock struck 8, the pair had the honour of plugging in the city for the annual festival of illumination.

people with giant light switch

Danielle Peel (l) and her mother Judith (r) joined Chief Minister Andrew Barr to throw the switch on Enlighten 2023. Photo: Genevieve Jacobs.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr noted that despite challenging times during the pandemic, 2023 is Enlighten’s 13th birthday, making the festival “a precocious teenager” and welcome celebration of the city’s diversity.

“This year’s festival has an action packed program including a pride weekend, a range of cultural activities and the important partnership with the national cultural institutions”, he told the opening night crowd.

Each of the national institutions displays a specially designed illumination, ranging from the Djarraṯawun video and animation work at the National Gallery, portraying elemental forces and life cycles to Canberra based design studio Eggpicnic’s animations of trees, birds and insects found on Capital Hill, projected onto the front entrance at Parliament House.

The National Portrait Gallery has twinned its illuminations with Portrait23: Identity, their new contemporary art exhibition.

Spirits Shapeshifting blends watercolour and digital animation to create botanical dreamscapes, atmospheric skies, and kaleidoscopic visions of a future-fantastic forest inspired by the diverse cultural backgrounds of artists Kate Beynon, Rali Beynon and Michael Pablo.

The installation explores ideas of storytelling, kindred spirits, shapeshifting, fluid and hybrid identities through guardian spirits and talismanic imagery.

At the Museum of Australian Democracy, artist Trevor Dickinson, well known and loved for his renderings of our iconic bus shelters, has reimagined the people, their tools and workspaces in The People’s House, a free, hands-on experience for all ages.

And the National Library has gone all in, extending opening hours on Friday and Saturday evenings throughout Enlighten with a program that includes a jazz lounge in the foyer, exhibition galleries, a special Enlighten menu at Bookplate cafe and a board games library in the Main Reading Room.

Outside, the Library plays host to giant lawn games, hula hooping, face painting, skipping rope demonstrations from Jazzy Jumpers and food stalls.

There’s also a special Pride projection for the weekend of March 10-12 only, across all national institutions. It’s designed by Henry Nguyen, and represents the vibrancy and diversity of LGBTIQA+ communities. Henry says his work is inspired by daily conversations and observation on gender politics, gender-neutral storytelling, the human-nature relationship, the self and folklores.

READ ALSO Pssst … did you know there’s more to Enlighten than its signature events?

A variety of other standalone illuminations have also been placed around the central festival site including Cultural Elements, a project designed and produced by staff from the University of Canberra that celebrates key Indigenous elements symbolising respect for the Ngunnawal people.

Enlighten program events begin each night at 6pm and architectural projections are lit up from 8pm – 11pm.

Around the city, the City Renewal Authority is collaborating with Events ACT and the Cultural Facilities Corporation to expand the festival’s footprint.

Illuminated prehistoric beasts and inflated aliens will be visible every night in Civic Square and City Walk from 5 pm and life-sized puppets, including a T-Rex and prehistoric emu, are also roving our streets from 6:30 pm each night.

The puppets are the brainchild of Erth production company and represent prehistoric creatures from the first early life forms to dinosaurs.

At the Canberra Museum and Gallery and Canberra Theatre, there’s a performance program throughout the festival, new exhibitions and family activities at CMAG and a themed bar on the Theatre terrace.

And just to one-up the inflatable beasts outside, CMAG has an actual fossilised Diprotodon skeleton in the foyer, on loan from the Australia Museum.

Inside the Canberra Centre there’s a space-themed activation until March 19, including eleven giant inflatable forms up to 6.5m tall, representing rockets, satellite dishes, moon rocks and UFO’s.

There’s a free shuttle bus running between the Enlighten venues across the lake and Civic from 5 pm each night, with final services terminating in Civic at 11:30 pm.

Find out more about the illuminations and further details about access, food and entertainment here. Enlighten runs until March 19.

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Capital Retro9:02 am 09 Mar 23

Like most public exhibitions in Canberra this one is over-weighted with indigenous, diversity and LGBTIQA+ issues which represent less than 10% of the general population.

I haven’t been this year and I know a lot of the usual attendees have given it a miss too.

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