Monday, March 12, 2012

The light on the hill

I’m a sucker for pretty lights. Christmas lights, coloured lights, fairy lights, candle light, there’s something about low lights twinkling and flickering that makes me feel like I’ve entered a magical world, my own private Narnia.

So it’s not a surprise that I’ve been spending so much time at ENLIGHTEN, part of the Canberra Festival. For the second year now the exteriors of Canberra’s cultural institutions have become canvases for an art show made entirely of light.

It’s a chance to see the majestic white buildings literally in a new light, and they are truly entrancing.

Like thousands of visitors over the past week I've wandered around at night and did my best to capture the moment on my camera. My favourite art show was on the National Library. I’m used to seeing the white pillars of this 1968 Acropolis-like structure stand out against its lake setting, so seeing it awash with subtle colours and patterns was extraordinary.

My other favourite was Old Parliament House. I started my career here as a tour guide in 1997 and it’s always been a big part of my personal history. It was built in 1927 in a pared back version of art deco (my favourite art period) so it’s natural that I’ve always been attracted to it. For 51 weeks of the year it is one of those classic big white buildings that was once synonymous with public architecture, but during ENLIGHTEN it too is transformed into a wonderland.

I love that a lot of the entertainment fits in with the nature of these big buildings, the tent set up for Pollock Pong (ping pong with paintballs where you create your very own Jackson Pollock-style masterpiece), was an inspired way to connect to the National Gallery and its art collection. I am really sorry I missed out on that one, fingers crossed it will back next year.

I missed out because I was dancing the night away at the disco at the National Library. How could a library host a disco? By handing out headphones of course, it was a SILENT disco. It’s genius, the headphones were tuned to a frequency a DJ was playing to, and we all jumped around to the same music. Oddly enough you felt much more connected to those around you than at a night club with music blaring, probably because we all looked like idiots and we just didn’t care.

Visitors to the NLA were treated to a spectacle of dancers all moving to a beat only they could hear. I startled one poor woman who worked past me when I shouted out over the music “I LOVE YOUR HAT”. Yes I forgot that the music was only loud in MY head and that she could hear normally. Still, her hat was fabulous and I think she appreciated the loud accolade.

I’ve spent a lot of my career working in Canberra’s Parliamentary Triangle, home to these cultural institutions. They are part of my personal landscape, and since I don’t have a garden at home, I consider these my backyard. Yet there are times when the pressures of working life, media queries, deadlines, traffic and running late to work, mean I go past without noticing these beautiful buildings. Tomorrow when I’m back at work I’ll be turning fresh eyes to look at them once more with pride and I’ll think how lucky I am to be in their vicinity.

So happy birthday Canberra, for 99-year old you’ve shown us your best years are still ahead of you! Here’s to one hell of a 100th birthday party in 2013!

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