Lightscape

Melbourne is a well-known destination for the arts – with its major festivals, winter blockbuster exhibitions, and live music scene. The city itself is often the setting, not just the host – witness Open House, White Night, and more recently RISING. As the backdrop, canvas or screen for these events, Melbourne largely draws on its built environment. In contrast, and as the latest example to join Melbourne’s art calendar, the Royal Botanic Garden is currently hosting Lightscape, a major exhibition that literally sheds new light on its historic collection of flora, and allows us to enjoy the city’s lungs at night, when the gardens are usually closed.

“Flower Lawn” by Jigantics (photo by Rory Manchee)

The key pieces as you tour the installations are:

1. Sea of Light by ITHICA Studio – the sequence of programmed lights create an impression that the lawns are moving, rather like waves on the shore

2. Liquid Sky by Genius Laser Technology – lasers reflect on layers of mist sprayed among the foliage, creating psychedelic clouds in the night air

3. Winter Cathedral and Laser Garden, both by Mandy Lights – the former is a series of illuminated arches made from strings of fairy lights, that give the impression of a more solid structure; while the latter projects lasers into the depths of the fern gully, that flicker like fireflies.

4. Flower Lawn by Jigantics – enormous “plants” that are lit up by a changing sequence of colours

Throughout the gardens, there are a range of animated lights, illuminated displays and projections. I’m sure everything has been carefully designed and planned, but there are some happy accidents: the lasers from Liquid Sky extend beyond their misty clouds to flicker amongst the foliage of surrounding trees; many lights reveal the natural iridescence of flowers that we are unable to see by day; and the reflection of the Winter Cathedral on the nearby lake suggests the climactic scene in Peter Carey’s novel “Oscar and Lucinda”, when the crystal chapel sails down the river.

The only disappointment about Lightscape is the choice of audio to accompany the installations. The sound quality is fantastic, but the actual music is quite conservative, even pedestrian – at times, I was expecting a David Copperfield reveal. I wonder what artists such as Oren Ambarchi or Lawrence English would have done instead – a missed opportunity?

Next week: Dud Housing