After a two-year Covid-related delay, the immersive night-time experience LIGHTSCAPE has made its way to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne this winter.
First launched in the UK a decade ago, LIGHTSCAPE has been attracting viewers across the UK and US, and for the first time ever it’s getting a prime run here in Australia. After the unfortunate cancellation of last year’s Rising Festival, an event like LIGHTSCAPE is more necessary than ever. Despite, or rather in spite of, the skin-bitingly cold winter weather, Melbournians are eager to return to the normalcy of ‘precedented’ times and showed up in droves to experience this entrée to what we can only hope will be an exquisite arts season.
Upon first entering the main entrance of the Royal Botanical Gardens, the feeling of community and gathering is enhanced by an assortment of picnic tables and food trucks. Guests are invited to gather and enjoy steaming cups of mulled wine, hot foods, and traditional Italian gelato before making their way into the gardens. The energy is high despite the weather with many children and adults wearing light-up headbands, eager to become fully immersed in the event ahead.
Walking into the gardens and stepping onto the main walking trail, the darkness of the night is broken by the warm glow of neon pink, red and purple lights among the trees. Projectors positioned on lamp posts beam indigenous artworks and photography on the ground, guiding you into the first leg of your journey, while the National Herbarium exterior is overlaid with projections of flowers. It only gets brighter and more beautiful from here.
A grand scale art experience the likes of which will remind some of previous White Night events, LIGHTSCAPE takes over the Botanical Gardens’ full 1.8km walking trail, winding past picnic areas, event rooms, over bridges and through a forest until you’re deposited at the park exit. Each section of the trail is highlighted by a unique light display and speckled with drink and dessert carts. It’s an impressively large undertaking, with over 100,000 lights spread across an array of structures and artist installations, like the winter cathedral and light sea, paired with ethereal music and sound provided by major partner, Sony Music Entertainment.
LIGHTSCAPE feels otherworldly, comforting, relaxing and energising all at the same time. Some light displays are simple and pretty, others are intricate and detailed, and some visible from a distance, calling out to you and stirring your excitement for what’s yet to come. The whole walk takes at least an hour to get through, though you would be remiss to not take your time with all the displays as each one is totally engrossing. While the trail did get a bit overcrowded in places, the large open spaces allow for plenty of great photo spots and prevents the crowd from feeling too overwhelming.
It felt extremely good to see LIGHTSCAPE, yet another major arts event flourish in Melbourne after two years of struggles and cancellations. When the last of our city lockdowns cut the Rising Festival off 1 day into its run, there was a feeling of unease and uncertainty in the arts and culture community. But with the success of programs like this year’s Art After Dark, it’s clear to all that Melbournians, and our beloved arts industries, are being revived and renewed.
LIGHTSCAPE is on at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens until August 7th.
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