Projection art: transforming the everyday

Glow Winter Arts Festival returns for a fifth year, transforming the familiar environs of Malvern East after dark.
Projection art: transforming the everyday

Image: Anthropic Augmentation / Illuminate 2030. Photo credit: Sabine Legrand.

As if by magic, art can transform the everyday, awakening old memories and changing the way we see and think about the world – even if only temporarily.

Such profound interactions are part of what drew Melbourne artist Caroline Packham to the ephemeral practice of projection art. Formerly a painter and illustrator, Packham knew she wanted do more with her art, but wasn’t quite sure how.

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‘I really felt like my characters wanted to jump off the page and come to life, and I wasn’t quite sure what format that was going to take. And then I just had this idea of my characters becoming animated and actually traversing a landscape, via a projector that you could carry around,’ Packham said.

‘The first time that I created a work like that, I was so surprised how drawn people were to it. And I think the magic of it is that you’re putting art in a place that doesn’t normally have art – you’re taking people by surprise.’

Packham is one of several artists whose light-based works will temporarily transform Central Park in Malvern East, in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs, as part of the fifth annual Glow Winter Arts Festival.

‘There’s something about light that’s magical and dreamlike. It’s moving and it’s animated and it can interact with people as well as the landscape – and people just seem to be really drawn to it,’ said Packham.

With the temporary projections featured in her work, there’s the added bonus that the landscape itself ‘becomes a canvas, a stage, and the work responds to it,’ she said.

‘Projection transforms familiar places and I think that helps people connect to the work. There’s also something magical about being outside that adds a magical quality – the light, the air, the landscape, the sound are all part of the experience.’

Presented by the City of Stonnington, Glow Winter Arts Festival runs over four nights in mid-August, from 6-10pm each night. 

Mayor of the City of Stonnington, Cr Steve Stefanopoulos said, ‘I’m delighted to invite residents and visitors to experience our wonderful Central Park in a new light. Over four nights, we will transform the dark of winter into a wonderland of light and play ... Glow gives people the opportunity to experience one of Stonnington’s most loved spaces in a new dimension through glowing neon installations, and larger than life illuminations.'

The festival is part of an extensive program of events presented by Council in order to provide exceptional visual and performing arts experiences and enhance the cultural fabric of Stonnington, Stefanopoulos explained.

'The feedback we receive from those attending our festivals and events is overwhelmingly positive. It is important to promoting the liveability of Stonnington. It also encourages more people to visit Stonnington; support local businesses; and artists. Most importantly, celebrating art and public parks and open spaces together, purposely engages our local community and fosters a sense of belonging,' he said.

Melinda Hetzel & Co’s previous tree-installation, Urban Cocoon, Melbourne City Square, 2013.

As part of Glow Winter Arts Festival, Packham is presenting a creative response to the new Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Act 2017, which provides a new framework and expanded community involvement in caring for the Yarra/Birrarung. In a Victorian first, the Act includes Woi-wurrung language, spurring Packham to imagine another first: a time in which the Yarra has been granted human rights to enhance her protection and survival.

Entitled Anthropic Augmentation, the work is described as a time-travelling memoir of the river.

‘The show will start pre-European settlement, when the Yarra River and the Melbourne landscape was pristine and cared for by the Wurundjeri people and other traditional owners,’ Packham explained, ‘and then we’ll travel forward in time to the current day, where we’re focusing on the Yarra River and how it’s changed through time and urbanisation.

‘Then we’re projecting into the future and imagining the Yarra River has been granted human rights and protected, and that the Yarra is transforming into a more cared for river, connected to the community.’

Connecting with environment and community

Even though East Malvern’s Central Park is thoroughly urbanised – a European-style landscape of deciduous trees and manicured lawns – Packham hopes Anthropic Augmentation will help people think more deeply about the natural world.

‘Our motivation is to engage people who are living in a very busy, built-up city and spending a lot of their entertainment time inside, not in nature, and trying to have a conversation with them, and connect with them in a setting that connects them with nature through the projection work,’ she said.

Additional works will further transform the familiar confines of Central Park for Glow Winter Arts Festival, including Mandylights’ The Laser Garden, an immersive installation of thousands of rotating green laser beams; Between the Trees by Melinda Hetzel & Co, which is part interactive tree-installation, part collaborative musical instrument; and and S1T2’s Revive the Reef, an interactive underwater landscape encouraging participation and interaction with friends and strangers alike. Working together on Revive the Reef, visitors can transform a bleached white Great Barrier Reef into a kaleidoscope of colour and real Reef sounds.

Cr Stefanopoulos said: 'Illuminated art projects and festivals are a wonderful way to make contemporary art accessible to large audiences, while inspiring dialogue and building appreciation of arts and culture within the region. Previous years have proved that people have a real appetite for getting out of the house over the winter months and coming together over these enchanting lightscapes.' 

Packham believes that the sense of community which such artworks evoke and encourage is a key reason why light-based artworks and projection festivals such as Glow have seen such rapid growth in recent years.

‘There’s a very intimate feeling in these more localised festivals, and that whole notion of transforming a precinct for a few days is really magical,’ she said.

‘People get drawn to us and can stay with us for 20 minutes, half an hour, just by walking through their neighbourhood. I think that element of surprise, that sense of reinvention of a familiar neighbourhood and connection with community – I just think there’s a lot of appeal to that,’ she said.

‘And as an artist I’m interested in that element of surprise and engaging with people who might not always go and see this stuff. I think that’s really lovely … the work is going to the audience rather than the audience going to the work. So the accessibility factor is fantastic. People who perhaps can’t get to arts events, or families who perhaps can’t afford to – we’re just turning up on their doorstep with the work and inviting them to be a part of it.’

Glow Winter Arts Festival runs from 16–19 August 2018, 6pm-10pm each night in Central Park, Malvern East. Visit www.glowfestival.com.au for details.

 

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R FM.

The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's Committee of Management and on the Green Room Awards Independent Theatre panel.

He is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and in 2017 was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend.

Twitter: @richardthewatts