Although the Enlighten Festival for 2016 wrapped up in Canberra last month, I wanted to share some images of the works I created and give a bit of a summary of the experience.

What is Enlighten, you ask?

Enlighten Canberra is an annual outdoor art and cultural festival featuring light installations and projections, performances from local and interstate musicians, dining and film events. This year it ran for nine nights and included free late-night openings at many cultural institutions and the ever-popular Night Noodle Markets.

The festival is an Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government initiative held annually in early March, encouraging people to “See Canberra in a whole new light.” The centrepiece of Enlighten Canberra is the illuminating of Canberra’s cultural institutions after dark, including Old Parliament House, Parliament House, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery and Questacon You can see a general rundown of the festival in this video:

I was involved in creating some digital artworks for projection this year. It was something totally outside of my skill set, and a great chance to see my own creations splashed across some of Canberra’s National buildings. I was asked to create pieces for the National Portrait Gallery, Questacon (The National Science & Technology Centre) and Old Parliament House.

The Electric Canvas is a Sydney company who were responsible for the projections – both finalising the digital artworks and all the physical equipment and technology to actually project the imagery. The six of us artists selected were able to make our projection imagery in our own style, encouraged to tie themes to the buildings themselves if we wanted to but not necessarily. After approval by the national institutes themselves, we turned our concepts into digital templates, with assistance from the Electric Canvas.

I’d like to show you the end result on the three buildings I was assigned, along with the official “blurb” I wrote to be displayed on small signs nearby the buildings.

The National Portrait Gallery
A Swift Migration

“Despite their size, these Swift Parrots make an impressive migratory journey each year from Tasmania to Victoria and back again, following the seasons. After breeding in the cooler Tasmanian summer, they fly over Bass Strait to spend the winter in South-east mainland Australia, apparently without stopping. They follow the flowering of gumtrees – a favourite food source.

One of only three migratory parrot species in the world, Swift Parrots are now Endangered. They are affected by predation, loss of nesting trees and habitat degradation.

This artwork is an attempt to capture and celebrate the Swifties’ unique journey and colourful characteristics.”

Call of the Crimson Rosellas

“Crimson Rosellas are a common sight around Canberra, flashing their red and blue plumage as they fly over the suburbs and nature reserves. Seeing and hearing them outside is always a nice reminder that this really is the “Bush Capital”. In this work, Crimson Rosellas take flight, accompanied by visual representations of their calls.

The data taken from their flight-call is transcribed in the style of a sonogram, visualising the change in the sound signal over time. Though you cannot hear this birdsong tonight, perhaps you can imagine their noisy cries, rising into the air as they fly by.”

Old Parliament House (The Museum of Australian Democracy)
Imagining the Grassland

“When the construction of Old Parliament House began in the 1920’s, much of Canberra was still native grassland. Based upon historical photographs, paintings and newspaper articles, I have tried to imagine what this location would have been like prior to construction.

You can see native flora and fauna species as well as maps and quotes from the time. Several of these demonstrate the controversy of early Canberra; whilst some dismissed the new Capital as dry wasteland, others had grand visions for a modern city. Thankfully we can enjoy that visionary city today, still surrounded by a rich natural environment.”

I have to say, working digitally is definitely not my forte; give me a pen, paper and scissors over a mouse and screen any day! I had some basic competence in Photoshop before starting this project – thanks to mandatory classes back at Art School and dabbling since then, but this work with templates really stretched me – and was at times incredibly frustrating. It’s hard to have a vision in mind of what you want to achieve but not have quite the level of skills necessary to pull it off.

I did what I could with my templates but with two of them, the final creative work of animating and refining the files was carried out by the Electric Canvas. What they did was amazing – I have no idea how they did it (which is a shame because I can’t replicate anything like this in the future) but the final animated pieces were impressive. It’s hard to relinquish creative control over something so personal as an artwork you made and of course, somethings will be lost in that process. However, a collaboration like this means that your work is brought to life in a way you could never have achieved by yourself.

There was a lot of talk in the media and on social media following Enlighten when it was made clear that the artists (me and 5 others) were not paid for our work on the projections. I entered into this project knowing it would be unpaid in return for “exposure” and skills gained – whilst I can’t say I got an awful lot of either of those, I’m resolved to the fact that sometimes that’s just how the dice roll. Nonetheless, it would have been awfully nice to be financially compensated for the ridiculous number of hours I spent hacking away on Photoshop. When I heard that artists HAD been paid in previous years that made me feel pretty cheated and it’s unfortunate because it reinforces the pattern of artistic work not being compensated in the same way as other professionals involved – I’m sure the security guards, noodle market workers, acrobats and projector/equipment operators were getting paid in money and not exposure…

If you are interested you can see articles here:  “The Dark Side of Enlighten”, “Gov’t Defends Unpaid Mentoring Program” and “Enlighten Artists Unpaid but Ecstatic” (to be taken with a grain of salt)

In any case, it’s nice for Canberra to have an Autumn event as big as this which draws crowds out in the evenings and enjoying Art and Culture. It’s events like these that help us celebrate our city and allow anybody to experience the arts without the pretension; without feeling like it’s not for them. Hopefully with a little re-thinking of the budget for next year, this event can continue to be an engaging and exciting event for our city.