Seeing Canberra in a whole new light (Enlighten, Questacon and the National Portrait Gallery)

8 Mar

Images projected onto some of Canberra’s buildings in the Parliamentary Triangle? On first description, it sounds a bit dorky or tacky – like a public service version of enormous shadow puppets. However, if you’ve even just had a glance at some of the amazing photos coming out of Enlighten Canberra, more accurate descriptors are ‘amazing’, ‘stunning’, ‘gorgeous’ and – simply – ‘wow’.

The projectors have been up around the Parliamentary Triangle for days, wrapped in what look like little projector raincoats. It’s been raining all week and then, to introduce us to autumn, we’re hit with some icy winds. Nevertheless, long suffering Boyfriend and I throw a jumper in the boot (“she’ll be right”) and brave the elements.

Heading down Commonwealth Bridge. Not really relevant, but love the image.

Heading down Commonwealth Bridge. Not really relevant, but love the image.

We arrive with the sun still taking its time to set, but there’s already a real party atmosphere at the back of Questacon. Apart from the parking behind Questacon and the steady stream of cars allowed around Parkes Place (taking you beside the National Library), behind Questacon, in front of Waters Edge and beside the National Gallery and Portrait Gallery), no cars are found in the Parliamentary Triangle (yep, if you want to explore, you have to walk). There’s a band, and beer for sale (with no lines because it’s so cold), and plenty of food options, including Thai and waffles. The waffle stand is the most popular because it’s serving piping hot coffee.

Enlighten is special enough with the stunning images breathing new life into the building landmarks, there is an extensive Enlighten program with tours and special events, and plenty of the institutions go one better and open up late. While we wait for a darker sky to greet us, we take the opportunity to head into Questacon (normally only open 9am to 5pm). Even though I’m in my mid-20s, I’ve never been (my primary school missed out on the Year 6 Canberra trip that seems to be part of everyone else’s childhood memories!).

Water feature at Questacon

Water feature at Questacon

Questacon is normally $23 for adults and $17.50 for kids (under 4 free) but the Enlighten Program had advertised adults prices for the Friday night of 1 March as $10. At the door, we somehow ended up paying $15 each, but it was still a bargain.

We first stumble across a man walking around in an astronaut suit, and are directed to head up a long, slightly steep ramp which takes us to the top of the building. We’re told that once you reach the top, to enter the first room and then slowly make your way down the building – quite clever. The first exhibition is Deep Oceans, where perhaps the most fascinating thing for me is seeing what happens to Styrofoam heads when they’re put down deep, deep into the ocean (hint: they shrink – a lot!). It’s always humbling to be reminded of how little we know about our world, and our oceans are no exception.

The Deep Oceans exhibition isn’t as hands on as I’m expecting, but the rest of Questacon feels much more so. I assume it’s just me, but some puzzles or hands-on activities don’t make a lot of sense or have the clearest directions about what they’re trying to achieve (in some cases, they’re very lengthy), but by the same token, plenty of things hold my attention. I can imagine that the creation of the lightning bolt is genuinely exciting for kids, and the house which simulates an earthquake is very well done – and even a little scary.

Earthquake House at Questacon

Earthquake House at Questacon

My favourite exhibition is the periodic table displayed as a giant glass cage, where the elements each have their own box, and examples of their elements. Very clever, and would have surely made Year 9 science a lot more interesting!

Periodic table at Questacon

Periodic table at Questacon

On the bottom floor of Questacon is a room where there is plenty of fun happening. Pieces of cloth can be fed into what remind of giant vacuum cleaners, sucking the cloth along a twisting maze and then shooting it out at the top for kids to catch. Courageous beings are dropping down a huge slide or getting spun upside down.

Vacuums to the left

Vacuums to the left

Much braver than me

Much braver than me

Times goes quickly in Questacon, so we must be having fun. As we step out into the (very) chilly night air, night is certainly on us (it’s well past 9pm). The first view we’re introduced to from Questacon is the National Library. It looks incredible. Electric Canvas (who turn the images into projections) have done an amazing job. I rush to get the camera and the tripod out of the car and awkwardly manoeuvre it for the next 30 minutes. Results follow.

First view. Wow.

First view. Wow.

I genuinely wish the National Library looked like this all the time

I genuinely wish the National Library looked like this all the time

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I'm probably glad it doesn't look like this all the time. (It was moving!)

I’m probably glad it doesn’t look like this all the time. (It was moving!)

My favourite by far. I spent too long gazing at it and not long enough taking good pictures.

My favourite by far. I spent too long gazing at it and not long enough taking good pictures. This is by the wonderful Martin Ollman

We could watch the images all night, but it really is cold. We bundle ourselves into the car with promises to return the following night – after quick drive by of the National Gallery, which is showing off its latest exhibition on its walls. Clever. Stunning. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to capture any photos of the National Gallery. You may want to check out Alan Kerlin’s wonderful photos here.

The following night I have had the foresight and the time to pull out the box of winter clothes and wrap myself in my jacket and scarf (okay, I find them in the back of my car, discarded from last winter – it didn’t end that long ago!). The first stopping point is far away from where the action is at – across the lake at Russell, off Parkes Way. Plenty of other people have the same idea – the Parliamentary Triangle is lit up beautifully, but it’s difficult to capture.

Enlighten from across Lake Burley Griffin

Enlighten from across Lake Burley Griffin

Experimenting!

Experimenting!

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The wind hasn’t abated from the night before, so the only real threats to my Enlighten experience is my hair whipping in front of the camera as I take photos, and not being able to stop taking photos. We head again to the National Library – it doesn’t look any less spectacular on the second night, and I find it hard to drag myself away. The party atmosphere even better than the night before, with the band entertaining a large crowd of people well into a cold night (kudos).

Back at the National Library

Back at the National Library (wonky photos are due to my not very good ability to use a tripod)

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But, there are so many other photos to take! We next find ourselves in the grass in behind King Edward Terrace to take snaps of what must be the longest building (and perhaps the most difficult to project onto): Old Parliament House, or the Museum of Australian Democracy. With the projections it gets graffitied (genuinely looks good) and a projection showing off, well, Enlighten. I think it shows off the most playful projections (to an adult’s mind).

Who knew it would look so good?

Who knew it would look so good?

Showing off Enlighten

Showing off Enlighten

Rainbow OPH

Rainbow OPH

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The National Portrait Gallery is another institution open late – and it’s free. Again, I guiltily admit I’ve never been. And I love it! Like with most galleries, I find the layout a little confusing (have I been here before? How do I get out of this room? Does this room take me back to where I came from?) but the collection is stunning. In particular, Ralph Heimans’ work Glorious – the official portrait of the Queen her diamond jubilee year – is spectacular (his portrait of High Court justice Michael Kirby is also pretty great). We’ve been allowed to carry the camera inside (but no photos), but it is attached to a rather large tripod. The head of security eventually approaches and politely suggests he might put the tripod in the cloakroom for us. Fair enough. The NPG provides fantastic biographical details with each portrait – fascinating trivia and just long enough to hold my attention (a little in contrast to the explanations I saw at Questacon). It seems like the gallery would be a lovely place to visit during lunchtimes, and I’m sorry I haven’t spent more time there.

By now it’s 11pm and we quietly leave the NPG (tripod retrieved) to admire the building itself. Outside, people are playing ‘Snake the Planet’ – the popular late 90s/early 2000s game ‘snake’ projected in a BIG way onto a wall, and people competing. Love it.

Snake the Planet! (Samsung Galaxy S3 pic)

Snake the Planet! (Samsung Galaxy S3 pic)

On another wall there are more projections, which capture something very different to others.

National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery with Questacon and the National Library in the background

National Portrait Gallery with Questacon and the National Library in the background

Our final stop is back at Questacon – the most playful projections (for kids). Some of the projections are cartoonish, which I love, cleverly displayed on two sides of the building.

2013-03-02 23.23.03

Phone pics - not so awesome sorry.

Phone pics – not so awesome sorry.

Can’t wait to see it all again this weekend!

Attendees: T1 and Boyfriend (and half of Canberra)

Date: 1 and 2 March, 7.30pm-11pm (it’s on again this weekend, and it’ll be warmer!)

Cost: Viewing the projections is free, as is entering most of our institutions open late. Questacon was $15 each (advertised as $10 each).

Worthwhile factor: All projections highly worthwhile (my favourite being the National Library), National Portrait Gallery highly worthwhile, and Questacon worthwhile (from an adult’s perspective only)

Want more? Enlighten Canberra

Postscript 1: I’m very sad to let you know that T2 has finished up as a regular writer on In The Taratory. Her contribution to this blog has been phenomenal and I – and, I’m sure, you! – will miss her writing and her topics.

Postscript 2: While these photos aren’t great, I hope they aren’t too shabby. I’m grateful to the blog thisistrish.com (or @eatshootblog on Twitter) for her posts with simple tips on using a camera which gave me the confidence to try out a few new things on the DSLR. Thanks Trish!

11 Responses to “Seeing Canberra in a whole new light (Enlighten, Questacon and the National Portrait Gallery)”

  1. Amanda Caldwell March 23, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    Great report, I hadn’t realized the buildings were actually open! I was so transfixed with the outside. I love the long views from across the lake.
    Here’s my post on Enlighten, too!
    http://blackdog04.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/bring-on-the-light/

    • inthetaratory March 23, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

      Great post – love the pic of the fish! They were bizarre but great.

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