Sleepless in Melbourne: tale of a White Night

White Night Melbourne 2015

Last Saturday was the third edition of the White Night event in Melbourne.

The weather was incredibly hot (over 30°C) for the end of the summer but this did not deter the crowds that flock to the city en masse: around 500,000 people gathered to walk the streets of the city center !

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the White Night is a public event aimed at encouraging people to discover contemporary art in a vibrant village fair atmosphere.

The White Night concept was created by the Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, in 2002, most probably inspired by the White Nights Festival first held in St. Petersburg in 1993 where, for a whole week, there are ballet, opera and a variety of contemporary musical events happening every night.

The festival’s name is also a pun, as in French, a “white night” is a sleepless night.

Delanoë transformed this concept into an event called La Nuit Blanche (White Night) where, during an entire evening, , a wide range of public buildings and city streets host art events and installations, music and story-telling performances.It’s a time where the whole city vibrates with creativity, and inspires its citizens to experience the arts. It attracts a varied crowd of people: young children and the elderly, poor and rich, art freaks and newcomers to the field, all of them celebrating and interacting with art.

Since the first edition in Paris, it attracted many followers in Europe (Brussels, Rome) and around the world (Tel Aviv, Montréal, Toronto, Lima, La Paz, Melbourne).

Having already experienced White nights in Paris, I was thrilled to be able to attend the Melbourne version.

I was not disappointed. What a night!

Of course, some performances were better than others. Some were stunning, such as the “Alice in Wonderland” scenes projected on the facades of the Flinders street buildings and the State Library where there was also a jaw-dropping projection inside the reading room.

White Night 2015 Melbourne

The Forum Theatre, Flinders street

White Night 2015 Melbourne Flinders street

The Forum Theatre, Flinders street

State Library: inside the reading room

State Library Victoria: inside the reading room


I was able to explore this city from a whole new perspective, and accessing unique buildings which I would not normally have entered.

What a luxury that the museums were open the whole night through, as was the case for the ACMI[1], NGV[2] and also the State Library, where I could (finally) see the exhibition “Bohemian Melbourne”. That show depicted the lives of Melbourne’s most famous Bohemians like Marcus Clarke and, more recently, Nick Cave who, from as early as 1860, contributed to what makes Melbourne so special: its visceral love for and intertwining with art.

No wonder that, of all the Australian cities, only Melbourne hosts a White Night (sorry Sydney!).

I became acquainted with the various movements and clubs that were created during these decades, such as the Angry Penguins, and the intriguing and mesmerizing figure of Vali Myers. Her diaries were so impressive! She led an incredible life (this might be a good subject for a next post!).

As for performance art, I particularly loved the mixed media performance of artist Freya Pitt for “The pursuit of wholeness” hosted inside the Collins street Baptist Church. I love her work. It was a performance full of poetry with a strong sense of aesthetic. And listening to the words of Brecht spoken in a church setting was surprisingly poignant.

Freya Pitt, the Pursuit of Wholeness

Freya Pitt, the Pursuit of Wholeness


I may not forget to mention my favourite at the NGV. In the street pools, luminous puppets were dancing to the sounds of various and lively music. This was quite entertaining and drew lots of spectators.


Dancing Puppets


National Gallery of Victoria


Inside, Hicham Berrada presented his chemical theatre, Présage, a more intimate live performance, stimulating thought and imagination. In this compelling work, the artist combined various chemicals in a beaker. The liquids created various animations that were then filmed and projected on the rough surface of a NVG wall. All this happened against a backdrop of live space music created by Laurent Durupt.

Hicham Berrada and Laurent Durupt

Hicham Berrada and Laurent Durupt

Hicham Berrada, Présage

Hicham Berrada et Laurent Durupt, Présage


I left at 3 o’clock in the morning (sorry!). I’m sure I missed other great events in the wee hours before daybreak, but what I did see makes me want to return next year for sure.



[1] ACMI : Australian Centre for the Moving Image

[2] NGV : National Gallery of Victoria


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