Jun 26, 2023

Illuminate Adelaide exemplifies the most exciting things happening in the Australian festival scene

The month-long winter festival Illuminate Adelaide (June 28 – July 30) exemplifies some of the most exciting things happening in the Australian festival scene: breaking out of traditional aesthetic and musical forms, collapsing binaries of art/science, physical/digital, extending ourselves and our experiences and bleeding it into everyday spaces. Experiential and experimental, curious and communal.

Explore Melbourne’s latest arts and stage news, features, festivals, interviews and reviews here.

A post shared by Illuminate Adelaide (@illuminateadelaide)

This illumination is not cosy firelight to warm the winter – it’s electricity that wakes us, the joy of movement and art that moves with us. It’s film projection, clusters of lasers piercing the darkness, towering beacons, and illusions of depth, space, texture, danger and calm. It explores the multifaceted role of technology and digital components in our use of light, but with a sense of wonder and delight.

A post shared by Illuminate Adelaide (@illuminateadelaide)

At the mid-festival point, the Unsound musical program takes centre stage. 2023 marks 10 years since Poland’s Unsound took off in Adelaide, and this year’s line-up continued the Illuminate festival through-line of experimentation and contrasts. In the local Dom Polski we experienced an oscillation of performance between the ethereal and the visceral. It’s exemplified in artists like Mabe Fratti, the juxtaposition of angelic, ethereal vocals and the droning, hurdy-gurdy-esque cocktail of cello and swelling guitar distortion, and then jumps from the gentle faerie song of Sofie Birch and Antonina Nowacka, accompanied by whimsical flute and water glass, to the ambient urban landscapes of Space Afrika, the delicate, folk-inflected electro-symphonies of Heinali, the earnest commentary and heavy sludge-y sounds of Divide//Dissolve and the rousing, joyous beats of Ugandan Larakaraka wedding music with Otim Alpha.

A post shared by Illuminate Adelaide (@illuminateadelaide)

Some experimental performances tapped into an affective state, drawing from that power of religious drone, eliciting feelings of ecstatic wonder with breathtaking volume and vibration, intense stimuli of light and sound. The shapes and dreamscapes of Robin Fox’s Triptych washed over an audience hypnotised like cats with a laser pointer, feeling the changing frequency of vibrations in feet, then knees, then hair. Then, when Dom Polski emptied, we descended into underground spaces at The Lab for Unsound Club, an intimate room of flashing LED murals sizzling in the darkness with hours of DJ sets where strangers juddered between moments of trance and wild energy.

A post shared by Illuminate Adelaide (@illuminateadelaide)

Audiovisual synthesis reached a crescendo with the transcendental Oneohtrix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin), soaring, piercing sound and light breaking over a rapt audience in cascades. Symphonic, shifting, pounding, illusory and electric, the audiovisual textures in harmony with digital art by Nate Boyce. People swayed open-mouthed and reached into the strobe and more than one person beside me wept. It’s full-body emotions – auditory illusion and visual stimuli that gives the feeling of, well, feelings. Lilting melodies turn into a sweeping dreamlike wonder, a sombre twist, then furious joy. The sound of pure emotion pushed into your bones, creating altered states.

A post shared by Illuminate Adelaide (@illuminateadelaide)

Illuminate is also a network of physical and digital art across the city, with fantastical, immersive spaces – retreats from reality, or augmentations of it. Mirror Mirror offers an enchanting carnival funhouse. It’s an interactive maze of art twinned with technology, art that responds to the viewer. Not just seeing an artist’s impression of the world, but seeing yourself reflected (quite literally), impacting and being impacted by it, where sensors change projections in response to your touch, your words burn across AI generated poetry, your image is recorded and thrown up in light in a crowd of participants.

Arborialis, by UK-based Architects of Air, creates another dreamlike retreat into an enclosed otherworld – entered shoeless, treading softly – while Make|Shift installation draws a crowd curious for immersive audiovisual terrains by local South Australian artists.

A post shared by Illuminate Adelaide (@illuminateadelaide)

Resonate, by Moment Factory, transforms the Adelaide Botanic Gardens into landscapes of light when the sun goes down. Moment Factory have created installations in the gardens twice before, and maybe that’s why the six distinct ‘chapters’ of the installation flow so easily and make such captivating use of the ecosystems. Changing lights in shimmering water, soundscapes that throb from the cold earth or sing in electronic choirs married perfectly with an elegant ballet of laser pinpoints, and epic drumbeats thumping through lightshows of illusory texture and movement, the foliage acting as a projection screen.

Reflection, refraction, diffusion through smoky greenhouses or piercing into the open, starry sky. There’s an experimental nature to all of these pieces, on the edge of digital frontiers and future modes of interactive artistic practice. And it sprawls across the whole month, one weekend can barely scratch the surface.

Wandering in the pricking winter cold between the outdoor installations clustered in pockets of the city felt strangely reminiscent of the spectacle of Christmas lights: touring neighbourhoods and landscapes of night alongside rugged-up families, clusters of students and couples out to see the temporary, seasonal spectacle. Projections tumble against civic facades in colourful scenes, we are dwarfed by enormous glowing sculptures of eyes and whimsical creatures and interactive stimuli gives new life to darkness.

It’s this mixed audience that is such a strength of the Illuminate Adelaide festival. Apart from the Unsound and Unsound Club spaces, most of the program is well-suited to children. The pieces that bring them joy are the same ones we buy tickets for – so much of the art is interactive, playful and responsive. It’s not a festival with a demarcated program of child-specific events, but spaces where we come together.

What difference does this make? The installations and immersive, interactive spaces are influenced by childlike wonder in moments of play and curiosity and spectacle. As they bounce across the Mirror Mirror river of light, patterns bursting under their feet like splashes in a stream, we lose our adult self-consciousness and jump from stone to stone alongside them, run through sighing fields of hanging ribbon, explore inflatable ecosystems and marvel at art that speaks back to us. They point at the projection of a full moon, so we look at the shimmering pockmarked detail. They fill spaces with sound and energy, and when they walk with smaller steps through a crowd or garden, we in turn shuffle along behind, and take a little more time. They set the pace and show us how to play. Making so much of the festival inclusive and embracing is to the benefit of everyone.

Sure, there are times when sharp cries in small spaces can grate a bit. But we can stand a little interruption to our reverie, like sharp, illuminated clarity in the velvet of a winter’s night. What Illuminate Adelaide and its creative directors have curated is a gallery of a city, a playground of art, a sophisticated intersection of creativity and technological tools that doesn’t take itself seriously. More festivals should embrace the fun of experimental, multi-disciplinary, collaborative and welcoming practice.

Find out more about Illuminate Adelaide and its extended Resonate program here.

Find out more about Illuminate Adelaide and its extended Resonate program here.