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Monday, 21 July 2014

Gertrude Street Projection Festival 2014

Some might call it inner-city wank, but to me, the Gertrude Street Projection Festival, held annually for a week or two in winter, is what Melbourne is all about. Now in its seventh year, I have been to the Festival almost every year since landing in "Melbs" 5.534 years ago (yes, I actually just figured out that amount of time to three decimal points), and although it is often a bloody freezing foray down Gertrude Street, it is always enjoyable.

Fitzroy and Collingwood are about as cool as you can get in Melbourne, suburb-wise (and yes, I'm biased): homes to hipsters-y students, young professionals, and alternative families (massive generalisations of course, but then, I am actually generalising here), 'typical' Melbourne fashions plus up-and-coming designers, food trends, bicycles, music venues, pubs, restaurants, cafes and bars galore, galleries and loads of street art, iconic tram lines, and some of the oldest (and therefore, grungiest) buildings to be found in this great city. Not to mention, the suburbs' proximity to the city, waterways and parks, plus the choice surrounding borders of leafy Carlton, Hoddle Hell (hey, it's a Major Vehicular Artery) [gosh, I love words], and the untapped potential of northern suburbia. But, I digress. Gertrude Street connects the two suburbs (another artery! although more social/cultural than vehicular, which it is also) - and it is this street that hosts the annual display of nighttime pretty.

First glimpse of a big building projection:
side of community housing

Touted on its website as "inner Melbourne's most visible and accessible free large scale arts festival", the GSPF is not actually a massive affair (despite continually growing each year). It is run by The Gertrude Association and definitely has a community feel, not least because of the community housing smack bang in the middle of the Festival stretch - incidentally, also a regular canvas for projection works by Nick Azidis:

The street is not blocked off for the event, which kinda makes it feel busier than it is. Visitors are continually crossing from one side of the street to the other - sometimes holding up traffic (GO, jaywalkers!) - to see the 40-odd "illuminated ... visions of talented projections artists" spotted in and around (sometimes on) local businesses and buildings. You can download the app to help you navigate the projections, if that's your thing. (

Projection Festival goers outside Wilde Bar

A crowd forms outside The Gertrude Hotel

The corner of Napier and Gertrude Streets is always busy during the Festival, as it features The Gertrude Hotel, which is usually lit up, and is also a great vantage point for the always-impressive projections on the commission housing building:

Some works seemed heavy this year:

Some were abstract plays on colour: 

Others, simply playful:

And yet others may not even have been artworks:

If you've been to White Night, you'll have a bit of an idea of what this festival's like: just tone it down to subtler, artier works, on a smaller, local scale - none of the throttling crowds and circus-like fanfare of White Night! The cool part about GSPF is you can go check it out with a group of mates and still stay roughly together (not torn apart by human-eating crowds), then go for drinks or food on Smith or Brunswick Street afterwards. I imagine it'd also be quite good for families, as it is more accessible, and starts at 6pm each night.

Blank canvas...

...suddenly transformed into finished artwork!

The Catfish (formerly Miss Gertrude's Brown Couch) (30-32 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy) acts as the Hub for the Festival, hosting the opening and closing nights, plus a bunch of acts/works throughout the festival, and of course acting as a meeting point for festival goers. Yet another venue with American-style food (by Sparrows), the Catfish is a dungeon-style pub with lots of exposed brick and wood, friendly service, a pleasant back courtyard, and an upstairs band room. (N.B. They also do a killer Bloody Mary.)

This year, the Gertrude Street Projection Festival runs from 6pm to midnight each night from 18 to 27 July. On its first Saturday night this year, I met friends at the Catfish, we braved the cold as long as we could to see many, but not all of the projection works part of this year's festival, then legged it to Smith Street for Japanese. Food seemed to be a recurring theme in the projections this year, too!

Walking away from the Festival towards Smith Street, you could see back up Gertrude Street to the Builders Arms Hotel, always subtle but striking in its projected jacket:

Do go, if you get a chance. Gertrude Street is great by day, but the Projection Festival turns it into a magical playground.

Sparrow's Philly Cheesesteaks on Urbanspoon

Gertrude Hotel on Urbanspoon

Builders Arms Hotel Bar and Bistro on Urbanspoon