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Sunday, 1 February 2015

Exxopolis at SummerSalt Festival 2015

I'd never heard of SummerSalt Festival or Exxopolis until a friend suggested we go. I'm a sucker for anything to do with light and colour, so of course I said yes.

Turns out SummerSalt is an outdoor arts festival, held between 23 January and 21 February this year, comprising music, art, theatre, dance and art events, in and around the Arts Precinct. It is a collaboration between a number of arts bodies, including the ABC, Arts Centre, ACCA, Chunky Move, Malthouse Theatre, Recital Centre, MSO, MTC, NGV, Australian Ballet and Victorian College of the Arts. (Phew!)

Exxopolis is a luminarium (another thing I'd never heard of, but I sure as hell am going to research more on these things now) created by Architects of Air in Nottingham, UK. AoA is headed up by Alan Parkinson, who has been experimenting with 'luminaria' since the 1980s. Essentially, they are carefully designed, inflatable, tent-like structures, creating internal burrows and nooks of colour and light that one explores accompanied by a soundscape.

Ceiling of main dome

The first luminarium to be displayed outside Nottinghamshire was Eggopolis, constructed in the early 1990s. The structure we have been privy to at SummerSalt this year, Exxopolis, was made in 2012 and is the 20th luminarium by AoA (the 'xx' in its name also acknowledging the 20th anniversary of the company).

Organic wonderland

A natural stage

Centre of dome ceiling

Stained glass effect in main dome

Made of very thin PVC (custom made in France) in just four colours, each luminarium comprises individual pieces hand-glued together by 5-6 people over 4-6 months in a massive former textiles factory. Around 20 elements are then transported to the exhibition site, zipped together and inflated, ultimately taking up an area of approximately 1,000 square metres.

Exxopolis from the outside, in the ACCA Forecourt

The end result is a magical world of tunnels, pods and feature domes up to 10 metres high, illuminated from the outside by natural light. The design of Exxopolis, influenced by Islamic, Archimedean and Gothic architectural elements, causes the colours to mix and melt together inside in organic-feeling shapes, inspiring awe and wonder in its viewers.

Stained glass effect

The overall effect is quite surreal, and has been said to invoke a feeling of peace and calmness. Our our visit, we were fuelled slightly by champagne and somewhat more by excitement, so we felt more like kids in candy land. You take your shoes off before entering, adding to the childlike feeling, and are asked to 'respect the space' by not bouncing around too much, or running inside.

Once inside, gentle music is playing, and you wander around the structure at your own pace, taking in each new sight and section.

Snap happy

Party in a pod

Unicorn light

A giggle fit

Being the dome

Whilst not too overcrowded, you come across other bodies at almost every turn, chilling in a quiet corner pod, gazing up at a dome ceiling, or taking pictures of their friends in the cool weird light (guilty!). It's like a playground of colour, both relaxing and invigorating.

Green faces

Pink happies

Access to Exxopolis was via tickets booked for a specific timeslot, however all allocations have now been exhausted as today is the last day of Exxopolis at SummerSalt for this year.