I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Monday, February 23, 2015

My Year With Bluestone: Melbourne Gaol on WhiteNight

Once a year for the last three years, Melbourne has paid homage to Paris's nuit blanche, and turned on 12 hours of art, music, performance, multi-coloured video projections on large buildings and so forth. This year, to avoid the crowds of over 500,000 people all pressed into the same spots, the sites were spread out over a larger area. On our way up to the Exhibition Building in the Carlton Gardens  -- the site of an amazing projection thematising earth, air, fire and water over its entire south wall to a grand orchestral soundtrack -- we stopped in at one of the least dramatic things we saw all night. 
The old Melbourne gaol was first built in the 1840s. It is now a prize-winning tourist site. I'll go back and visit again, later in this project, I think, especially to research this terrific photograph of some partial destruction in 1937. 

But here are my photos from Saturday night. We had to queue in the courtyard off Russell St. The courtyard itself had fake grass and a large marquee, and a few food stalls, with red lights shining up the three stories of cell windows. I realised how rare three storey bluestone buildings are (though I think of the gorgeous terrace in Nicholson St opposite the gardens.

Inside, though, there was an exhibition of the Seven Deadly Sins: paintings down one corridor of the main wing of the gaol. I can see why this might have been seen as appropriate for a prison context. But for good or ill, in contrast to the spectacular lights and sounds on display elsewhere (e.g. the domed reading room of the State Library transformed into the rabbit hole from Alice in Wonderland, or a fire-breathing dragon, or giant lotus flowers floating along the river), it was easy to be distracted by the gaol itself, and more people were walking into the cells and admiring the displays that are there all the time, than looking at the paintings themselves. The red lights were spectacular, but I was struck by the ways the old bluestone gaol still exerted more affective pull than the colourful paintings. 

This was also one of the highlights of White Night for me: that so many buildings -- churches, galleries, museums -- were open all night to wander through. 

For more carnal appetites, perhaps fitting to Gluttony, one of the food stands you waited by was a deep charcoal grill, offering skewers of barbequed meat. The courtyard was filled with delicious flavoured, aromatic smoke, and we promised ourselves we would get a snack on the way out. 

We are eating meat only once a week at the moment, so this was a big concession, but in terms of affective memory this was a pretty good combination: the smell and taste of tender pork belly marinated in a banana and mango glaze (I think) and some other equally delicious fruity chicken thing; the cloud of thick smoke; and the shadow of high bluestone walls illuminated by fiery bursts of red light.... Memories are made of this!

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