Power Plant at Darling Harbour

Recently we visited Power Plant at Darling Harbour, an exhibition presented by Sydney Festival and Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority in Chinese Garden of Friendship. I didn’t have any expectations – it was my wife’s idea and I simply tagged along. What I found there was one of the most dazzling experiences in my life. Below is my account of the visit – spilled dragĂ©es of impressions coated in words.

Chinese Garden was filled with sullen sounds; it felt like an Emperor’s funeral; people were speaking in low voices. Occasionally, a child yelled something excitedly to a parent. Mother would look around apologetically and reply in hushed tones, hinting that it was not appropriate to raise voice.

There was no lack of lighting but it did not actually illuminate our way – rather marked it, so we had to watch our step. The whole atmosphere of the garden with fancily lighted surroundings and moaning background music was rather depressing. It would make a suitable setting for filming of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, or, given the abundance of mechanical devices, Ray Bradbury’s Usher II. To complete the impression, a flying fox would occasionally glide overhead ominously drawing its silhouette against the night sky.

One pavilion was filled with transparent hanging drapings through which circles of light were projected towards spectators. Periodically a puff of smoke would float through the setting filling and hazing the circles, and then it would suddenly shrink to the centre so that a lamp looked not like a source of light but rather a sink which sucked it.

A tree beside the path was glimmering and crackling as if it was colonised by a swarm of electric fireflies which were short-circuiting themselves.

The pond, usually populated by melancholic kois, was occupied by a choir of dragon-frogs which spitted tongues of fire in the air producing a strange audio-visual harmony.

An opening became home to various mechanical creatures which seemed to move, though monotonously, but voluntarily, akin to reptiles or insects.

Further down the track we saw two spinning mirror balls whose moving reflections erased the border between water and ground and produced the flowing impression of underwater world.

Another light projected on a weeping willow looked like a giant ghost which flew through the air but got entangled in branches and was vainly trying to break free.

Several gowns were suspended between bushes and illuminated from inside – phantoms’ clothes left by their owners.

A bunch of bright spinning kinetic flowers across the water had a dizzying, disorienting effect on me when I stared at them for a few seconds. I quickly turned away.

Looking up I noticed several shiny lightning bugs flying from branch to branch, or maybe they were wandering lights which tried to lure a curious passer-by into deep wood.

Visitors of the garden themselves became part of the spectacle as their silhouettes passed pagoda windows which glowed with pulsating red light – a procession of undead haunting the abandoned temple.

Suddenly, there is a spider on a web – a real spider on a real web, usually an unsightly member of wildlife, in that place looked like a welcome piece of normality.

A tree shadow attracted my attention. Hang on… it couldn’t be a real tree shadow because it grew as I watched it. It took another second to realise it wasn’t a shadow at all – it was glowing. I mistook a projection of a tree for a shadow – anything seemed possible in that enchanted garden.

A colony of mushroom-like floor lamps were blinking haphazardly and talking to each other in out-worldly gurgling voices.

Finally we left the garden, or maybe escaped it.

If you want to spice up your mundane life with an hour of weirdness, go to Power Plant at Darling Harbour, but be careful – strange things can happen in the night.


Published by Vladimir Antropov

Nothing special.

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