Testing, testing … a sneak preview of our rooftop lightshow

Last Friday night the museum’s designer, Hamish, and I braved the record heat, blustery winds and rain in Sydney to attend a test run of the museum’s dynamic new lightshow, Waves of migration.This thirteen-minute animated show explores immigration to Australia and the compelling stories of those who’ve come across the seas to this nation of migrants. It premieres at 8.30 pm this Saturday night, Australia Day, on the roof of the museum – marking the first time the façade of our building has been used as an extension of the exhibition space.

Lightshow projection on museum roof

The museum’s roof becomes a canvas for the Waves of migration lightshow

The museum’s distinctive curved roofline, evoking sails and waves, has presented both a unique design challenge as well as an exciting creative opportunity for the light show project team. The show’s designers, The Electric Canvas, have done an amazing job of integrating the narrative of a single migrant vessel’s journey across oceans and time, with the distinct architectural features of our building. Indeed the curvature of the roof becomes part of the story – it provides the horizon line separating ocean and sky, mimics the earth’s curvature and also allows for engaging transitions between scenes.

Still from Waves of migration featuring woman on board passenger liner

Animation still from Waves of migration featuring woman on board passenger liner

In the scenes we tested on Friday, the shape of the museum’s roof morphs into bars recalling the interior of a convict ship; a sea of immigration papers and identity documents fly over the roof and disappear behind the curved surface; the entire footprint of the roof fills with migrants headed for a new life away from war-torn Europe; and a vibrant cascade of streamers falls from the sky, transforming the museum’s iconic façade in a dazzling display of light and colour.

One of the curatorial challenges has been to balance the scale, impact and spectacle of digital projection with the more intimate, personal side of immigration, and to showcase the rich tapestry of personal stories and objects in the museum’s diverse collection.

Jewish woman recalls locking the front door to her home in Austria for the last time prior to the outbreak of World War 2.

Animation still from Waves of migration lightshow featuring Valerie Lederer

One of the most moving scenes in the show focuses on Valerie Lederer, who recalls locking the door to her family’s home in Nazi-occupied Austria before escaping prior to the outbreak of World War 2. Even after Valerie had found safety in Australia, she still carried in her purse the key to her front door in Vienna. For me the key is one of the most poignant objects in the museum’s collection and provides a powerful reflection of the migrant’s enduring loss and longing for home. You can read more about the Lederer family on the Waves of migration website and also share your own migration story on our message board to help contribute to a greater understanding of Australia’s rich migration heritage.

Waves of migration will be projected on the roof of the museum every night from 26 January to 17 February 2013.

Kim Tao Curator, Post-Federation Immigration

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