Take a stroll in QV Melbourne and its laneways this May and June, and you'll be greeted by an outdoor gallery that is vibrant by day and illuminated by night. Managed by Dexus, one of leading real estate groups in Australia, this retail precinct in the city offers more than just an eclectic mix of shops, cafes and restaurants. It curates a calendar of arts and culture programs that reflect the quintessential Melbourne lifestyle. While the Queen Vic Market warms up with its Winter Night event, QV Melbourne is lighting up the winter nights with interactive neon art installations that invite you to wander and discover at your own pace.
QV Melbourne has teamed up with Melbourne-based international artist Carla O'Brien to stage the Neon Night Garden. Carla created several artworks including the 'Neon Night Garden Archway' which serves as the unofficial entrance to the open garden space; one of the world's most famous lawn ornaments in the form of a 'Neon Flamingo'; 'Mirror Me, Mirror You' challenges you to take a photo of yourself reflected by thousands of tiny mosaic mirrors; an illuminated umbrella called 'Neon Brollies'; the Neon Tree with coloured tree limbs; a flying 'Neon Kite'; and 'Neon Hearts' to light your path into QV Mebourne.
Carla uses LED Neon Flex, a revolutionary replacement of traditional Glass Neon, to create neon art installations that can be seen at festivals, events and in peoples' private collections. Her more recent exhibition was a social media crowd favourite in Ballarat. She also spent the previous 16 years in Los Angeles where she founded Mecco, Inc. to launch various creative entrepreneurial endeavours, the most successful being Fortune Tee. It offered t-shirts featuring fortune cookie messages and lucky numbers gift packaged in Chinese take-out boxes. I managed to speak with the light artist to find out more about the lady, her works and her exhibition in Melbourne.
Lionel: What inspired you to become a light artist?
Carla: I went to the Burning Man festival in Nevada USA for the first time in 2009 and it blew my mind. In the middle of a desert a temporary city is built from nothing with some of the most incredible creativity and art. At night when the sun goes down it turns into a 360 degrees circus of spectacular lights. When I first saw it, in that moment I said to myself 'One day I'd like to be a Large Scale Light Installation Artist'.
I didn't even know what it was I wanted to do but it evolved and 3 years ago I made my first piece for a friends birthday a naked neon Cowgirl - which is now actually in the front window of Yah Yahs on Smith St, Collingwood. The second thing I made was the Neon Angel Wings for White Night Melbourne which were a huge hit and were what really kicked things off. The Wings in the Neon Night Garden are reimagined as a beautiful butterfly.
Lionel: How did the concept of a Neon Night Garden in Melbourne come about?
Carla: I went in to take a look at QV Square and loved seeing people sitting around in this great urban patch of grass. My medium is LED Neon Flex neon so it felt right to keep the feel of a garden that would come alive at night.
Lionel: Where do you get inspiration for this exhibition?
Carla: One of my other jobs is creating festival art for 'A Day on the Green' and 'A Weekend in the Gardens'. For 'A Weekend' I created an Art Garden that had the Bee, Bird and Butterfly neons you can see now in the Neon Night Garden. The Art Garden was more of a day thing and it was so adorable and people loved it that I then had in my mind a night version in neon would be fabulous.
Carla O'Brien Mirror You Mirror Me / Photo courtesy of QV Melbourne
Lionel: How did you decide which pieces to exhibit?
Carla: The Neon Umbrellas have been on my 'To Do List' for ages and I just needed the right theme and place to create them for. Same with the 'Mirror Me, Mirror You' people. I always wanted to create those and taking a Mirror selfie is a thing and it can take a few goes to get the perfect shot and I love that the mosaic mirror tiles make it even more of a fun challenge.
All the other pieces came from thinking about what you find in a garden. Gardens have arbors so I had to make one out of neon as the unofficial archway entrance. The neon tree I think is my favourite piece and I loved the idea of people sitting under it. The kite I wanted to create something high in the air and the feeling of it flying. A pink flamingo is one of the most famous lawn ornaments so we just had to have one!
Lionel: What are you trying to achieve with the Melbourne public through your works?
Carla: What I create is immersive. I love that people become a part of the art and the biggest joy I get is seeing people interacting with it. From the minute they first see something, to the experience interacting with it and taking the photo then seeing the actual photo they take online, every part of the process makes me so happy. I just want people to walk away smiling.
Lionel: What can we expect from you after Neon Night Garden?
Carla: I've got a backlog of neons I'm making for various people, events, bars and restaurants that I've had on hold while I created the Neon Night Garden. So it's straight back to making these and I'm in talks to exhibit at some upcoming festivals. I love that every job is completely unique.
Katy Perry with Neon Angel Wings / Photo courtesy of Katy Perry
QV Melbourne's Neon Night Garden is a free public outdoor exhibit. It will be housed in QV Square. You are invited to experience the Neon Night Garden daily till 16 June. Don't forget to snap your photo with the signature 'Neon Angel Wings', made famous by pop star Katy Perry at the Burning Festival in 2016.