Bubbles float up and around you, carried by the wind over the boardwalk and out to Victoria Harbour. As they float up, they pop and release a plume of fog, the wisps dissolving into the air. Continuing your walk, you come across a light installation featuring beams projecting straight up into the sky like never-ending pillars. Each beam uses morse code to communicate a list of extinct or endangered languages into the sky. These are just three of the seven newly commissioned works that will form a 1.2-kilometre art trail at Docklands as part of Melbourne’s new festival.

The trail is the result of a collaboration with Experimenta for Now or Never. Described as an “open invitation to explore the future, in the present”. It’s the first year Now or Never will take place, running from August 17 to September 2 with The Art Trail only on view for just a few days at the start of the festival. According to Experimenta’s curator-at-large Lubi Thomas, hosting an exhibition on the waterfront during winter in Melbourne, for a brand new festival, certainly came with its own element of stepping into the unknown.

“Part of the curatorial challenge was finding artists adventurous and confident [enough] to bring their work outside, especially when it's technology-based,” says Thomas. “The comfort of the white walls and a roof are gone. Presenting technology-based art outside has additional challenges.”

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Throughout the Art Trail, technology is used as a tool to reflect on the tangible impacts of the digital world in our lives. “All of the works, in different ways, consider the mergence of the digital and the physical, between the old, the current and the new, and how this merging of two worlds is shaping society. None of the artists offer answers, but they are all asking questions about what it means to be at this point in time where the digital is ubiquitous, and merging with the physical, the biological world,” says Thomas.

The works are family-friendly, and Thomas says a certain beauty lies in how each work can be experienced on multiple levels. One example is Berthing Place, Earthing Space produced by Theatre of Thunder, which fills the space with an ambient soundscape as fog-filled bubbles float around creating a hazy mist as they pop. “There is a joyousness as kids run around popping bubbles… though something interesting happens when they slow down to watch the fog being released and this beautiful interaction between the fog and the wind,” she says. “This artwork captures and expresses the wonder of such moments through an intentionally engineered environment.”

A work titled Echo/Ohce by artist Georgie Pinn involves a seven-metre tall sculpture of a human head, with portraits projected onto its facade. Visitors can interact with a touchscreen to hear different stories, and even project their own face onto the sculpture. “Echo/Ohce is an ongoing project inspired by Pinn’s interest in empathy in society and how technology can build bridges among large communities of people,” says Thomas. “Echo/Ohce has become both the library and the broadcasting platform for those stories, sharing them across different communities, countries and cultures. The artist intends to encourage a sense of connection and empathy across strangers.”

There will also be a selection of food trucks on site, offering woodfire pizza, Jamaican street food and hot churros. Plus Moon Dog Craft Beer will be serving up drinks at their pop up bar for attendee’s to enjoy along the way.

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of City of Melbourne. The Now or Never Art Trail is on from 5.30pm – 10.30pm at the Victoria Harbour Promenade, Docklands, from August 17 to August 20, 2023.