A polar surge pummels down on Melbourne, blue and white lanterns guide us through a maze of paths, and a buzz of light and sound calls us deep into the parklands. A strangely human person checks our bags, and a neon sign welcomes us through this mysterious portal to “The Wilds”.
And so, it begins. There’s big LED panels peppered all around me. Psychedelic CGI shapes and sounds echo into my ear holes. Mirrors and lights wrapped around big old gum trees. “This is fun”, I declare out loud, as I hastily buy a hot Whisky & Tea cocktail, and dive in.
There’s the promise of adventure everywhere here. Twisted, inflatable creatures dot the hills, little thatched structures, glass houses, projections, and ambient soundscapes. It feels like I’m being transported gently into another world.
But, sadly, I never actually find another world. A long path leads to a richly branded space, a few fancy eateries, and some tables set around open fires. I’m quickly snapped back to a reality of corporate indulgence in a domesticated, adult playpen. My sense of discovery and adventure is transmuted into determining which vogue tech brand has the deepest pockets to brand their corner of the garden. There’s really not much to interact with, outside of the Mr Yum app, and a whole lot of dead-space between drinks. Suddenly I start talking a lot about how much I miss “real” festivals and remember how inauthentic a pop-up space in a city can feel.
Despite my heartbreak, all is not lost. The centerpiece of The Wilds, Rinky Dink, is a truly unique little ice-skating experience. The cold weather feels appropriate here, and there’s a buzz of playful silliness about watching a bunch of Australians demonstrate their complete lack of ice-skating ability.
And here, on the ice, we are treated to a heavenly choir of voices from above. Singers wrapped in strange foam bows, and silver gloves, whip out vocal banger after banger. For a few minutes, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Delighted by this gift of ambition, art, and play.
The Wilds turns out to be a garden which promises to showcase what this Rising Festival is all about. A world of art, style, and exploration. I desperately want to be part of this world, feel connected, or part of a community, but there’s not a lot of fun toys in this play-pen. The price tag for entry is prohibitive for a space that has minimal experiential offering. In the end, it may just be a space for the inner-city corporate crowd to burn an afternoon’s paycheck and take some solace in a few crumbs of art.