Light, kids, action at Wellington festival video

ROBERT KITCHIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Hundreds turn up to experience the Lux Light Festival in Wellington.

The LUX Light Festival in Wellington had Carly Thomas' three kids awestruck after dark. 

The twins are driving me mad. Dark is a good few hours away and I have been asked at least 10 times about when we will go to see the "lights party", as Sam puts it.

To be fair, the buildup to the LUX Lights Festival has been pretty big. They got a day off school for starters and when you are four days and seven-ish hours shy of being 8-year-olds – yes, they are counting down – then wagging is pretty epic. The 11-year-old? Well she is 11, so everything is eye-rollingly "like, whatever mum".

Lily, Ava and Sam Thomas watch a light installation during the LUX Lights Festival.
CARLY THOMAS/FAIRFAX NZ

Lily, Ava and Sam Thomas watch a light installation during the LUX Lights Festival.

Road-tripping to Wellington is always fab. Short enough to avoid "parent-trapped-in-car-with-whinging-children" syndrome, but long enough that you can justify eating a whole bag of Fruit Bursts. We sing. We talk about what animal we would like to be and we play eye spy until Lily adamantly argues that road lines are a thing.

Country kids in the city are the best. They high five the homeless dude, open-mouth stare at the chick in ripped fishnets and say the greatest things – "mum, the hotel is taller than our conker tree". They hop, they skip, they jump their way up Cuba St in a Charlie Chaplinesque tango and passers-by smile.

Time must be filled because, heck, darkness is far from encroaching and distraction from "mum, is it dark yet?" is necessary for my held-by-a-thin-thread sanity. The City Art Gallery is one of my favourite spots, so I decide to try it out on the kids.

Sam and Lily Thomas cut some shapes in Wellington.
CARLY THOMAS/FAIRFAX NZ

Sam and Lily Thomas cut some shapes in Wellington.

Colin McCahon gets a head-on-the-side once over from Sam. "I think he'd want to be a cow mum." Petra Cortwright gets a thumbs up from Ava for her use of unicorns and Lily decides that in Martino Gamper's exhibition of 100 chairs, the "silly looking one" reminds her of her nana. 

It's cool. I love that they love stuff and hate stuff and there's no in between. There's no huge discussions about what it means. They talk about what it feels like, instead. 

I feel like chocolate, so we gorge ourselves at Butlers Chocolate Cafe, entertain the waiter with knock-knock jokes and see who can get the best hipster-inspired moustache. 

Lily Thomas at Wellington's City Gallery.
CARLY THOMAS/FAIRFAX NZ

Lily Thomas at Wellington's City Gallery.

It's still not dark.

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Te Papa, the saving grace of many "what to do with the kids?" moments beckons. Matt Richards is waiting for us. He is the creator of the new Hinatore Lab and my kids like him straight away. Ava gets into a virtual reality headset, Lily gets a set of VR goggles and Sam is tasked with 3D capturing a kingfisher. Lily gasps. "Mum I think I'm walking through Spain."

A group on a tour come in and my kids become an impromptu display. Richards explains the philosophy and I eavesdrop. "Historically, museums are seen like the authority on stuff, which it is because there are heaps of amazing scientists and people in the building, but we are trying to work on a model that challenges that. Because we don't know everything and we can learn from people coming in too. It's arrogant to think of the people who come in as empty vessels."

A light installation at the Te Ao Mārama precinct.
CARLY THOMAS/FAIRFAX NZ

A light installation at the Te Ao Mārama precinct.

We spend an hour with Richards and I am seriously inspired. My kids are as well, as I write this they are making a motion-capture animation on their Chromebook – a crazy-dragon-meets-girl, girl-flies-on-dragon story with a piano soundtrack by Ava. 

We step out of Te Papa and low and behold, "mum, it's dark". Sam is beside himself. He points at the Circa Theatre sign. "Mum, it's the light party". No Sam, it's a sign."That" – I turn him around and we head towards the water – "is the light party".

In the middle of the lagoon, dancers dance on water, a light projection creates a hologram that fills the night air with a held moment of wonder. My kids go quiet. They sit and they watch. I can see Ava catch her breath.

Ava, Sam and Lily Thomas check out the Control No Control installation at the LUX Lights Festival.
CARLY THOMAS/FAIRFAX NZ

Ava, Sam and Lily Thomas check out the Control No Control installation at the LUX Lights Festival.

And then they are off. "Mum, come on." The playground precinct has turned Frank Kitts Park into a jewel and my kids head for the biggest gem, the Control No Control installation that thrums out an electronic beat. When the kids realise they can touch it and the lights and sound respond to that, they are in noisy awe. I join in – we all need a bit of noisy awe in our lives.

Big people, little people, the reactions are the same. All around people are full of wow. The energy is as bright as the lights and there is a childlike thing happening, now that the sky has turned black and the neon is getting to zing. I overhear a man say, "look, the light follows me". Another lady dances an excited jig. 

The kids pull me from one installation to the next. They spin the whimsical Dance of the Kakapo and Sam wiggles his bum in imitation. They dash back to the water where words like sunken taonga light up the depths. Lily excitedly turns to a child and a man walking by. "Look, look at this." She points and they stop while Lily proudly shows them her treasure.

Anita Dykes' installation Into the Underscore.
CARLY THOMAS/FAIRFAX NZ

Anita Dykes' installation Into the Underscore.

A drum roll draws us to the circus precinct, where a huge projected animation transforms the Civic Square. We plonk down and watch. I feel like a kid looking up. Sam pulls my coat sleeve. "Mum, we were here today, eh?" 

I nod, "yip", the magic of night-time, the moon putting on its own display behind the cold Wellington clouds and lights making a space into something other. 

"Mum?"

"Yes Sam?"

"It's like we weren't actually here at all, that's cool eh?". 

Yes Sam, yes it is. 

The LUX Light Festival is a free event and runs until May 21. For more information go to: https://www.lux.org.nz/

For more information on Te Papa's Hinatore go to: https://www.tepapa.govt.nz/learn/hinatore-learning-lab

Carly Thomas was hosted during her stay in Wellington by the Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency.

 - Stuff

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