A projection onto Sydney Opera House causes huge rumpus in Australia

Projection mapping can be a beautiful spectacle, with the digital performance art allowing artists’ imaginations to run riot with colorful creations that splash entertaining imagery onto huge buildings.

Suggest projecting an ad onto Sydney Opera House, however, and you could run into trouble.

A national debate has been raging among Australians for the past week after Opera House boss Louise Herron said she was unhappy about the idea of using the national cultural icon to show the barrier draw for the Everest Cup, a big-money horse race that only had its first run last year.

In a fiery radio interview last Friday that really set the debate alight, Herron said the Opera House was “not a billboard.” Some of her supporters even suggested the ad could cost the site its World Heritage status, while others said it might encourage gambling in a nation that some say is struggling with the issue.

Speaking to famous Aussie talk-radio host Alan Jones, Herron said she could accept the projection of the jockeys’ colors on the building’s famous sails, but was reluctant to allow other imagery such as the horse names, barrier numbers, and image of the race trophy.

The interview became so heated that Jones, who saw no issue with the proposed ad, was later accused of bullying Herron. While he denies the accusation, he has since apologized to the Opera House boss and anyone else who was offended by the way he handled the interview.

Having initially refused the request of organizer Racing New South Wales to project the imagery onto the famous building, and despite a petition with 300,000 signatures demanding the plan be scrapped, the Opera House eventually bowed to pressure from the New South Wales government to show it.

The Everest Cup ad, which had apparently been toned down from the original proposal, was projected onto the Opera House on Tuesday night. The moment the imagery appeared, the crowd began booing, with some reportedly shouting, “The graphics are sh–.” Several hundred protesters tried to disrupt the spectacle by shining bright lights onto the building, but their actions reportedly had little effect.

Looking at footage posted on Twitter (above), the spectacle certainly pales in comparison to many of the projection displays we’ve been treated to at the Opera House in recent years, though admittedly projection mapping uses more advanced technology than what this particular ad appears to have used.

Racing New South Wales said that following the controversy, it’s unlikely to promote the Everest Cup in the same way in future, though it seems the event has now had enough publicity to last a lifetime.

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