Lights, cameras and plenty of action at Vivid

The beaches, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Ask most anyone, visitor or resident, to name three recognizable things about Sydney, and you’ll probably get some variation of that list. (The variant of course being that someone will undoubtedly say, “koala,” and then you just shake your head. Typical.) I’d wager too that when envisioning these landmarks – koala excluded – that each little thought bubble is situated amidst blue skies and summer weather.

I’d give that exact list too, but minus the heat… and the sun. While that sounds a bit apocalyptic, it’s just that I love cold weather. And the early sunsets mean it’s my favourite time of the year – Vivid!  purple 4 A

Over 17 days, Sydney turns into this “canvas of lights, music and ideas.” That’s the way the official website describes it, but to me that’s quite an understatement. Maybe if they threw in the word grand or enormous or gargantuan – ok, maybe not that big, but the area that it encompasses is much larger that you’d imagine. I say this because in my experience, whenever something touts itself as being embraced by the city, that usually means pubic and/or government buildings. But it’s the participation of buildings like AMP and the Marriott or the fingers wharfs along Walsh Bay that, in my opinion, help to personalise the event and make it seem so vast – a true testament to the city (kudos Destination NSW.)

So, back to the lights, cameras and action – and boy oh boy is there an abundance of all three. Young or old, introspective or impulsive, there is something for everyone – yes, that sounds so cliché but it’s true.

RunAll the installations have an underlying meaning to them, but how that is portrayed varies – some are bold and direct – like “Run” (I’m a runner so this is one of my faves). Others a bit more poignant  – like ‘Rats”, a brilliant installation that uses space (a deep corner, in the water along the wharf), light (hundreds of these tightly packed floating things that sort of look like mines with glowing eyes) and sound to give some insight into how the bubonic plague came to Sydney in the 1900s. Then of course, the obscure and head-scratchers. I’ll bite my tongue there.


Obviously, the mainstay of the festival is the Opera House. From the International Passenger’s terminal, images are projected onto the sails. And when I say images, I mean really bold geometric graphics that morph into animation that is sort of a cross between Bugs Bunny and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” It’s captivating and you just want to sit and watch… and watch…. and watch. And take pictures. Lots of pictures.

One of the hardest things to remember while looking at the Opera House is that there are so many more angles from which you want to see the sails – and each is as good as the last.

mca 2

Here’s a handy tip: Look to see what people are photographing. Odds are it’s another perspective you may not have noticed. Some angles will give you reflections on the water, some have installations in the foreground, and others have the bridge in the background. One of my favourite views is from Opera Bar (judge me not lest ye be judged) along the sea wall. If you can find a table amidst all the people pointing their iPhones skyward, you’re in for a good night. Besides being at the base of the sails and listening to the entertainment they have brought in for the festival, whichever side of the table you are on, you get a great view – to the north is the Opera House sails and the Harbour Bridge and to the south, your view is the whole of Circular Quay, the MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) and others brightly lit, with bold hues that change simultaneously. May sound hokey, but it really is a sort of harmonious spectacle of light and colour.

Oh, here’s an idea. Come Grand Final time, how about having the game projected onto the sails? Those sitting in the north-facing seats can watch the game, and then those not so interested can look south and, well maybe MasterChef can be shown on the MCA? Ok, maybe not those two, but… heck, one of the objectives of Vivid is to inspire, right?

sails ship 2So, few bits of advice:

  • Download the Vivid app – If for no other reason than to have a map and know the titles of the various installations (or to double check if that odd glowing thing you just passed is on the map or indeed just an odd glowing thing.)
  • Public transport – Everyone knows parking is a bear in the city so why bother.
  • Exercise – Make it a substitute for your daily walk. Start at Darling Harbour then following the Vivid trail of lights to the Opera House (stopping of course at the Opera Bar for hydration.)
  • Dress warmly. And when you think you’re warm enough, throw on another scarf.  Trust me.
  • Turn around – The lights are meant to be seen from every angle so be sure to look behind you.  And when you do look, check out the people watching the lights as well. Besides a U2 concert, you’ve never seen so many iPhones pointed at the same thing.
  • Pictures – Speaking of people watching, look around to see the way other people are composing their shots. If you like quirky, line up the ol’ Opera House on a platter pose. Maybe a star jump? And of course the selfies.
  • Cameras – Don’t forget to put down the camera! You’ll be so tempted to take pictures of everything that you need to remember to put it down and see it within the context of all the other elements. That’s the great thing about the Opera House projections – they rotate, so you can rotate out cameras as well.
  • Batteries – So you think you’ll be ok with a 75% charge on your phone? Ha! That’ll be gone in 20 minutes, so get it to 100% and do the same for all your cameras.

Believe it or not, the lights are only a tenth of the festival. There is so much more. Music abounds from standing installations to one-off shows including the hypnotic voice of Gurrumul (that concert sold-out inJen a nano-second) or the electronic sounds of Kraftwerk. Plus there are conferences, presentations and panels featuring industry leaders within the creative community, like design label Camilla and Marc and Kathy McCabe, Music Editor for News Limited. (Follow McCabe’s blog anyway. It’s as colourful as Vivid.)

Alas, lights go out Monday, 10 June at midnight, so hustle in. Or stay late at work for an excuse to head home after dark, via the installations at Walsh Bay by the Sydney Theatre Company, the projections on the MCA, the animation on Customs House and of course, the Opera Bar, uh, I mean Opera House.


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