Vivid Sydney comes alive in a lighting installation spectacular

Unveiled this year, our eagerly awaited interactive lighting phenomenon, now a household name; VividSydney.  If you’re like me and fortunate to be residing in this jewel of a city, you’re privy to an annual event that has far surpassed prior years. As each year arrives, so too does the artistic flair and creativity of interactive lighting displays and sculptures so vast in size, in 2014 it attracted over 1.4 million visitors.

For those who are unfamiliar with VIVID, it’s an outdoor lighting festival of interactive 3D lighting installations, music and creative artistic flair.   A series of sculptures and art displays are set up across various locations within the city and have now been extended to the North Shore, running from 22 May – 8 June 2015.  A collaboration of art that brings together numerous creative industries to put on installations that are cutting-edge, contemporary and a child’s playground for fun.

One could almost raise the question, is this art or just merely a night out to walk amongst our beautiful city and view a host of brightly lit displays.  For this very reason, I urge anyone who has never been to Vivid to experience it first hand.  The images populating social media channels, whilst amazing, still don’t do the festival or the installations justice.  There’s something to be said for walking amongst the displays, experiencing the sights and sounds and feel the atmosphere that surrounds you.

Tonight it’s 6pm and I’m in a for a night of lights and adventure as always as I leave the office, located on the corner of King and George Street, and head a mere 2 minutes toward Martin Place, very convenient, where I meet up with approximately 30 fellow photographers from my society; Shire Amateur Photography Society (S.A.P.S) at 7:45am.

First sculpture along our path ‘Robatanic’ below. Organically shaped nodes with plantlike characteristics that are meant to imitate nature and roots growing from the ground.  Upon touch, the nodes produce an erratic display of coloured lights while motion sensors trigger the sounds of nature.  Artists:  Thomas Martin and Sebastian Barkoczy.

Whilst wandering through Martin Place, aside from the lighting displays, you’re treated to a myriad of additional sensory delights like the Asian night Food Markets.  Definitely a treat whilst braving the cold.

Next stop wandering through The Rocks and under the Argyle Tunnel where, depicted on the vaulted roof of the tunnel is ‘Life Story’, a series of shots revealing animals in their natural world, shot over a four year period.

The Milky Laneway below shows an illuminated night sky alive with meteor showers, shooting starts and supernova.  Here I felt like some Bekeh shots of the lane way instead, so imagination shall have to suffice here.

Another random shot from The Rocks. Kids playing with the interactive display.  The ghostlike animations copy your body movements.

Opalessence (Play with Colour) below, is inspired by the colours and patterns of Australia’s national gemstone, the opal. This lighting display depicts a sequence of light onto the historic sandstone surface of this building showcasing the gemstones vivid play-of-colour in patterns such as Chinese Writing Broad Flash, Flagstone, Harlequin, Ribbon, Flower Garden to name a few.

Heading away from The Rocks around Walsh Bay, you’re treated to beautiful views across the harbour gazing at our iconic Luna Park and un-obscured views of the bridge.  Over the last week, I’ve seen Social Media  overloaded with thousands of photos of Vivid, and realized at some point, you’re looking at the same photo over and over, only from a marginally different angle, so I thought I’d post something a little different.  I felt the need to clarify this as I’m still always surprised when folks comment ‘your photo is out of focus, it’s not very good’.  And I resist the urge to roll my eyes and shake my head in dismay.  Instead I smile politely and say ‘why yes ma’am, it is indeed blury and purposely so.  Isn’t it amazing how you can manipulate a camera to create any effect you desire.  And isn’t photography just that – subjective?’.

Circular Quay is always a delight to view.  One can sit and gaze endlessly over the water, day and night.  I never tire of looking at the city, the water, the bridge, the opera house, the people.  There’s a beautiful sense of peace that washes over you when gazing at water.

By this time of the night, it’s coming up to 10pm, my phone’s weather app tells me it’s 6 degrees, I have to seriously question this and confess it feels more like below 3.  One would think walking around the city at a fairly brisk pace between the various locations, rugged up, carrying a fair amount of photography equipment, would ensure your body temperature remains at a comfortable level.  Yet, my extremities are feeling somewhat close to frost bite and I have to smile because whilst it is friggin’ cold, I’m feeling somewhat refreshed as that beautiful numbness has settled in.  The cold definitely has a way of doing that to you and I’m grateful tonight for it, as it’s taking my mind off life that I really don’t wish to dwell on at this particular moment in time. And I’m once again grateful to have this hobby that does happily enforce me to brave all sorts of conditions and times of the day and allows me a reprieve to switch off from life for a short while.  You’re in a little bubble of a world.

Next I pass by what is known as ‘Arclight’, an environmentally inspired structure that is  meant to echo the native mangroves of Australian waterways.  The structure depicts a thick cluster of synthetic branch structures.

One frustrating aspect you always encounter with Vivid is the myriad of people, all over the place.  Next to you, around you, behind you, in front of the sculpture you want to photograph. They’re everywhere, so the chance of actually getting a clean shot are next to none.  Here, we stood for some time patiently waiting for the crowds to disperse somewhat for a half decent shot, knowing we were running out of time to make the MCA and Customs House prior to midnight and in all honesty, those two are the most important to me.  So we’re freezing our … well you know what and waiting. Waiting. Waiting.  Then just when you think you’ve got a clear shot, composition check, settings check and clearly look as if you’re taking a photo of the scene before you, ‘Murphy’s law’ happens.  A lady wearing red clothing walks into my shot, and stands just to my right, inside my frame and since we’re using wide angel, there’s no way to cut her out without losing a significant portion of the sculpture.  Normally I dont mind red on other folks (granted it’s not my favourite colour), but in essence it also clashes with most colours as well, especially from a photographer’s perspective and here I am looking at  a gorgeous striking blue illuminated structure glowing in all her glory in my two favourite colours; blue and green against a black backdrop .. bliss … perfect ….Not!  because a damn red outfit is ruining everything.  And I sigh, and patiently wait. I figured she’s got to move along eventually.

I really shouldn’t judge, for all I know every other person out there is looking at me and saying, why the hell must I wear black and blue all the bloody time.  Each to their own, I guess.  In my defence, I’ll say black generally blends in with most things.

Our next installation titled ‘Dolly’ below is different, to say the least and of unusual scale.  Dolly is a 3m tall doll, designed and handmade by local Sydney artist Tina Fox.  Her unusual body scale represents a huggable body to be embraced by both child and adult and depicts childhood memories of night-lights, bedtime dolls and soft teddies, this is the inspiration behind the creation.  Her form is crocheted from 6mm cotton rope using an extra large hook and illuminated internally with metres of LED strip lights.

Cadman’s Cottage below, sitting in the heart of The Rocks, overlooking Circular Quay transforms her walls into a magical environment to depict a graphics project of patterns and colour against the building as you would onto a canvas. This artwork displayed titled ‘INTER/play’.

To the right of Cadman’s cottage on the walls of the adjacent building, which is Sailor’s Thai with incredibly beautiful food, here we see a moon going through all its various phases.  This projection is titled ‘Ayla’ by Artist Steensen Varming and is a giant scale depiction of the moon surrounded by an elliptical halo of light and each night the images change to reflect the phases of the moon.

Circular Quay and Walsh Bay done, our last few major attractions that remain are the Opera House, the Museum of Contemporary Arts (MCA) and Customs House.  Whilst there are still a heap of singular sculptures still to be found along the path, at this time it’s after 11pm and sadly the Customs House projections end at midnight for some unknown reason, so it’s pretty much ‘we’re on a mission’ with one goal in mind now and that’s to capture MCA and Customs House before the stroke of midnight

Whilst I confess to being somewhat of a Vivid junkie over the years, some years the installations have been utterly disappointing, the caliber definitely questionable. But overall, it’s still a fantastic experience, braving the crowds, hours of walking to cover every inch of The Rocks, the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, Walsh Bay, Circular Quay, and so forth.

At this point, I’ve sort of lost my group.  And it was probably when I decided to venture to the edge of the water to peek across the harbor while they were all engrossed in some lighting in a tree and before I knew it, they were gone. So I figured I’d walk on alone and get to the Opera House and see the ‘Lighting of the Sails’.  I’m bound to catch up with them at the MCA.

I arrive at the Overseas Passenger Terminal and set up directly across the Opera House and sadly this year, I can say with absolutely certainty that I was bored to death by the projections on the Sails. No imagination. No creativity. No colour. I can’t say I even saw a particular them.  A very sad let down, considering our Opera House is the most iconic structure right in the middle of our harbour for all to view and has the most unique structure just screaming for a creative mind to bring her alive.

But no, instead they opted for some mediocre, almost embarrassing display of art, if you can even call it that.  One would think we would have had world renowned artists here on our very own shores, who could come up with someone far more captivating. Alas, not.  Here’s hoping next year’s Lighting of the Sails will blow us away.

And so we’re on to our second last main attraction.  The Museum of Contemporary Arts a.k.a MCA and also the HQ for Canon.  Very convenient for me, being a Canon girl.

It’s now 11:25pm and sadly there’s no time to sit and marvel and get lost in the projections on the MCA.  It’s literally take a shot of each frame as the projections occur and a video if time allows and then move on to Customs House.  But I’m still happy I got to see the entire projection sequence from start to end and it did not disappoint.    The ‘Mechanised Colour Assemblage’ of the MCA transforms it into a continuous display of machines that depict sound and colour that blend into each other.  Developed by Australian artist Rebecca Baumann in collaboration with paris-based art and design team Danny Rose.  The soundtrack that accompanies the visual stimuli is an original composition by Emanuele de Raymondi.

Here’s a short video of one small sequence of the the 3D projections along the vast walls of the MCA.  I love this particular sequence as it looks as if the entire building and stones are moving in and out of the building structure.  It’s amazing.


‘Affinity’ explores the mystery of our brains where our most precious memories reside. And so this structure is a large-scale lighting installation that attempts to depict the complexity and connectivity that is our human brain.  This installation is stimulated by touch, so people can actually step in between the orbs that represent neurons of the brain, and when touched, will strike up a display of sound and light to represent rapid-firing neurons.

And last but not least, we come to Customs house and it’s twenty minutes before midnight and there are about a dozen people milling about when we arrive. It’s glorious and you feel like you’re all alone in the dead of night.  I love that feeling. Similar to when I go down to Cronulla and sit by the rock Pool late at night, not a soul around and whilst you hear the overwhelming sound of waves crashing, the silence is still deafening and it’s beautiful.

Customs House projection this year is titled ‘Enchanted’ and features images of flora and fauna to create an environment of a continually revolving and evolving blossoming world.  For those who have seen Customs House will know that it is a perfectly architectural wonder for Vivid Projections.  The graphics over the years have utilized the form of the building to perfection to create such amazing 3D imagery.

For the full sequence, there were so many photos taken, so I’ve popped a few of them in a slideshow for easy viewing, hoping this will give you some sense of what the 3D projections felt like.   One scene folding into another.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For a gallery of images taken of Vivid Sydney, stop by the page here:  GALLERY OF VIVID IMAGES

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