Throwing the Switch on Vivid Sydney

Lost Girl blogger Amanda Pressner is in Australia for a few weeks and is sharing her finds with us here on IT.

Australia may be the poster country for the Endless Summer, but it might surprise you to know that the sun does actually set in the land down under–and the colder months eventually arrive. So how does Oz’s largest and most iconic city manage to cope when the mercury plummets (below 60 degrees!), the sky gets dark at 5 pm and winter gloom threatens to set in?

Well, we’re talking about Aussies: They throw a party, of course.

This year marks the kick-off of Vivid Sydney, a cultural extravaganza that’s designed to turn the city into a living canvas of light and sound during the winter season. The organizers are already calling it the biggest festival of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. Running from May 26th through June 14th, Vivid will feature four major cornerstone events that will take place in and around the city’s harborfront.  

The three-week program was originally conceived to give the locals reason to celebrate during a previously sluggish interlude on the Aussie event calendar. Vivid Artistic Director Mary-Anne Kyriakou, who’s both a musical composer and a lighting designer, had seen similar festivals in Europe and knew of the uplifting impact that light could have on the mood of an entire city–particularly during the darkest time of the year.

After gaining approval and a grant from the government of New South Wales, the state where Sydney is located, Kyriakou and her team worked to sign on the festival curator, mega music producer Brian Eno (who’s ushered everything from ambient trance music to Coldplay and the Talking Heads into the music world). This move elevated Vivid from a one-dimensional series of lighting installations into the massive, multi-faceted cultural event that it has since become. 

One of the most forward-thinking aspects of Vivid is its emphasis on sustainability. Rather than sucking more kilowatt-hours from the power grid, Kyriakou worked it out so that several of the city’s skyscrapers would go dark for a couple hours a night during the festival–giving back far more energy to the city than it needed to produce the three-week event. In addition, every one of the 25 light installations use “smart light technology,” and with some using less power than it takes to make a piece of toast or heat a tea kettle.

While Vivid Sydney already kicked off earlier this week with the dramatic Lighting of the Opera House, you can watch this display happen all over again every evening at 6 pm from now until the end of the festival. And if you happen to have a few more days to spare in the Land of Oz, here’s a breakdown of the four major events of Vivid Sydney.

Luminous showcases more than two-dozen musical acts, performances, light installations and talks in or around the Sydney Opera House.

Several established and emerging are on the schedule, including Battles, Ladytron, Lee Scratch Perry, Jon Hassell, Reggie Watts, and Karl Hyde. Check out Brian Eno’s own “77 Million Paintings,” a light and sound installation that morphs 300 hand-drawn pictures into an ever-shifting image that never appears the same way twice.

Smart Light Sydney features 25 light-art sculptures that use eco-friendly, energy saving technology; they’re located around the harbor precinct from Sydney Observatory, around the Rocks and Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House.

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Creative Sydney is a series of free public seminars, workshops designed to celebrate and bring together the city’s artistic talent. Staged over the course of the festival at the Museum of Contemporary Art and at the Roxy in Parramattta, the programming covers disciplines such as visual arts, music, performing arts and design.

At Firewater, festival participants can watch the recreation of a 19th century convict ship The Three Bees which burst into flames, sending cannonballs shooting across the harbor. For three nights, fire sculptures, light installations, floating lantern workshops will take place in the Rocks, and you can get flame-grilled food offered by local restaurants.

For more information on the festival, visit http://vividsydney.com/.

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