Vivid Sydney 2017 captures the imagination and thrills with spectacular lighting wonders and much more
It is not known yet whether last year’s record-breaking 2.31 million attendees will be superseded but the ninth edition of the world’s largest festival of light, music and ideas — Vivid Sydney 2017 — broke another record even before it came to an exhilarating close on June 17.

Installation Dreamscape scored a Guinness World Records title for the largest interactive lighting display. Made of 124,128 lights and created by Vivid Sydney vete ran 32Hundred Lighting, Dreamscape gave participants interactive ability from a control room in Circular Quay. With just the touch of a button, 3D interactive modelling initiated a cohesive canvas of colour, texture and pattern to be orchestrated across the entire Circular Quay cityscape — stretching from the iconic Sydney Opera House to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The creation of this masterpiece of light art with the harbour city playing muse became automatically accessible to guests of any age.

Dreamscape represented just one brilliant example of an array of more than 90 light installations and projections created by more than 180 local and international artists for the 23-night festival. Besides the Circular Quay precinct, locations that were designated and imbued with Vivid Sydney 2017’s shining glory included Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, The Rocks, Campbell’s Cove, Taronga Zoo, Martin Place, Darling Harbour, Chatswood and festival debutante, Barangaroo (South).

We had the opportunity to experience Vivid Sydney 2017 for the first time this year — and we hope this recount of our time there will tempt you plan a visit next year.

A good place to start the Vivid Sydney experience is at the Quay Restaurant, located on the upper level of Overseas Passenger Terminal. It will afford you sweeping and unencumbered views of Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour, Harbour Bridge and the surrounding bustling quayside. From the restaurant’s vantage point, you will be able to see the visual extravaganza as Sydney Opera House transforms into the ultimate canvas for the festival.

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Keep your eyes transfixed on the world-famous landmark because, almost without warning, it is “lights on moment”. The world-famous sails become imbued and awash with a kaleidoscope of hues and patterns that rise stunningly from the base of the iconic structure to the apex.

This unforgettable sight can only be described as surreal and breathtaking for a first-timer experiencing Vivid Sydney but, for returning visitors, it is almost indubitable that the visceral drama will always feel fresh each time.

Lights, Camera, Action
Then take a leisurely stroll around Circular Quay — from the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia all the way to Royal Botanic Garden Sydney — which makes for a most captivating Vivid Light Walk. At every turn and corner, expect encounters with all manner of light art action — from eye-catching installations to large-scale illuminations and mesmerising 3D-mapped building projections. This year, the highlights around Circular Quay included:

  • Lighting the Sails: Audio Creatures (Circular Quay). The sails of World Heritage site Sydney Opera House came alive with a series of imaginary creatures curated and designed by visionary director Ash Bolland. Featuring morphing and mesmeric marine creatures and plant life, cut with sleek futuristic technology across the iconic sails, Audio Creatures — set to a bespoke soundtrack by Brazilian electronic producer Amon Tobin — was Vivid Sydney 2017’s flagship light event that captured the very spirit of the festival;
  • Organic Vibrations (The Rocks). This striking display by Australian contemporary artist Julia Gorman and French collective Danny Rose was projected onto the World Heritage-listed faç ade of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia at its Circular Quay access point. Using projection-mapping techniques, the installation brought to life images originally made by Gorman in watercolour, oils and marker pen, depicting sinuous lines and colours inspired by the natural world. The change from one visual projection to the next was evocative of a trippy affair; and
  • Electric Forest (Royal Botanic Garden Sydney). The forest was reimagined as a whole constellation of light art either referencing or utilising flora and fauna that now glowed, shimmered and sparkled with both still and pulsating lighting effects. Wild hanging fruits to schools of fish welcomed visitors into a strange but enchanting world of illuminated plants, illusions and a psycho- acoustic soundtrack.
Venturing farther afield from Sydney’s harbourside towards the inner-city and other neighbourhoods availed visitors to a more expansive adventure of Vivid Sydney. It was for hardcore enthusiasts eager for a comprehensive experience of all Vivid Sydney had to offer in terms of light art.

  • Lights for the Wild (Taronga Zoo). Visitors crossed paths with creatures by using their interactive wristband to shine a light on the plight of endangered animals, and gazed at the wonder and majesty of giant illuminated lanterns crafted in myriads of wildlife forms that included the tantalising experience of stepping into the mouth of PJ, the Port Jackson shark;
  • Trapdoor and A Day in the Light (Barangaroo South). Trapdoor was a fantastical floor mural that told otherworldly stories of Barangaroo by creating optical illusions as you stepped boldly into its fold. For an equally entrancing rendezvous, a walk through A Day in the Light, a kinetic and ever-changing light projection, induced a hallucinatory-like effect that was totally delightful;
  • Magicians of the Mist (Darling Harbour). Fantastical fountains, flame jets, lasers, music, fireworks and walls of water showed the power of creativity and innovation in this spectacular projection; and
  • Steampunk Waterworld (Chatswood). This was an incredible submerged steampunk water world of lights, sounds and special effects at the reflection pool on The Concourse.
Food, music and ideas connection
Gastronomy also features at Vivid Sydney festivals — this year, Vivid-themed menus were created by the city’s top chefs and restaurateurs, besides the latest food trends and cooking techniques showcased by the best food purveyors, producers and suppliers.

From Sydney Opera House’s famed Bennelong restaurant offering Peter Gilmore’s fine vision of Australian cuisine to the Night Market at Carriageworks curated by Lennox Hastie and inspired by the theme “Cooking with Fire” — highlighting the very best producers and chefs across Sydney and regional New South Wales — diners with all tastes and budgets had plenty to choose from. In Barangaroo (South) precinct, more than 30 restaurants, cafés and bars were open on every night of the festival. As an extra treat, psychedelic and light-inspired drinks were concocted by many of these dining establishments to toast the festival.

To provide Vivid Sydney’s visitorscum- music buffs with added allure, more than 400 Vivid Music events were offered, up from 190 last year. Staged across 40 venues, including The Factory Theatre, Leadbelly Newtown, 107 Presents, Oxford Art Factory, as part of the X|CELERATE programme in partnership with the City of Sydney, this expanded the Vivid Sydney footprint from the Harbour around the CBD to the creative Inner West. From international acts such as pop icon Boy George performing DJ sets on the rooftop of Darling Harbour’s Café del Mar to a lineup of collaborations and performances celebrating the diversity and creativity of the local Sydney music scene, Vivid Music’s cutting-edge contemporary music programme was its biggest ever.

Not to be outdone was Vivid Ideas, a highly anticipated forum for exploring the business of creativity by transporting luminaries, major players, innovators and emerging talent from across the globe to Sydney. Also the largest Vivid Ideas ever, this year’s programme boasted in excess of 280 events — up from 183 last year — across 65 venues and attracted 541 speakers from more than 12 countries. Vivid Ideas 2017’s headliners included Academy Award-winning director Oliver Stone appearing in conversation with Margaret Pomeranz, and BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti in his first-ever appearance in Australia, invited to share his thoughts on the evolution of the media industry as part of the Game-Changer Talks Series.

Destination NSW CEO and Vivid Sydney executive producer Sandra Chipchase could not have encapsulated it better when she said, “As Vivid Sydney continues to grow, so does the depth and breadth of events on offer. No matter what your interests, from niche to mainstream, Vivid Sydney has you covered, with creative collaborations, musical musings and maestros to luminaries, instigators and disruptors redefining our creative future; and the ingenuity and innovation delivering Vivid Sydney’s boldest colourful canvas of lights ever.”

Indeed, the dynamism of Vivid Sydney 2017’s programme of events and sessions not only transformed Sydney’s seven-precinct physical cityscape but also enlivened its cultural and creative business landscape. If you missed Vivid Sydney 2017, it is not too early to pencil the 2018 edition into your travel itinerary.

Cityside trips during Vivid Sydney season

Aside from exploring the beautiful and varied regions in greater New South Wales such as Hunter Valley and Central Coast, don’t miss out discovering this city’s own plentiful attractions as you plan your visit to Vivid Sydney 2018.

The Vivid Express Climb is a special night climb offered by BridgeClimb during Vivid Sydney — on top of its regular menu of climbs — to witness a 360° Vivid lights panorama of the harbour city. You will get to discover the origins of the landmark and break out some moves on the illuminated 1970s-style multi-coloured flashing dance floor in the sky once you reach the top of the bridge.

Make plans to visit Carriageworks — housed in the old Eveleigh Rail Yards in Wilson Street within the emerging Redfern Waterloo precinct, the distinct 19th century industrial vibe is an invigorating experience. The largest contemporary multi-arts centre of its kind in Australia hosts a thriving, award-winning Farmers Market every Saturday from 8am to 1pm, offering organic and bio-dynamic seasonal items from farmers and artisan producers across New South Wales.

An A$53 million redevelopment, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia is situated conveniently between The Rocks and Circular Quay. This cultural centre for contemporary art and education hosts a calendar of changing exhibitions, besides an impressive collection of more than 4,000 paintings, photographs, sculptures, works on paper and moving images by Australian artists acquired since 1989, plus an inspiring representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. No matter what time of year you are in Sydney, this is a must-visit.

The Rocks
This eclectic marketplace of more than 150 stalls lines the streets of the historic precinct of The Rocks during the weekends, and is a haven for artisan and handmade goods. From singleorigin chocolate to handcrafted homeware, furnishings, jewellery and fashion, you will be spoilt for choice when shopping for gifts and souvenirs to bring home for loved ones

Tan Siok Hoon is an assistant editor with the Options desk at The Edge Malaysia

This article appeared in Issue 786 (July 3) of The Edge Singapore.