What to see at this year’s festival of art, technology and ideas

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What to see at this year’s festival of art, technology and ideas


An artist's impression of a Snugglepot and Cuddlepie projection to be part of Vivid Sydney.

An artist’s impression of a Snugglepot and Cuddlepie projection to be part of Vivid Sydney.

At the Sydney Opera House, artist Jonathan Zawada will cover the iconic sails with mutating, hyper-real images inspired by the Australian environment. Bastic picks Skylark as the most technologically innovative work to see, with the lighting of Circular Quay skyscrapers and an interactive, custom-built laser set atop the Harbour Bridge. “You as the audience are invited to choose the colour palette,” he says. A few of the other peculiar visions that will pop up include a glowing peacock tail, a deadly pufferfish pulsing with colours and a sweet spread of lollipops and candy canes.

No stranger to neon, Luna Park seems the perfect fit to join the line-up of Vivid precincts for the first time in 2018. The ferris wheel is loaded with LEDs, while the famous grinning face that adorns the funfair’s entryway will be lit up as it’s never been before. .

Customs House was not included in 2017’s Vivid due to the light rail construction, but returns with a family-friendly installation that is expected to be one of the festival’s talking points. To commemorate the centenary of May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, the facade of the building will be filled with projections of the gumnut babies and other characters from the much-loved children’s series.

Beating the crowds

With the immense popularity of Vivid Sydney, particularly the illuminated artworks, it can get pretty packed during hectic periods. Jones suggests avoiding Fridays and Saturdays if possible. “It’s a great problem to have, but the weekends do get crowded. What I do when I take my family out, we go in the first three days of the week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.” He recommends downloading the Vivid app for the most up-to-date details about which areas may be experiencing congestion.

St. Vincent will be part of Vivid Sydney's music program.

St. Vincent will be part of Vivid Sydney’s music program.

Photo: NEDDA AFSARI

He also advises against trying to cram everything into a single evening. “Don’t think it’s a one-day festival,” Jones says. “What we try to do is create precincts where you can spend the whole night out.” With 11 precincts for 2018 there is plenty to explore. “We’ve tried to group them together so that you can do two or three precincts in one night, but they’re all multi-faceted in that whether you’re 16 or 65, there will be stuff there for you. People say to me ‘it’s a bit overwhelming’, but you don’t need to go there and be overwhelmed by everything. You can actually take your choice.”

Must-hear music

One of the biggest gets on the Vivid Music calendar is undoubtedly Grammy-winning R&B artist Solange, on the Sydney Opera House stage. The American songstress is part of pop royalty as the little sister of Beyonce, but has found fame in her own right with her critically acclaimed 2016 album, A Seat at the Table. She plays her only Australian shows for Vivid with the in-the-round concerts already sold-out.

Vivid Live curator Ben Marshall says he had been in talks with Solange’s representatives for years as he was so keen to secure her. “One of the things that is incredible about Solange is that she has married quite substantial subjects, the identity of being a black woman in modern America, to this hugely riveting neo-soul show. Often with performances where the message is weighty it can feel a little heavy or worthy, then really fun pop shows can feel a bit insubstantial. She has remarkably walked the line.”

While tickets have sold-out, Marshall’s advice for those who missed out is to keep hitting refresh on the Opera House website in the week leading up to the concert and especially on the day of the show. “That’s when if there are any technical holds or the artist releases any holds things tend to shake out.”

Marshall is also eager to play host to gangsta rap trailblazer Ice Cube. “[He is] the very first hip-hop artist in the Concert Hall we’ve ever had during Vivid Live. His impact on modern music is completely undisputed.”

Marshall flags a couple of artists he believes deserve a bit more attention in their home country.

“Melbourne post-punks Total Control are one of the best bands that Australia has ever produced, they do European and US tours all the time, but you’re not going to see their name in an ARIA nomination any time soon,” he says. He also strongly recommends Xylouris White, the musical collaboration between Dirty Three drummer Jim White and Cretan lute player George Xylouris. “Their work is giving me absolute goosebumps. And again, part of the Australian music industry that I think everybody should be vastly more aware of.”

Vivid Music curator Stephen Ferris’ top picks include the chameleonic singer-songwriter St. Vincent, the recently announced gig from Melbourne future-soul group Hiatus Kaiyote and Young Hearts Run Free, a tribute show for the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack featuring Killing Heidi’s Ella Hooper, the Jezabels’ Hayley Mary and Bluejuice’s Jake Stone.

Ferris has also, for the first time, scheduled a jazz series after seeing an increase in interest from younger listeners in the genre. The eclectic line-up includes celebrated vocalist Kurt Elling, Orange is the New Black actor Lea DeLaria in crooner mode and some serious sax skills with the Branford Marsalis Quartet. “I just thought it was a nice way to introduce some of those really absolutely bona fide great musicians into what Vivid does,” Ferris says.

Talks and workshops

For Jones, one big-name speaker on the Vivid Ideas program personifies the spirit of the entire festival.

“James Cameron, I find him such an interesting and inspiring man. He is a perfect representative of what Vivid is about – the nexus of art and technology. He is good at both of them.” The director will speak about his passion for scientific advances and how it has influenced both his blockbuster movies and his adventures in the deep sea, exploring the Mariana Trench.

The Game Changers series includes talks from the visual strategist for NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory, Dan Goods, game designer Jane McGonigal, Mambo and Deus Ex Machina founder Dare Jennings, and pioneering skateboarder Peggy Oki.

For those wanting to hear about creativity and also spark their own, the Vivid Ideas timetable features several workshops. Attendees can sign-up to learn something new, with classes in high-tech fields such as wearable electronics, virtual reality, web coding and podcasting.

Jones is also excited for Vivid Sydney to take over one of Australia’s top art galleries to delve into death, sex and politics, with each hot-button topic getting its own night for discussion across three consecutive Wednesday evenings.

“One of the things that we’re very proud of achieving this year is [Vivid] Art After Hours at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which is a very venerable and often quite conservative institution, but in this case it’s going to be turned absolutely upside down by our curators. They’ve created a wonderful cornucopia of music and ideas,” Jones says. Attendees can get along for free to enjoy thought-provoking talks followed by live gigs from Goldheist, Air Land Sea and Haiku Hands.

Getting around

NSW Minister for Tourism and Major Events Adam Marshall has one simple piece of advice for navigating the busy streets of Vivid – leave the car at home. There will be major city road closures as well as extensive parking restrictions, with the most current details listed on the Vivid Sydney website, so public transport is the best bet for getting to and from the festival.

“There are thousands of new [train and bus] services that are put on just for Vivid to make it as easy as possible to get around,” the minister says. He advises looking at the Transport for NSW website to download one of its trip-planning apps to help calculate the best routes for visitors and to get real-time schedules for public transport.

For those wanting accessibility information, the Vivid program can be searched online to filter down to which events are audio described, Auslan interpreted, have a hearing loop available, feature wheelchair accessibility and more. For any other queries that might crop up, a team of volunteers will be recognisable in their hot-pink Vivid jackets and ready to field questions.

“They’ll be across the festival footprint and able to help people out if there are any issues at all,” Marshall says. “We’ve got more of those people stationed than we’ve ever had before.”

Marshall expects the 10th-anniversary celebration will be bigger than ever, something of a surprise given the festival’s timing was originally chosen in the hopes of filling a lull in the city’s events calendar.

“It was deliberately put on during a quiet time in Sydney to ensure that we continued to see visitors, but ironically now it’s one of the busiest times because of the sheer success of Vivid. Last year we had over 2.3 million visitors and if the weather’s good this year we will go further than that.”

Vivid Sydney runs from May 25 to June 16.

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