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VIVID Sydney 2013

Issue 74 Aug/Sep 2013

Returning for its fifth year, the VIVID Light festival once again filled Sydney harbourside with glowing art and hoards of spectators. We spoke to festival director Anthony Bastic about the process and purpose of staging a mid-winter light extravaganza.

For Sydney-siders, the sight of the city’s world-famous Opera House ablaze in perfectly keystoned swirls of colour has become a regular feature of the mid-winter skyline. For five years now, Ove Arup’s world-famous white sails have provided the canvas for a show-stopping series of nightly projections that form one of the headline acts in the annual VIVID Light festival. Familiar though it may be, the spectacle remains as popular as ever, drawing huge crowds to Circular Quay, where they roam for hours, enjoying the gamut of smaller light art installations that pepper the shoreline.

As well as being a clear crowd-pleaser, the festival has been welcomed across the creative, commercial and administrative spheres. Its benefits have permeated the city in often quite unexpected ways and indeed, since the first event, police have praised organisers for putting families on the quayside during the winter months - diluting a once dominant drink culture crowd and encouraging a more inclusive use of The Rocks, the immediate hinterland to the Quay and Harbour.

VIVID’s success is testament to the event’s dedicated organising team and support from governmental agency, Destination NSW. Since its launch in 2009, VIVID’s lighting element has been driven by Festival Director Anthony Bastic, an event designer and producer whose credits have included Public Programs Manager for the Sydney Opera House and live site event organiser for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

As Bastic explains, a key inspiration came during a trip to the UK where he saw Switched on London, mondo*arc’s own light festival. “I remember we were invited up to the Town Hall council building and I was looking down over the South Bank precinct onto some of the buildings you had illuminated and thought, ‘This is really clever’,” says Bastic. “In a city like London where there’s a lot of competing light, I thought what was achieved was pretty phenomenal. It allowed me to think about what’s possible.”

It was also a stroll through London that inspired Bastic to seek the involvement of Brian Eno as the first festival’s guest curator. He happened upon a light art installation Eno had done for the Selfridges department store and immediately made contact.

Eno’s involvement, alongside a timely energy efficiency message that keyed in with Australia’s banning of the incandescent light bulb, helped consolidate VIVID’s identity, providing a hook that would bring together the New South Wales government and Sydney Opera House directors to produce a twin music and light art event (a line-up joined this year by the VIVID Ideas series of creative talks and seminars).

For that first year, the team had to do a lot of work to elicit proposals from artists and their collaborators, but today they have no such problems; this year over 300 submissions flooded in from around the world, showing a huge diversity of ideas and an impressive variety of working collaborations.

“At first we wanted it to be a low energy light festival using smart technology,” says Bastic. “But what’s interesting is that we don’t even have to mention those words now, because all the light artists say, ‘Well of course, what did you think we were going to do?’”

In recent years the brief has been kept simple and inclusive. “We ask people to come to us with ideas under the umbrella of ‘creativity and engagement’. Sometimes they’re interactive, at others they’re decorative and create an interesting ambience,” says Bastic. The key, he explains, is that the installations encourage people not to be afraid of light. “We hope the benefits will be that people will take care in how they light their homes, or city councils will consider new ways to light public spaces instead of making them look like football fields.”

As the years have progressed, larger-scale businesses and institutions have taken an increasing interest in VIVID, realising its potential as a resource for commissioning works of their own. Bastic frequently receives requests from hotel groups who want to find a light artist for their latest development, connections he’s happy to facilitate.  

The planning process is already underway for VIVID 2014, which will inevitably prove a further evolution on past years. Bastic hopes to bring in a third layer to the installations, perhaps using them as performance spaces for dance and music events – unique pieces that will be inspired by, and provide inspiration for, light art works. And of course Sydney remains rich in buildings as yet untapped by the festival. But as ever the shape of future festivals is in the hands of the artists, designers and engineers who drive it, it’s scope restricted only by their imaginations.

Light artists, lighting projection designers, companies and manufacturers, architects, students, graduates, creative industry companies and practitioners from around the world are being called on to put forward their innovative lighting and projection designs and installations for inclusion in VIVID Light 2014. Further details can be found on the VIVID website.


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