12 Awesome Images from Vivid Sydney Festival

By: Ashley Rayner
Leelakajonkij / Shutterstock.com

Sydney is a vibrant city, the largest population center in Australia, and, as such, has much to offer, from its cuisine to its landmarks. One of the city’s major events, held every winter (Australian winter that is), is the Vivid Sydney festival. Supported by the New South Wales government and wrapping up its 7th year in early June, Vivid is a unique combination of music, lights and ideas. Art and technology come together during the festival, delighting locals and tourists alike, but a picture’s worth 1,000 words—so don’t take my word for it. Let these 12 awesome images tell the story instead!


12. Sydney Harbour Bridge

Standing on Sydney’s North Shore and glancing across the bay to the Central Business District during Vivid Sydney, you’d see something similar to this picture. The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, built in 1932, gets decked out in lights every year during Vivid Sydney action, illuminating the way for would-be revelers, beckoning them to join in the fun on the other side of the water. The Harbour Bridge is often a central part of big events, such as the 2000 Olympics and annual New Year’s Eve celebrations, and Vivid is no exception. Much of the city’s CBD is lit up in a multitude of changing colors. At various points during the 2015 festival, the Harbour Bridge itself wore just about every color under the sun. This shot from June 5, the closing days of the festival, shows the bridge wearing patriotic blue, white and red—the colors of the Australian flag.

11. Exposed

Vivid Sydney is as much about light as it is about celebrating arts and culture, so it only makes sense that each edition of the festival features many art installations around the city, such as this sculpture from the 2015 festival. This sculpture featured 3 giant humanoid figures. Entitled “Exposed,” the figures were transparent, which provided a window unto their “inner worlds.” Like many of the sculpture pieces featured at Vivid Sydney over the years, this piece makes ample use of LED lights to illuminate the construction. In shedding light on an “interior world,” this piece asks us to stop and think about the inner worlds each of us has hidden away beneath our skin. Not only is the piece a visual delight, with a plethora of colors and patterns, but it’s thought-provoking as well—as the very best art should be.

10. Entertainers

What’s a festival without costumes? Vivid Sydney isn’t just about art installations and static sculptures; in fact, many street performers and artists call the festival home as well. From stilt walkers to clowns to “living statues,” these myriad artists occupy the spaces in, around and between art installations and events, lighting up the dark streets with their own brand of performance art. Pictured here are two stilt-walkers masquerading as retro robots, re-imagined for the 21st-century in LED costumes on June 6, 2014, during the final days of the festival. Street performers up the ante during the festival, with many donning bright costumes and bombastic make-up—often in colors that are accentuated by blacklight or LED panels in clothing and accessories. Performers are often happy to have their costumes and performances snapped and their presence at the Vivid Sydney festival is all part and parcel of the magic.

9. Museum of Contemporary Art

It’s only fitting that Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art would take part in the city’s largest festival devoted to perhaps the most modern form of art, light art including illuminated sculptures and so-called light paintings. Each and every year, the building’s façade becomes the canvas for a projection of color and light. During the 2015 festival, from May 22 to June 8, the museum was lit up with different patterns and colors, many of them decidedly modernist in terms of their use of line, fractals, pattern and even their motif. In this image, the museum is lit up with a brightly colored mosaic pattern that might remind us of any number of things—from tiled walls to television screens that have lost their signal to Tetris and other video games. Other buildings and landmarks around the city are also illuminated, creating an outdoor “gallery” of light paintings like this one.


8. Games

One of Vivid Sydney’s most enduring characteristics has been interactivity. Whether it’s art installations engaging with their environments or an audience engaging with a speaker, Vivid offers up immersive experiences designed to envelope festival-goers. Of course, interactivity should also be fun—and that’s why some of the festival’s best installations have been games. At the 2014 festival, people could take part in an interactive game of pool (as pictured). In 2015, festival-goers could take part in a game of “Duck, Duck, Goose” with a number of illuminated drums. When players approached the drums, they would begin to emit light and sound; as the game progressed, they would increase speed and vary the pattern. In another area, people could play a game of “beatdice,” in which they could “mashup” various sounds and rhythms. The dice also responded by emitting pulsating light, creating an artwork that is both visual and aural.

7. Sydney’s Luna Park

What’s a festival without a few rides thrown in for good measure? Those who wanted to get a better vantage point and see the art installations from a different angle could get above the crowd on the 35-meter tall Ferris wheel at Sydney’s Luna Park. The amusement park is located at the foot of the Harbour Bridge on the North Shore. With 24 gondolas, the wheel carries passengers high up into the sky to view Sydney—and most of Vivid—from a unique perspective. The wheel itself was also lit up, as shown in this shot, snapped on May 31 during the festival. The wheel operated every night from 6 until 10. Luna Park also offers other rides and amusement all year, not just during the festival. Festival-goers could also dine at the park’s restaurant before hopping on the wheel. With a 360-degree view, it’s hard to go wrong.

6. Affinity

Another spectacular sculpture installation, Affinity was easily one of the highlights of the 2015 Vivid festival. The brainchild of amigo & amigo + S1T2, “Affinity” depicts the complexity and connectivity of neurons in the human brain. Much like the installation “Exposed,” “Affinity” asked festival-goers not only to enjoy the lights, but to also stop and think about how exactly they were able to perceive the world around them—including the amazing light and art of Vivid Sydney. “Affinity” wasn’t just pretty to look at though; this sculpture was interactive, which meant the usual museum rule of “don’t touch” was out the window. When a participant stepped into the web of orbs and touched one of them, the sculpture reacted, changing color and emitting sound—mimicking the reaction of the neurons in our brains to the world around us. “Affinity” shows that science and art are intimately intertwined.

5. The Dresses

If “Affinity” married science and art, then the installation “The Dresses” married form and function. The work of France’s Tae Gon Kim, “The Dresses” are three elaborate gowns formed of thousands of intricately woven and shaped fibre-optic strands. Delicately illuminated, the dresses change color, representing different periods in history and the passage of time. In the dark, the dresses appear as apparitions of the fashions of bygone eras, while images projected onto each of the gowns showcase various desires—bringing new meaning to the phrase “wear your heart on your sleeve” in the process. Like other sculptures in the 2015 edition of the festival, “The Dresses” invited the viewer into a deeper world, one that surpasses the superficial functioning to illuminate the hidden processes underneath. “The Dresses” are as much an exploration of fashion, form and function as they are of the human condition.

4. Food, Music and Fun

An outdoor art gallery is well and fine, but every festival has to have more than one component; other staples are food, music, shopping and, of course, fun. Vivid Sydney didn’t forget that; in fact, the opposite is quite true. Throughout the festival area, people could find musical performances, talks and workshops, and fun in abundance. Food was supplied by many of the restaurants in the area, as well as food vendors who set up shop near the installations along the festival’s Light Walk, so you could grab a quick bite without interrupting your gallery tour. This shot from May 26 shows a crowd of festival-goers at the Opera Bar, near the beginning of the Vivid Light Walk, enjoying refreshment along with the view. The festival generates over $20 million for the New South Wales economy and attracts around 500,000 visitors during its 18-day span each year.


3. Arclight

Billed as one of the festival’s highlights for 2015, the “Arclight” installation is one that married form and function, proving once again that science and art aren’t as far apart as we sometimes think. A collaboration between 3 artists and a number of Australian and German institutes and universities, “Arclight” used cutting-edge technology, such as computer-aided manufacturing and computational software, to create a dense tangle of artificial limbs, reminiscent of the mandrake forests that cluster Australia’s waterways. The LED lights were programmed to interact with the environment, responding to wind, temperature and humidity—meaning that the sculpture was ever-changing and always interesting. Like other installations, the ability of the sculpture to “sense” the world around it invites us to think about the nature of perception—and how that allows us to perceive beautiful art like “Arclight” and the other installations at Vivid Sydney.

2. The Flowing River of Light

It’s a trick we’ve likely seen before, but one that never gets old—and not when it’s on such a grand scale! The Chatswood area was lit up with an immersive light projection of a flowing river, replete with waves and ripples, aquatic life and a soundtrack to whisk you away to days idled away by the riverbank. The river began at the entrance to Chatswood mall and created a path that visitors could follow to the Chastwood marketplace. Envisioned by Ample Projects and 32 Hundred Lights, the project flowed into other 2015 attractions, including the Nautilus and the Sea animation at the Chatwood Concourse. Waves poured overhead from frosted LED lighting and incorporated the tidal flow installation at the Aquarium. The result was an immersive (or perhaps submersive) walkway through some of the festival’s most lively attractions.

1. The Sails of the Sydney Opera House

Perhaps the most iconic building in Australia is also the most integral part of the now-iconic Vivid festival. Every night of the 18-day festival, the “sails” of the Sydney Opera House become the canvas for the light paintings of various artists. When Vivid began in 2009, originally called “Smart Light festival,” the projection of light paintings on the building’s sails was the original installation. Envisioned by Brian Eno as a way to start conversation and thought about energy efficiency, Smart was intended to raise awareness about LED lighting and other energy-saving technologies in a way that made them relevant, beautiful and interactive. Six years later, Vivid’s installations are proving that vision, and projecting light paintings on the Sydney Opera House is still a highlight of the festival. Here, fireworks—another kind of light display—explode above the Opera House as part of a show on May 25, 2015.