Home Australia | OceaniaNew South Wales Razzle-dazzle: the best of Vivid

Razzle-dazzle: the best of Vivid

by Bernard O'Shea

Sydney’s Vivid festival just gets better and better. Bernard O’Shea is tickled pink.


“You have 10 more minutes!” the warden bellowed to the crowds scurrying around Sydney’s Opera House and Royal Botanic Garden, cameras and mobile phones in hand. “Then that’s it, lights out. Vivid will be over.”

The activity on the foreshore became more intense and frenetic. A real race against time. Some people even broke out into a run, so desperate were they to be able to take in one more sight.

At 11pm the colourful lights went out in the city. “Oooohhhh no!” There was a collective groan of disappointment. Cameras were lowered forlornly. The shutters stayed shut.

The Harbour Bridge and Opera House give Sydney that special razzle dazzle.

Sydney’s sweetness and light.

People can’t get enough of Vivid, Sydney’s annual festival of light, sound and ideas. The festival lasts three weeks (late May till mid-June) and could perhaps go on for more. The hordes taking it all in on the last night, even the families pushing babies in prams, you sensed, could have quite happily gone on for another hour or two. The kids had a ball.

Child's play at Vivid.

Child’s play at Vivid.

Massive queues formed at the ice-cream shops that line the route back to the railway station at Circular Quay. If people couldn’t have any more visual treats, they’d console themselves with edible ones.

Vivid is a relatively new festival, initiated in 2009, but it’s had a rapid rise in popularity – it’s estimated that it attracts 1.7 million visitors to Sydney. But since the 2016 edition, though, it has become grander, for a number of reasons.

The first has been the addition of the Royal Botanic Garden as a participating precinct. The Botanic Garden is right next to the Opera House (the Opera House Sails are always the star of the show) and it seems so logical and logistically feasible to include the garden in the festival that you wonder why it wasn’t done before.

The Electric Garden.

The Electric Garden.

Among its most popular installations was a walkway known as the Cathedral of Light (which actually became a cathedral of the selfie), an Electric Garden, and a spectacular and awe-inspiring pattern-drawing in the sky using drones (known as Drone 100, it ran for only four nights, from June 8-12, so if you missed it this year, be sure not to next year).

The Cathedral of Light.

Cathedral of Light.

Another welcome new participant is Taronga Zoo. Unlike much of the festival, here you had to pay to get in ($17.95 for adults, $11.95 for children aged four to 15, free for children under 4)  but when you consider that the normal day entry prices can be as much as $46 and $26, this was a great chance to get a look at the zoo, which is set on the north shore and is a good vantage point over the harbour  (it’s said that the giraffes in the zoo have the best views of Sydney).

Taronga’s installations for Vivid mainly consisted of  electronic, three-dimensional drawings of animals, but they were dazzling enough, and of course this made for another great night out in the city.

A third new precinct was added this year, the Galeries – a shopping centre which became Vivid’s first indoor venue. Its show, entitled Perspectives, comprised works by video artists set to music and projected onto 18 LED screens of various sizes.

This might have been great publicity for the artists and added some night vibes to the centre (which hosts some very popular restaurants) but really it was a bit like watching weird psychedelic music videos on an obscure TV channel late at night when you have had too much to drink but can’t be bothered to go to bed. It’s not something you’ll remember the next morning.

The Museum of Contemporary Art daubed in electronic paint.

The Museum of Contemporary Art daubed in electronic paint.

Still, the old Vivid favourites lived up to expectations. The projections Sydney Hidden Stories on the Customs House facade and the dazzling The Matter of Painting at the MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) were great entertainment, as were the various instalments nearby, and the skyscrapers at Circular Quay glowed seductively in various colours.

The light district.

The light district.

Throw in the precincts at Martin Place, Darling Harbour, The Australian National Maritime Museum and Chatswood, plus the lights on the Harbour Bridge, and you will realise there is a lot of ground to cover in the festival.

Indeed, one of the great things about Vivid is that it gets families out and about, walking a good few kilometres at night when they might otherwise be sedentary at home. It’s good for the body, good for the soul. TTW

Photographs © Bernard O’Shea.

You may also like

Leave a Comment