Lighting Up Sydney – Vivid 2019

Should I be embarrassed to admit that as a grown up, I still get excited by bright, colourful lights?

Well, I am not embarrassed AND I am among friends as over 2million people attend the Vivid Festival in Sydney, Australia every year.

At least this year I got to experience Vivid first hand rather than oohing and aahing at the TV (now that is embarrassing!).

Buildings and colourful lights at Barangaroo
The colourful lights of Barangaroo

Vivid is a celebration of light, music and creativity. While it started out predominantly as a light-based arts festival, the inclusion of music and performance events have increased year-on-year. This year there were over 200 talks, workshops and gigs linked to the event.

Vivid has been celebrated for 11 years and each year it grows a little more, and expands out from its home at Circular Quay. In 2019 Vivid light installations were on show at:

·         Circular Quay

·         The Rocks

·         Opera House

·         Royal Botanic Gardens

·         Darling Harbour

·         Barangaroo

·         Taronga Zoo

·         Luna Park, and

·         Chatswood.

In the lead up to Vivid, artists are invited to register and submit their ideas to be part of the visual extravaganza. According to their website, “Vivid Light invites creative industry professionals and aspiring practitioners from around the world, Vivid Ideas invites innovative, thought-provoking and creative individuals, businesses and industry associations, and Vivid Music invites out-of-the-box thinkers from the music industry including venues, promoters and producers to all register their interest in being a part of the Vivid 2020 programme”. Perhaps there is an opportunity for you?

Transformer-like light sculpture
Transformer-like light sculpture

With only one night to take in as much Vivid magic as possible, we decided to walk to Darling Harbour before catching the ferry around to Circular Quay. The lights of Darling Harbour were ‘nice’, but nothing to really get excited about. There was a large Transformer-type robot installation, but it really didn’t do much other than a bit of noise and few laser beams. I was hoping the lights in Circular Quay would be more impressive than this effort.

On the other hand, the ferry ride was a highlight of the evening. There are a large number of commercial cruise operators who will take you around various Vivid sites on the edge of the harbour, with dinner and drinks, however the $6 NSW ferry ride was great value for money.

Bright lights at night at Darling Harbour
Darling Harbour in its night time attire

Edging away from the Pyrmont Wharf, we were given a stunning view of Darling Harbour with the City CBD as a backdrop. Standing at the front of the ferry, the breeze was chilly, but a small price to pay for brilliant views of the harbour and its lights.

We puttered over to East Balmain Wharf to drop off a few tired commuters and as we swung around to McMahon’s Point the Harbour Bridge, all blingy and colourful, came into view.

Luna Park was a riot of bright lights, spinning wheels and flashing colours – even more glitzy than usual. A real kaleidoscope of colour and movement. And then the ferry pointed its nose towards the Opera House and Circular Quay. It was hard to know where to point my camera first. I was like a kid in a lolly shop.

The Sydney Opera House sails lit up at VividThe Opera House sails morphed into a changing canvas for the Astral Flora Ballet. It was a real challenge to stop taking photographs as the images danced across the iconic shapes.

Reality hit us with a thud as we disembarked at Circular Quay. Even though it was still relatively early in the evening, the crows were heaving. Where did all these people come from? In my naivety I thought the crowds would be vastly reduced seeing it was the last week of the Festival. Wrong again.

Sydney Opera HouseThere were around 28 different light displays in the Circular Quay/Rocks/Opera House area including searchlights carving up the night sky. The light installations varied dramatically in size and scale from small light ‘constructions’, to large moving displays projected onto building facades. The technology that allows that to happen is simply amazing. I was surprised to see the contrast in display content with some imagery being quite ‘dark’ and Gothic while others where truly whimsical like the series of ballerinas pirouetting along the edge of the water in The Rocks.

Lights of VividMy tips for seeing Vivid are:

  • Public Transport: Don’t even think about driving into the City to see Vivid. Parking is limited and many roads are closed and you have to contend with vast numbers of people wandering aimlessly and not watching where they are going, ogling the lights instead.
  • Take a Ferry Ride: You get a better perspective of many of the lights from out on the water and the City backdrop always looks beautiful at night.
  • Lights of VividGo Early: Go to Vivid as soon as it gets dark. By 730pm the crowds were almost impossible, especially around the popular displays at Circular Quay.
  • Eat Elsewhere: There are a large number of pop-up food stalls, but if you want a sit-down meal then I recommend you leave the Circular Quay area and find somewhere less chaotic to dine. We tried to eat at a couple of restaurants and the queues were extensive.
  • Access: There are a large number of cords and cables crossing footpaths and walkways, and it’s DARK. While these cables are covered and secure, with the crowds and darkness and ogling, they are difficult to see and make an uneven surface. Take care as you move about.
Lights of Vivid
Taking in Vivid lying down

Overall, I was pleased to get to experience Vivid in person this year rather than via the TV. I do admit to being slightly disappointed and it didn’t quite measure up to my incredibly high, and possibly unrealistic, expectations. I have since read some commentary on social media that people thought it wasn’t as clever or dramatic as in previous festivals.

Point taken, but still definitely worth a look!

 Have you been to Vivid? And are you also amused and transfixed by sparkly lights?

 June 2019

The Basics

What: The Vivid Lights, Music and Ideas Festival is a multi-layered, multi-event Festival providing visual and audio entertainment for visitors of all ages. It is free for anyone to attend the light component of the event.

Lights of Vivid
Ballerinas dancing through The Rocks

Where: We stayed at the Novotel Sydney Central, conveniently located near Darling Harbour, China Town and public transport (Central Station).

When: Vivid was held from 24 May until 15 June, 2019. I imagine the timing will be similar in 2020.

Why: To be dazzled by the bright lights and sparkly colours.

How: If you can, visit Vivid on foot and by ferry. You see so much more. Or catch the train direct to Circular Quay.

Lights of VividWho: There is something for everyone at this Festival, adult and child alike. If you are bothered by large crowds then I recommend you carefully choose the timing and location of your Vivid experience. Perhaps avoid Circular Quay.

Related Posts: For something else cultural to look forward to each year, read my post about The Archibald Prize for Portrait Painting.

Related Blogs: To get everything Vivid straight from the horse’s mouth, follow their blog.

Read About It: I have NO idea what this book is about, but I have struggled to find a book about art and light! So instead, check out Electric Lighting: A Practical Exposition of the Art, for the Use of Engineers, Students, and Others Interested in the Installation or Operation of Electrical Plants, Volume 1, published before 1923. It sounds like an illuminating read!! Available from Book Depository.

Sydney Harbour Bridge lit up during Vivid

#vividsydney #travelinspo #vividideas #vividmusic

2 thoughts on “Lighting Up Sydney – Vivid 2019

  1. My Dream Garden August 7, 2019 — 6:27 pm

    Great photos Mel- from the dreamy to the dramatic. I particularly like your shot of Barangaroo, and the one of the resting revellers. I went to Vivid one year and it was nice, but I wasn’t bowled over by it. The information you have provided is excellent and I’d certainly venture there again, armed with the tips you have provided. Jane


  2. Thanks Jane. It was one of those experiences/events I have always wanted to see and now it is done, I can move on to more amazing Aussie activities! Have a good day. Mel


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