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'After two years, Vivid Sydney is better than ever. Here's every single thing I did and saw.'

I like to think of any major city as a mythical beast, something which never sleeps or eats, yet always continues to grow… but like so many cities over the past two years, Sydney has been dead.

Not actually dead of course, but in a sort of post-apocalyptic hibernation, with the CBD looking more like the lifeless hellscape of The Walking Dead than the iconic sparkling waterfront city we all know and love.

But that, I am pleased to say, is over.

If there was any doubt that we are now officially living well with Covid, the Vivid festival has cast it aside along with the darkness, in what can only be described as an orgy of rainbows, hope and enthusiasm.

After two years of being cancelled, Sydney is once again alive with the joy and rapture that is the biggest light festival in the world.

Running until June 18, there is still plenty of time to enjoy the many glorious ideas, music and of course light installations on display - so if you haven’t checked it out yet, here are some of my highlights.

Watch this clip of Siobhan Moran-McFarlane at Vivid 2022. Post continues after video. 


Video via Mamamia.

I don’t know if they increased the actual budget threefold this year after saving up during Covid, but it sure feels like it.

Stretching from Barangaroo, Darling Harbour, Tumbalong Park, The Goods Line all the way up to Central Station, and dotted around elsewhere too, Vivid is everywhere it seems.

I started my festival experience at Circular Quay, because well, how can you not?

The first large-scale piece I encountered was at Customs House, where iconic Aussie artist Ken Done (more on him later) was projecting For Sydney With Love - an animation encompassing all that he loves about this city, which felt like an illicit, warm hug on what was a very cold evening!

I then circled around the waterfront to see the Opera House resplendent with the stunning Martumili collective painting Yarrkalpa - Hunting Ground 2021 across the sails. Even though I’ve seen them lit up with so many amazing artworks over the years, it never ceases to be a thing of beauty to see this iconic landmark alive with movement.

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And the Harbour Bridge illuminated in full bloom as it celebrates its 90th birthday, with not only projections but also the strobe lights of Our Connected City crisscrossing the night sky. It felt fantastic to be surrounded by a heavy crowd of strangers again, something that would have seemed impossible just a few months ago.

It felt fantastic to be surrounded by a heavy crowd of strangers again. Image: Supplied.

As you walk around the Quay-side, you will encounter all manner of weird and wonderful things, including this rather ominous cube.

Said ominous cube. Image: Supplied.

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Looking like a set piece from the movie Tron, Gravitational Grid captures the alternative trajectories in the life cycle of stars by combining light and sound to create a multi-sensory narrative. 

What the hell does that mean? I have no idea, but it sounds amazing and it certainly had a visceral impact on me as I stared into its shiny abyss.

Once you manage to finally peel yourself away from the harbour, there is a riot of fun art more subtly arranged along Alfred Street - aka underneath the ugliest road in Sydney - the Cahill Expressway.

One piece, in particular, caught my attention when I heard what I thought was a person maniacally laughing like The Joker - then I saw it, a pedestrian crossing possessed by the image of a green figure crying with laughter - this was the first of many that have been taken over by Crosswalk This Way. Some are doing yoga, kissing or doing jumping jacks - all are a lot of fun and IMO should permanently replace the boring old crossings we live with daily.

Of course Vivid isn’t only about flashing lights and funny noises in the night, there is also a raft of amazing talks with some of the world’s most influential creatives, and plenty of home-grown talent considering some of life’s big questions.

The first talk I attended was Leigh Sales (who as always was sharp and witty) interviewing American screenwriting icon Aaron Sorkin. If that name doesn’t immediately ring bells, you will know and no doubt know and love his work including The West Wing, The Social Network, and my personal favourite, Molly’s Game.

While there were no doubt a bevy of fans in the audience at the gorgeous State Theatre, there were also some brave souls who asked some hard questions, including one woman who basically asked him why he’s so crap at writing female characters, which as a lifelong feminist made me quite happy - because if you’ll excuse the irony, it takes balls to ask a man that powerful in a room full of adoring fans why he has failed at anything in his life.

Leigh Sales in conversation with Aaron Sorkin. Image: Supplied.

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The following night, I went to a rather more low-key but still just as lively affair at UTS for What The Arts Did Next. Here, four contemporary Australian artists from all walks of life were questioned by MC Astrid Edwards and the audience about how we can all contribute to reinvigorating the arts post-Covid, and post a decade of funding cuts. 

I asked a probably very asinine question about whether the arts scene in Sydney is just a bit too polite - which I am sure didn’t win me any fans. But screw it, because there are no stupid questions, right? And just by being there, we were all supporting the arts, and they supported us with free drinks and canapes both before and after the talk, so everyone left happy. Not to mention a genuinely spectacular performance by Cam Nacson who has the most beautiful voice with no production required.

The panel for What The Arts Did Next. Image: Supplied.

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But, back to the art… fuelled by free food and booze, I decided to take a stroll over to Central where I heard something pretty special was happening.

If for some reason you’re actually excited about the new Avatar film, fear not because you don’t have to wait until December to relive the magic of the 2009 original, oh no! 

You can step onto a magic box on the Central Station forecourt and become your own avatar, which is projected onto the mighty building as part of Vivid Reflections. 

You become your own avatar! Image: Supplied.

There’s only one condition… you have to dance. In fact, you have to be a part of a dance-off - for around three mins you and an opponent get one song to cut the funkiest moves possible in front of whatever members of the public happen to be rocking past, as your cartoonish alter-egos go head-to-head on two sides of the clock tower. 

Maybe you are way too cool to humiliate yourself in public for art’s sake, but it is for sure the best way to warm up on these cold nights. And I defy anyone who is brave enough to expose themselves to the public mockery not to end up roaring with laughter yourself by the end of the track.

Now those are some funky shapes. Image: Supplied.

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From there, it’s an easy stroll to The Goods Line, where perhaps my favourite piece was waiting… Convergence. Okay, full disclosure, I am a sucker for any sci-fiesque piece of art that I can physically get into. 

If you can make me feel like I’ve been transported to another world with lasers and smoke, I am in. Throw in some funky beats from a DJ overhead and I am sold. Do you want to feel like you’re in the Matrix computer? The one with the green numbers raining down? Then this is also the art installation of choice for you.

My favourite piece, Convergence. Image: Supplied.

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After finally managing to tear myself away from the flashy things, I continued wandering down the old rail track where a bevy of other installations await you. This includes Smash, a hot choice slow-mo video for the foot fetishists, the space-bending Shard in which a trick of light provides hidden depths while First Nations voices bring you traditional songs and poetry.

Another art installation! Image: Supplied.

Then on through a myriad of other works until you are stopped by the famous Frank Geary ‘paper bag’ building which looks like it has been transformed into the “fun house” of the IT clown for Frankly, My Dear (this is just my interpretation, it’s actually not scary at all for those who weren’t scarred by Tim Curry at an impressionable age).

Continue on past the Powerhouse Museum, which takes you on a journey back in time with We Dream The City, and head down to Tumbalong Park at Darling Harbour.

Now where to start here, because there is so much going on! I have to keep this relatively brief, so I’m just going to pluck out some personal highlights. 

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud, a Mamamia podcast hosted by Mia Freedman, Holly Wainwright and Jessie Stephens. Post continues after video. 


First of all, I don’t know if this was organised by the city of Sydney or not, but I just want you to know that there was an impromptu furries dance party happening outside the food court at the bottom of the hive-looking library. And I mean that quite literally - people dressed in animal mascot costumes dancing wildly to a DJ before a crowd of intrigued, and let’s face it, slightly terrified onlookers. 

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Was this an official part of Vivid? Well does it matter I ask? Because who really isn’t down for a bit of a potentially sexual-cult-like dancing in front of a public library?

Anyway, I digress… back to the very definitely legit Vivid art. 

Definitely do not miss Vivid House, again, something that you can get inside of and almost feel a bit motion-sick as 360-degree video screens transport you to one of several worlds over the course of about five minutes each. I stayed for three and then thought ‘either my eyes are about to melt out of my face, or I’m gonna spew’. Needless to say, it was time for me to leave - but it is cool as hell for as long as you can stand it.

Cool as hell.. for as long as you can stand it. Image: Supplied.

If you love Instagram and echidnas, then why not combine the two in the very pretty Macula, which at first I didn’t find that ‘whelming’, but from the photos I take it back because it is beautiful.

Ooh, pretty lights... Image: Supplied.

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If you have little kids, then Bump In The Night is sure to delight with an array of animal sounds coming from tents, and if it’s pure spectacle you’re looking for then Sydney Infinity will have you feeling like you're outside the Bellagio in Las Vegas - except cold, obviously, with its dancing water fountains, lights and music illuminating the harbour. This really is a good place to stand and take in the pure joy and life that has been breathed back into the cityscape with this festival.

Sydney Infinity will have you feeling like you're outside the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Image: Supplied.

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There are of course so many more wonderful art pieces to see and engage with, but I’m going to end on an event that frankly nearly ended me… The inaugural Vivid Sydney Dinner at swanky Ivy ballroom.

I was fortunate enough to be gifted some last-minute tickets to this very highfalutin meal, which brought the lights of Vivid inside and combined it with a gastronomic treat by two of Australia’s top chefs, and several excellent guest speakers and performers, topped off with what can only be described as an obscene amount of free-flowing booze. 

I shan't bore you with my tawdry tales of after-parties by the rooftop pool, but instead focus on the classy part of the evening where some lovely food served up by Dan Hong and Mike Eggert was accompanied by a reading from Julia Baird. There were also some rather more racy stories from artist Ken Done, amazing music by jazz impresario James Morrison, and DJ Kate Monroe, and my personal favourite, Ngaiire, whom I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t aware of before, but my god she brought down the house… that voice! 

Ngaiire brought the house down. Image: Supplied.

The whole thing was hosted by TV favourite Justine Clarke who was a very good sport even among some - I imagine - champagne-fuelled misbehaviour in the audience. 

To say this night of gastronomy finished me off is an understatement… but what else happened on that night that invoked the last days of Rome will stay between me and the nine other people at my table. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

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