A Vivid Light on the Trendiest Preoccupations

Diwali, the famous Festival of Light celebrated annually in India and worldwide by the Indian diaspora, is one of the most important in the  Subcontinent’s multiple religions, celebrating the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance”. While younger by some millennia, Sydney has its very own Festival of Light, also known as Vivid Sydney, although offering a post-Millennial agenda that diverges significantly from its foreign namesake.

Vivid 2023 began on May 26 with, of course, a Welcome to Country, described in the festival program as “celebrating and honouring the continuous protocol of our nation’s First People.” Following the honouring of this unwritten protocol,

Ancient chants … invite those residents who now call this land home to share their age-old calls and responses as we celebrate Vivid Sydney 2023 with a unique Calling Country.

The age-old ‘calls and responses’ traditionally used by Second Nations peoples are not exactly specified, perhaps, ‘Cooooeee!’, ‘Wherethehellareya?’ and ‘Over Here’ would fit the bill. After completing the ‘Calling Country’ session at Tumbalong Park, festival attendees could wander over to Darling Harbour to enjoy ‘Elemental – “combining spectacular 80 metre water shooters, flames, projection and pyro technics.” The ‘breathtaking show’ celebrates fire, air, water and earth “the four elements are opposing forces that make up all life, representing the raw power and alchemic equilibrium of our planet.” (The exact nature of an ‘alchemic equilibrium’ is something it perhaps requires the advanced mind of a Professor Tim Flannery to fully comprehend, seeing as it would require a fundamental change to some of the four elements.) After that, head on over to the ‘Common Ground’ light show where “Glitches, cutting geometric forms and a jolting soundscape gives way to lush imagery of seas, fields and mountains – a communal journey towards a sanctuary of peace.”

Held for the past 13 years, except for a brief COVID interruption, Vivid Sydney began in 2009 as a projection show on the sails of the Opera House, set to music by Brian Eno, the composer of the Windows 95 startup chime among other more famous works. It has developed over the years as more projected imagery was added to buildings in Circular Quay, The Rocks and the lower CBD. In 2022, according to Destination NSW, 2.58 million people came from across NSW, Australia and around the world to attend Vivid, spending $119 million in the process.

Vivid 2023 runs from May 26 to June 17 with events stretching from the Royal Botanic Garden and Opera House, around the Harbour shore and through the CBD to Darling Harbour. In addition to those light shows it now offers visitors much, much more, including ‘Food’, ‘Music’ and ‘Ideas’.

In 2023, “The Vivid Ideas Exchange transforms the state-of-the-art Telstra Customer Insight Centre into a theatre for groundbreaking thought from our sharpest, wittiest minds across eight days and nights.” There is a certain commonality to all these ‘sharp, witty minds’, which includes the likes of Yumi Stynes, Guardian Australia climate and environment editor Adam Morton, ACT Senator David Pocock and Australia’s doomsayer-in-chief Professor Tim Flannery.

The organisers boast we are being given the opportunity to Hear from experts who have shifted the dial on climate change” while those who perhaps  might wish to dial back the hype are completely excluded. The debate is over, according to a Vivid Ideas session entitled Climate Action: Tending or Taxing?  The only question remaining is whether to use the carrot or the stick to achieve the mutually desired outcomes mandated by the climate cognoscenti.

Join a panel of experts as they weigh up whether it’s smarter to engage the masses through their heart or their pockets. Consensus is divided over the best way to tackle climate change. Do we forge ahead with ‘nature-based’ messaging – making the crisis an emotional, personal issue, using science and art to show how interconnected we are to the world around us? Or should we use a ‘business-based’ approach, one that focuses on taxation to punish environmental damage?

If you attend Vivid 2023 as a panellist or audience member, be smugly grateful you are not one of the ‘masses’ that need to be engaged. You are at the head table with Napoleon and Squealer (Albo and Chris Bowen?) But there is much more than climate catastrophism on offer in the Vivid 2023 Ideas program. Some samples include:

♦ “Challenge the ‘natural’ ways of thinking, and explore the emerging new normals across sex, relationships, body politics, travel and more.

♦ “Polyamory, open relationships and other forms of non-monogamy are enjoying their first real cultural moment in half a century, but is it “natural”? Join six of our sharpest and funniest minds in debate as they fight it out to settle the matter once and for all: is monogamy the natural way to love?

♦ “Hear from the author of Why Is The Penis Shaped Like That? In a session entitled Perv: The Kink in All of Us.

The Vivid program helpfully explains,

Like us, the natural world has its moods: it can be troubled or serene, furious or loving, chaotic or caring. And with intense reactions to our changing climate, nature is extra moody, not always able to offer us a calming site of respite.

Behold anthropomorphism at work, here providing a handy shortcut to comprehending the otherwise difficult atmospheric sciences.

The ways to enjoy Vivid are many and varied. In previous years the general approach was to turn up at Circular Quay station with the kids, walk around The Rocks while going ‘ooh aah’ at the lights, spend a few fruitless hours queuing up for takeaway and then head home on a standing-room only bus or train. Destination NSW, the state government agency responsible for the event, has now made it far more ‘inclusive’, at least for those with deep pockets. After checking out the Vivid 2023 drone show (Iranian or Chinese drones not specified), you can avoid the queues by booking a Vivid Rooftop Experience in the Aster Bar, high atop the InterContinental Hotel.

Perched 32 floors above Sydney Harbour, rooftop bar Aster boasts breath taking 270° views of Vivid Sydney, paired with a spectacular astronomical (not gastronomical) three-course menu with cocktails to match, overseen by InterContinental Sydney’s Executive Chef Matt Hart.

Each course of the multi-sensory food and cocktail menu is inspired by a planet in our solar system. Devour a ‘revealing’ tuna course paired with a specialty gin-based cocktail for Saturn. A savoury ‘doughnut’ paired with a tequila infused cocktail for Mars, and finally a dramatic, dark and decadent dessert for Pluto – paired with matching cocktail topped with an edible cloud.

Anyone who considers the $199 per head cover charge for that meagre repast as somewhat astronomical needs to get the hell out of Sydney.

Vivid 2023 is the first year the food element has been added to the festival program. This includes the Warakirri Dining Experience at Carriageworks which offers

an intimate evening of First Nations food coupled with after-hours exhibition access. Guests are invited to enjoy this culinary event showcasing 60,000 years of culture through a guided dining experience, entertainment, music and storytelling.

To make the event more accessible for non-indigenes, cutlery, tableware and dining furniture will be made available. Each course will also be paired with carefully selected Australian wines’ inevitably sourced from grapes grown on vines imported by the second wave of German, French and Italian colonial invaders.

Funky Surry Hills restaurant Chin Chin has devised a

unique dinner, everything is art and (almost) everything is edible. Executive Chef Matt MacLeod pairs a four-course menu with a ‘watercolour’ painting session using chilli oil, beetroot sauce and more ingredients from your dishes, perfect on your palette and plate.

With a painting maestro offering guidance, you’ll create a painting inspired by our state’s beautiful natural abundance. Play With Your Dinner will push your understanding of culinary art to new levels – and leave you with a beautiful canvas memento to take home. Bookings are essential. (Tickets are $165pp.)

This is one of many sessions at Vivid 2023 that promises to deliver a ‘playful’ agenda. In a bygone era, ‘playful’ was how one would refer to puppies or young children, but it is now an essential ingredient in contemporary art, design and media as consumed by the modern adult.

♦ “Tumbalong Lights is comprised of four intertwined installations which focuses on imagination, community and playfulness.

♦ “See the Frank Gehry-designed UTS Business School in a whole new light. By illuminating its windows with colour-changing cove lights and wall grazers, Sinclair accents the crumpled-looking exposed brick form with jewel bright hues. Seen from the Goods Line, Frank Gehry’s unmistakable ‘paper bag’ aesthetic suddenly looks as enticing as a bag of mixed lollies. It adds a playful touch to the unmistakable building and is a fantastic interaction between art and architecture.

♦ “Question everything with Queeries, a night of literature, stand-up, performance, and everything in-between from eight Australian LGBTIQ+ writers, comedians and artists. Expect a playful mixture of memoir, fiction, poetry and more, as these artists explore and challenge the idea of what it means to live and be ‘natural’.

♦ “Vegetables and NSW produce will be the stars of the show throughout the six courses, reflecting Vivid Sydney’s celebration of nature and Yellow’s leading plant-based ethos, showcasing Rishi’s Sri Lankan cooking heritage and visionary flair alongside Brent’s mastery of flavour for an experience that is both innovative and playful, inspiring and utterly unmissable.

♦ “Inspired by the mesmerising motion of grass in the wind, this artwork reimagines urban design and the cityscape as a curious, reactive force – one that inspires us to be curious and playful, too.

♦ “Mindfulness facilitators Steve Pozel and Vanessa Lansdown offer a refreshing, playful and accessible experience for all.

Behind all that ‘playfulness’ there is a serious commercial side to Vivid 2023 event, as illustrated by events such as the Samsung Electric Playground, which “showcases the next generation of mobile innovation. Head to the giant illuminated First Fleet Park to unleash your inner child in a spectrum of fun-packed playful activities while experiencing the new features of Galaxy S10.” Also, don’t miss the Kia Air electronic vehicle event:

Matching the performance of the electric Kia EV6 GT with the organic power of the Australian landscape, Kia Air illuminates the night with its ramp to the skies. Featuring imagery of our natural wonders, its hypnotic pulses of light propel the EV6 GT upwards.

But the 2023 Vivid program offers more than advertising copy, it also resounds with deference to the indigenous and the renewable. The landmark ‘Vivid Sydney Dinner’ is a case in point.

Returning to the ivy Ballroom with a whole new look, feel and menu after a sell-out 2022 debut, the dinner fuses light, music, ideas and cuisine into a very special feast for the senses.

In addition to adding to the personal wealth of ivy owner, Sydney restaurant billionaire, playboy and celebrated bon vivant Justin Hemmes, attendees can grapple with the concept of ‘rewilding’, which is a term mentioned on multiple occasions through the Vivid 2023 programme. According to Wikipedia,

Rewilding is a form of ecological restoration with an emphasis on recovering the geographically specific set of ecological interactions and functions that would have maintained ecosystem dynamics prior to human influences.

Presumably it includes the ‘ecosystem dynamics’ and ‘human influences’ that existed before Hemmes launched  his hospitality empire.

Another unique culinary experience provided by Vivid 2023 is an opportunity to “take in the majestic view of Vivid Sydney from the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s South-East Pylon.”

For just $99 per person, you get the opportunity to make a 200-step ascent to the top of the bridge (no lift available) for “one of the best vantage points of Vivid Sydney” where you will be provided with a glass of Shiraz paired with a ‘curated’ cheese box from renowned (celebrity) chef Luke Mangan. (“Due to the unique heritage environment wine will be served in a reusable and sealed cup.”)

After you have admired the views from the South-East Pylon and digested the carboard-encased cheese box and shiraz, you must carefully descend the 200+ steps to ground level for the chance to attend kaoss.in,

a collaborative A/V performance between Finnish duo Amnesia Scanner (PAN) and digital provocateur Freeka Tet. Characterised by a deep fascination with system vulnerabilities, informational overload, and sensory excess, this closing concert fuses grotesque online aesthetics in hyper detailed 16K fantasy colour with AS’ signature avant-EDM sound. NTS resident and club iconoclast aya (Hyperdub) presents a new live set, contorting language, dialect, gender and sexuality between controlled bursts of rhythm, noise and aural goop.

This could be some kind of musical act or possibly a live screening of sex reassignment surgery. As with any live event, it’s always advisable to check out the TripAdvisor Reviews before purchasing tickets. Vivid 2022 was a “Waste of time, very little to see in exchange for competing with massive crowds” according to TripAdvisor user Bananaman, who added “Transport was bad. Which is normal for Sydney.”

Sam from Macau had a pithy summary:

“If you want to walk around in the freezing cold with 100,000 other people trying to find something to eat then it would be awesome! Or you could drive to The Rocks like some other pelicans and just sit in your car. Also, awesome. Other than that, don’t bother. Luna Park looks way better.”

Walter Waverley is the pseudonym of a Sydney journalist and businessman who prefers anonymity to grief from woke neighbours, friends and clients

12 thoughts on “A Vivid Light on the Trendiest Preoccupations

  • pmprociv says:

    What a delicious irony: some of the world’s most advanced technology sucking up to some of its most primitive. Is chef Bruce Pascoe running any of the kitchens? Or is he just one of the providores? Has anyone calculated the carbon footprint of this whole affair?

    Whatever, I’ve now been totally put off going on my next trip to Sydney — to which I’d been so much looking forwards.

  • pgang says:

    ‘…according to Destination NSW, 2.58 million people came from across NSW, Australia and around the world to attend Vivid, spending $119 million in the process.’
    Presumably they included the captive audience of people who already live in Sydney.

  • Dallas Beaufort says:

    Well, I’ve not seen any detail of the Secret Aboriginal Men’s Business, nor their Voices referendum material, just some sensitivity pronouncements wrapped up in some marketing Vibe, straight out of the marketing dept, factless dreaming.

  • Katzenjammer says:

    What a shame I have to miss out. It’s pairing time for my sock drawer.

  • Daffy says:

    “the natural way to love”
    Of course, they don’t mean love, they mean sexual eroticism about some of which there is nothing ‘natural’. That is if you regard ‘natural’ in an evolutionary sense of playing ‘pass the genes’.
    The trouble is with ‘natural’ ways, they don’t work for the longevity and diffused prosperity of a society. Humans figured out centuries, if not millennia ago that social stability and prosperity came from an order that prized commitment to the natural family as the basic social unit, its general protection, and the protection of women and children through the regulation of marriage and prizing it as a permanent estate, ideally.
    Trouble is the touted ‘natural’ way to love (that is to have mock sexual intercourse with all sorts of people and things at all sorts of times) is evolutionarily inert. Good thing too.

  • James McKenzie says:

    ..and not a sous for the King’s Coronation.

  • GG says:

    Vivid is now dripping with woke wankery, having lost its way since its original team was pushed out for zealous, far-Left activists. What’s really wrong is the fabricated numbers that “justify” its huge funding. They are total fiction. DNSW’s “2.58 million people” is a total fabrication. There is NO way of calculating with even vague accuracy who comes from where and who doesn’t. There’s no counting, and commuters marge with visitors in dozens of locations that are open. There’s no way of assessing how much is spent related to the event versus what’s spent normally in the course of business.
    When your core funding application is based on fraud, that’s fraud.
    DNSW is stealing, by committing major, organised fraud on NSW taxpayers.

  • Brian Boru says:

    Thanks Walter. I am reminded of a crude description of a dysfunctional house which ends with “and who is paying the rent”.

  • rachaelkohn says:

    I used to resort to the old line of ‘bread and circuses’ while Rome burns, but it doesn’t hold true anymore, because this kind of entertainment is actually for ‘the arts community’ – that growing mob of tax supported hangers on – who sees itself as the guardian of cool culture but in reality is wasting buckets of money on itself chasing the shallowest ideological drivel dressed up in bright colours. Its so forgettable if it wasn’t actually a frightening sign of our rapid demise into fantasy land.

  • padraic says:

    More a case of lentils and condoms. Thanks Walter for the analysis. I used to think what Huxley and Orwell wrote was confined to the 30s, but it appears that plus ca change, plus ca reste la meme chose.

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