INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Real Time APRIL/MAY 2009 - by Keith Gallasch
DESIGNS ON LIGHT
Here's a festival with a difference. Vivid, Sydney's new early winter festival of "music, light and ideas" has a lot of art in it but with a refreshing orientation to design, targeted at lighting and sustainability. Installations, spectacle, performance and music will flare, glow and pulse across the city and beyond for three weeks. Like the arts, design is going through a period of serious innovation and hybridisation. With implications for urban planning, architecture, the everyday and art, Vivid will put design, which rarely makes it into arts festivals, centrestage.
Produced by Events Sydney, Vivid comprises several large programs, the largest of which are the Smartlight Festival, with installations at University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and a Light Walk from The Rocks to the Sydney Opera House, and the Luminous music and light program curated for the Sydney Opera House by music and interactive media luminary and artist-in-residence Brian Eno. Meanwhile the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority will stage Fire Water in Campbell Cove, recreating the burning and sinking of a convict transport ship in 1814.
The Smart Light Festival is the creation of its director Mary-Anne Kyriakou. She heads the architectural lighting division of Meinhardt, the energy consultancy, in Sydney and is the Peggy Glanville Hicks Composer-in-Residence, 2008-09. At Vivid's launch Sydney Opera House CEO Richard Evans credited her with putting the Sydney Opera House in touch with Brian Eno.
I asked Kyriakou about her inspiration for the festival. A lighting trade fair in Germany in 2006 led her to a light festival, which proved a life changing experience. Light festivals are widespread in European cities in the winter months, with their roots in the celebration of the winter solstice. Now they are used, as well, to revitalise public space. One of her influences, she says, is Bettina Pelz, the European Coordinator of Light Festivals. Later, the 2007 Milan Design Fair, "at the height of crazy consumerism, where everything was chrome-plated!", signalled for Kyriakou what was unsustainable about design and the use of light at this time. The 2008 downturn has provided an opportunity to change all that. The way forward, Kyriakou thought, was collaboration, and she'd seen this in the emergence of the multidisciplinary Licht Kunst (Light Art) movement. She numbers key figures working in this area as some three hundred to a thousand, including installation artist Olafur Eliasson (who will be featured at the MCA late in 2009).
Kyriakou is hoping that one of the benefits of the festival will be an appreciation of the importance of city night light, to the atmosphere that lighting can create, "a vibrancy, a positive experience, which is often peripheral."
Kyriakou emphasises that light art practices are largely built around teams comprising different disciplines, with creations emerging in ways "analogous to how an architectural project develops." Although there's no lighting trade fair accompanying Vivid, Kyriakou sees the industry as essential to it with leading lighting designers, architects and artists drawing on and being able to play with the very latest in lighting technology.
Kyriakou hopes that Vivid "will take design to the next level" and describes the festival as "a low energy light festival." She is emphatic that "it's not about design for design's sake." She hopes that, as well as engaging the public, "it will educate the next wave of designers about innovation, responsiveness to the environment and energy consciousness."
The suggestion to invite Brian Eno to curate Luminous, says Kyriakou, initially came from Anthony Bastic of George P. Johnson Event Management. She thought about it and quickly realised there were a number of dimensions to Eno that made him the perfect artist for Vivid: "He's a collaborator, he's multidisciplinary, interested in design and the environment (he has a forest in his backyard) and has created a work involving light - the 77 Million Paintings installation", which will feature in Luminous. Eno will also create a new work, Lighting the Sails, which will transform the exterior surfaces of the Opera House into giant screens.
As well, Eno is curating a program of idiosyncratic musicians from around the world including the Arabic electronica-rock of Rachid Taha, bands from New York (Battle) and Liverpool (Ladyron, with "antique synthesizers played in real time"), the upgraded Irish folk of Damien Dempsey; electronic music from the UK's Jon Hopkins; New York-based multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Laraaji; Reggie Watts ("One Man. One Loop Machine. Ten Octaves. Three Hundred Characters"); and, not least, trumpet innovator Jon Hassell. As well, The Necks will be performing in Back To Back Theatre's latest success, Food Court. The program will climax with a collaborative concert, Pure Scenius (Eno's replacement, we are told, for 'genius'). The Luminous music program, Eno's installations aside, is the only ticketed aspect of Vivid, and not light on cost.
While Eno's music program is not apparently light-oriented, perhaps there'll be synaesthetic pleasures for the guesstimated seven percent of us who experience sound as colour. On the other hand we might get a taste of Stockhausen's distinctive view of light (with Lucifer on trombone) when Smart Light Sydney, the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, New Music Network, ABC Classic FM, Goethe Institut and Stockhausen Stiftung combine to present a day of extracts from the composer's seven-day music theatre cycle, Licht. Curated by Roland Peelman and introduced by Stockhausen scholar Richard Toop, it's free but you need to book.
The Smart Light Festival's Light Walk will take viewers, map (available online) in hand, from Observatory Hill through The Rocks to Circular Quay and on to Eno's Light Sails at the Opera House. On the way they'll encounter a range of light works, some interactive, some featuring walkers themselves - their movements, their faces, the colours they wear.
UTS-based Tom Barker and M Hank Haeusler's installation Janus is described in Vivid's press pack as "a pixel facade of a giant human face hanging above a laneway in The Rocks." Via Facebook you can submit an image of yourself. The face, "generated by a hundred-and-ninety-one grayscale-controlled light spheres, will modify its expression to reflect the public's mood... Barker and Haeusler's installation is part of their ongoing research into complex and non-standard media facades." This could be scary - the narcissism of the newest media writ large.
One of Australia's leading light installation artists on the international scene, Sydney-born Warren Langley, will show his towering Vessel of (Horti) Cultural Plenty. Sited near the MCA, it will emit light in response to changing light levels from its immediate environment using a mere two, low-energy one-hundred-and-fifty-watt metal halide globes. Langley is working on a major light project for the City of Sydney and a light installation for the 2010 Winter Olympics Village in Vancouver.
In their Light Walk installation, Cloud of Bats, Ruth McDermott, Trent Middleton and Ben Baxter will expand on our daily Sydney experience of the twilight flight of thousands of fruit bats while commenting on challenges to the species. From bats we move on to synthetic birds. Sydney-based lighting designers Emrah Baki Ulas and Mirjam Roos' installation, Birds, relies "on natural light by day and existing in-ground uplighters by night, and not only consumes zero new energy, it actually uses wasted energy." I hope there'll be explanatory notes on hand. The birds are made of coloured glass and polycarbonate and will "perch on wires extending between palm trees near Sydney Observatory." Ulas won CIBSE's Young Lighter of the Year Award in 2008.
Portuguese artists Nuno Maya and Carole Purnelle "plan to cover an entire building facade in The Rocks with virtual tiles... Using video projectors, people will be able to 'paint' the virtual wall of tiles with their clothing colours and movements in real time." Nuno and Purnelle "manage Ocubo, a multimedia atelier in Portugal that specialises in innovative cultural projects that bridge the real and the virtual worlds."
You've more than likely seen Sydney-sider Andy Uprock's (or his imitators') geometric, plastic cup art, Cuprocking, gridded into wire fences around the city and inner suburbs, making art out of what we usually associate with rubbish distributed by wind or human laziness. There's no light power involved, but the patterned cups catch the light in surprising ways. Architect and designer Michael Day goes a step further with Waste, "wanting his installation for the Light Walk to be scattered along the roadside like garbage." Household bin bags along Argyle Street in The Rocks will be filled with LED fairy lamps which "will magically light up when approached." If my garbage lit up, I'd be very worried.
ART LIGHT EXHIBITION
Artists showing at UTS include Warren Langley, Ruth McDermott (Sea Fan), Bert Bongers (KaleidoFlow), Richard Dunn (The Labyrinth of Light) and Melbourne's Chris Henschke and Donna Kendrigan presenting Samsara City Lights, "a collage of traditional Lanna decorative motifs and disassembled Bangkok billboard squares, printed as an animated sequence onto bio-luminescent plastic."
Also on show will be Smart Light director Mary-Anne Kyriakou's own Prismatic Wave of Light. In Tom Loveday's A Dark Matter, "individually controlled LED lights... respond to approaching viewers." Berto Pandolfo's SQU Lighting Project has been "created largely from sheet-metal [with] a focus on locally sourced materials for a reduction in carbon footprint and uses expertise common to urban communities." Sydney-born sculptor, painter and poet, Michael Snape's Colour TV comprises "three paper stencils attached to a regular television... Colour TV comes to life when the screen is switched on, as colour from the programs leeks through the three opaque layers and randomly animates fireworks."
The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority promises "three nights of flame, food and spectacle in The Rocks." The authority's events manager Michael Cohen (of Theatre Kantanka and former Program Director, Live Sites, Newcastle City Council) with theatre-machine maker extraordinaire Joey Ruigrok van der Werven is recreating the burning and sinking of a convict ship, The Three Bees, in Campbell Cove in 1814, twice a night for three nights. There'll be flames and the ship will really sink, says Cohen; the flames will be real, but the burning will be illusory and the ship will rise again.
While in Newcastle, Cohen says he became fascinated with the power of fire-based installations, "the beautiful effect on people" and the "associations to do with place and a sense of the everyday that are hard to pull off in arts festivals." Working with local artists, he generated "some fifteen of these installations in the public domain." He'd been impressed by the fire work of the French company Carabosse at Womadelaide, and is attracted to site-based work and its relationship to interpreting history. Joey Ruigrok van der Werven had suggested the sinking of a ship and, to his surprise and pleasure, Cohen found that the Harbour Authority had an archaeologist on staff who told him about the fate of the Three Bees.
Cohen had also been disturbed that the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics featured many Australian icons but, oddly, not convicts. So here was an opportunity to create a performative installation in which they figured, at least symbolically. But Cohen is not out to create a theatrical narrative or the equivalent of a large fireworks display. He wants people to wander into the cove and embrace the ambience of a cool night, standing around braziers and enjoying food. There's also a resonance with the traditional bonfire night, says Cohen, when "fire lights up the sky like a cathedral. There's a grandeur."
In 1814, The Three Bees, carrying thirty kegs of gunpowder, had unloaded two-hundred-and-ten convicts two days before it caught fire. The ship had to be abandoned by captain and crew and allowed to drift while the city had to be evacuated. It burnt out near where the Opera House now stands, almost a calamity, but forgotten, and now a kind of ghost ship in Fire Water.
Cohen's desire to play with fire, van der Werven's to sink and raise a ship and an archaeologist's knowledge combined to have "forgotten history coming up like a ghost ship." A researcher who provided material for the show actually had a forbear on the Three Bees.
Cohen hopes his audience will enjoy, above all, an interesting night out with music, installations, flame-grilled food, a soundscape and a "a pinnacle moment." The Fire Water press release adds that "Visitors can create their own floating lanterns at workshops and place them in the bay, each symbolising the many descendants of the 210 convicts who arrived on the ship."