How innovative AV is the force behind Vivid Sydney’s spectacular success
As the largest festival of its kind in the southern hemisphere, Vivid Sydney is expected to draw 2.2 million people through its exhibits this year, not including those who engage via digital platforms. So says Lucy Keeler, Vivid 2019’s light curator, who adds that developments in AV technology have driven the massive changes she’s seen over her ten years of festival involvement.
“Art-making and what you can do with technology has evolved at such a rapid pace that every year you’re working with new fun toys,” she says.
Vivid at the forefront of AV technology
She notes that Vivid represents the cutting edge of developments in the AV industry. For example, “five or six years ago, we were still using slide projection in many places,” she explains. “It’s evolved to become digital projection which is now laser projection.”
This has allowed for greater complexity of colour combinations for architectural projections than ever previously possible.
She explains that lasers have overcome the brightness problems of old technology, which made it difficult to get colours like deep reds, blues or purples. “They would all disappear,” she says, “but now with the sheer power of what’s available, the colour complexity is much more interesting.
“The last two years on the Sydney Opera House we’ve been using Barco UDX laser projectors, which can create a delicacy of colour palette that we’ve never had before.”
Harnessing the power of AV
“Everything is smarter, brighter and smaller,” she says. “Old projectors were so cumbersome and so big—even triple-stacking them couldn’t get the results you can get now double-stacking the laser projectors.”
The use of hybrid technology adds another layer to Vivid’s appeal, Keeler says. “It’s really interesting when people combine traditional AV with other things that are unexpected.” For example, an installation called KA3323 incorporates a fully-functional satellite dish which scans the sounds of space.
“The audience can actually use a lever to operate the satellite dish to scan the sky,” Keeler explains. “A very clever father-son collaboration of a mechatronics engineer and electrical engineer have created a series of algorithms that can process the data received by the satellite dish into a sound and light display.”
Bringing brilliant minds together through AV
Bringing together a disparate group of artists and AV professionals – like electrical specialists, architects and industrial designers – through the creative use of AV is one of the best parts of her job, Keeler says.
“For me what’s really interesting is finding creative brains that work in unrelated areas, but then relating their skills in sound and light and pushing it a little further every time.”
An example of this is a piece called The Harp of the City, which is a collaboration between a traditional timber sculptor and a young sound designer, Keeler says. “He’s created vibration sensor technology inherent in a traditional harp which you can play, but the sounds are unexpected.” She explains that when the strings are activated, a symphony of sound and light plays across 14 separate harps.
Fresh use of old tech
Keeler points out that these contemporary artists are using old technology in fresh ways. “Vivid is all about supporting and creating a space where these kinds of practitioners can create new and interesting work.”
She adds that the technology will continue evolving, allowing for ever-more-innovative displays. Nor is Vivid simply about “flashy, pretty lights for no reason.”
“All good work has to come from a purpose and a meaning,” she says.
Elevating the AV industry profile
And while Vivid’s purpose isn’t explicitly to raise the profile of the AV industry to a mass audience, it has that effect. “The audio-visual experience underpins the entire festival,” Keeler says. “At the moment, the profile opportunity that Vivid gives to the AV industry is immense. There’s a global community now around Vivid. Not only half and half Australian and international artists contributing to Vivid Sydney, but our local artists are also traveling the world afterwards
“All the works that you see in Vivid Sydney are likely to start moving around the circuit of different light festivals all across the globe. Anything that is created and commissioned for Vivid Sydney then has an amazing future in the world of light-based art.
“All the AV that’s been developed here is … showing that Australia really is right at the front of AV technology at the moment.”