I hate Vivid.
Or I did. That’s because essentially I’m a snob. If a whole lot of people like something then you can be sure I won’t be caught dead anywhere near it. And that’s what I thought when I first heard about this over rated light show. A modern example of bread and circuses for the masses. Little did I know that it had started in 2009 as a light festival show casing energy efficiency. I only knew that hundreds of thousands of people flocked into Sydney every June long weekend to stare at the liquid-like images projected onto the sails of the Opera House; or stood mesmerised as the walls of the MCA turned into bowls of coloured jelly. And perhaps I hated Vivid because it had hijacked this long weekend that marks the beginning of winter – the least holiday like of seasons. A time to retreat and wait for the warmth to return.
But then I remembered that the Saturday night of the Queen’s Birthday long weekend was traditionally Cracker Night. Walking home from school on the Friday you’d spot the various wood piles on street verges all ready to become bonfires. And in just about every garage was a stash of fireworks purchased from the local shop; Throwdowns, Bungers Roman Candles and Catherine Wheels all ready to turn the average back yard into a mini war zone. And on the Monday morning the inevitable news stories would appear reporting how many hands and fingers had been blown off over the weekend.
In our household it was also the weekend closest to my father’s birthday which fell on the 13th of June. That was a great excuse to gather family and friends around the back yard barbecue. I remember burying potatoes in the embers; to be cooked slowly and eaten late that night, long after the cake and fireworks had disappeared. But although the long weekend is still with us cracker night has long been abolished and the majority of children now retain all there fingers into adulthood.
As a child I wouldn’t have thought it possible to remove such an event from the calendar. It would have seemed like getting rid of Christmas. And equally as an adult I would not have thought it possible that I would come to love Vivid. So what happened to change my mind?
Perhaps I’m no longer a snob.
But more likely it could be because of the huge amounts of time I now spend on public transport. I refuse to look at my phone like everybody else and instead insist on looking around like a crazy person. So the other night I was sitting on a train at about 10 pm just looking around. And I realised that everybody else was also looking around. In fact the train was really crowded and no one was looking at a screen. I was in a carriage filled with happy parents and sleepy children. I went into a panic. Had my refusal to look at my phone meant that I’d missed a major event? I knew that Harry had recently been here but had the Queen actually made an appearance for her birthday weekend? What other reason could there possibly be for all these people to be out in this big, dangerous city on this cold, wet winter night? And that’s when I remembered Vivid.
So the next night I went into town to see for myself what was going on. I wandered with the masses, caught up in the incandescence that had transformed our little harbour city into a winter wonderland. There were ethereal columns and human crosswords, fluorescent sunflowers and giant luminous mailboxes; and an electric forest of Morton Bay Figs. And there were talks and walks, activities and artworks, and of course food everywhere. I even spotted teenagers looking calm and happy, talking quietly in groups or looking vaguely off into the distance. This was something I hadn’t seen since the year 2000 when Sydney became the Olympic city and I was convinced that the government had pumped happy gas through the city streets to keep us all calm. Were they at it again? Because what else could explain my enchantment. This sense of wonder and joy despite the pouring rain. This was magical. This was the perfect winter festival.
And suddenly I realised that Vivid had replaced the cultural tradition of Cracker Night. And I was transported back to the innocence of childhood. So despite my initial misgivings and the shallow satisfactions of paranoid conspiracy theories, I am now an avid Vivid fan. I’ve decided that an event that brings people together and dispels the temptation to hibernate is a good thing. Because as Dylan Thomas once wrote, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night…Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ Particularly if while raging you meet the light globe, goggle wearing animals that can now be found in our Botanic Gardens during the festival. How could you not love ‘Rowi’ the electric Kiwi and her chick?
First image: Vivid Sydney 2016, James Horan/Destination NSW via Wikimedia Commons