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Here are the 11 most exciting things on at this year's Vivid Sydney

Written by
Time Out editors

Vivid Sydney today announced the program for its 11th annual festival, which brings light installations, live music, talks and discussions to Sydney for 23 days over winter. It’s become a major tourist attraction, with more than 2.25 million visitors drawn like moths to the free, mesmerising light shows that shine from 6-11pm each night. The lights will switch on alongside big-name performances and appearances from May 24 to June 15.

Here’s 11 things you need to know about the 11th Vivid Sydney program before it all kicks off. 

1. Academy Award-winning director Spike Lee will talk about race in the media
It will be a challenge to explore Spike Lee’s 40-year career in a 90-minute conversion. The renowned African-American director has made important contributions to discourse about race and equality in the media, and has impacted popular culture across generations. An informed film library wouldn’t be complete without Malcom X (1991) and the 2018 Academy Award-winning film BlacKkKlansman. The Town Hall talk on June 1 will be Lee’s first public appearance in Australia, and he’ll share insights into filmmaking and social advocacy beyond the big screen. He’ll be joined in conversation by Widjabul and Gidabul woman and one of Sydney's leading arts voices, Rhoda Roberts.

Photograph: CC/Anders Krusberg

2. Esther Perel is coming to sort out your love life
If you haven’t heard 'Where Should We Begin', the superstar relationship therapist’s hugely popular podcast, you’ll want to brush up before booking tickets to her conversation at City Recital Hall on June 2. The podcast consists of one-off, real-life couples' counselling sessions where she breaks down their problems and helps them find solutions. It’s basically Dr. Phil but ten times smarter and less exploitative. For Vivid Ideas, she’ll be talking about modern love and dating in the digital age. And it’s her first visit to Australia, so we can’t wait to hear what she makes of the local dating scene.

3. FKA Twigs is performing for one night only at Carriageworks
While we already knew that Aussie three-piece Rüfüs du Sol and classic goth-pop band the Cure would be part of the Vivid Music and Vivid Live line-up, we're stoked to hear about FKA Twigs joining the party. It's four years since the genre-smashing, avant-garde pop star performed in Sydney, and now she’s returning with a new show (and maybe even some new music). We’re expecting tickets to go quickly for this one as she’s doing just one night at Carriageworks on June 9. But that doesn’t mean they’re going cheap: a ticket will set you back $110. Have your credit card ready this Thursday March 21 at 9am. 

Photograph: Mateus Porto

4. Björk’s music video director is lighting the Opera House sails
Let’s face it: Vivid Sydney is all about the Sydney Opera House sails. Other elements come and go, but it’s images of those sails that go out around the world and rake in the sweet, sweet tourism dollars. This time around, the lighting honour goes to Andrew Thomas Huang, a Los Angeles-based artist who directed several Björk videos. His work for the sails is called ‘Austral Flora Ballet’, and features native flora (which yes, was also the inspiration for the sails last year) and a dancer performing across the sails.

5. Briggs is hosting a massive night of First Nations-led hip hop at the Opera House
Briggs is nothing if not versatile. The Shepparton-born Yorta Yorta artist is a rapper, one half of the hip-hop duo A.B. Original, founder of the Indigenous record label Bad Apples, and a writer, comedian and actor to boot. He continues to soar to new heights of creative success, and we’ll get to see his work alongside other Indigenous artists and contemporary hip-hop music-makers at Briggs’ Bad Apples House Party. The big night at the Sydney Opera House on May 30 will see Briggs on stage beside electro-soul duo Electric Fields, Northern Territory rapper Birdz, New Zealand’s game-changing hip-hop star David Dallas and many more.

6. The Harbour Bridge will light up with an Indigenous artwork
The southern pylon of the Harbour Bridge has been used by Bangarra Dance Theatre for the last few Vivids, and it’ll be home to an Indigenous work again this year. The Sydney Opera House’s head of Indigenous programming Rhoda Roberts (one of our favourite artistic leaders in the city) is creating ‘Eora: Broken Spear’, a projection work that pays tribute to the country which we live upon and its original custodians.

Image: Supplied

7. We'll score an encore performance by Australia’s Eurovision hopeful, Kate Miller-Heidke
She’ll still be gliding on the glittering, theatrical high of Eurovision when she arrives in Sydney for her performance at City Recital Hall on May 29, and we expect Kate Miller-Heidke will blow us away with a globally inspired performance. She’s teaming up with Helpmann Award-winning composer and director Iain Grandage to add some 2019 pizzazz to her heart-melting ’00s hits like ‘The Last Day on Earth’ and ‘Caught in the Crowd’ alongside more pop-meets-opera creations.

8. The AGNSW is boosting its Art After Hours program
We’re a big fan of the Art Gallery of NSW’s free Wednesday night art series – with after-hours access to the galleries, live music, workshops and talks. But for Vivid, they’re curating some pretty special nights. Our pick is the ‘Other’ Voices program on June 5, which will feature award-winning poet Omar Musa and artist Abdul Abdullah in conversation with Michelle Law about how their creative work has allowed them to explore issues of identity in Australia. And yes, Musa will be performing some of his poetry live – we promise he’ll blow you away, even if you’re not a poetry person. Later in the night Sydney singer Okenyo will perform some of her signature electric soul.

9. Claudia Nicholson is taking the MCA to Colombia
We always love to see one of Sydney’s most exciting artists get a chance to take over a major canvas at Vivid Sydney, and this year we’re most excited about Colombian-born, Sydney-based Claudia Nicholson’s projection on the façade of the Museum of Contemporary Art. She’s best known for her contemporary takes on Colombian traditions; she makes floral arrangements and the colourful ‘alfombra de aserrín’ a traditional carpet-like artwork created painstakingly over several days using sawdust, glitter and pigment. Those artworks will be adapted for a large-scale animation.

Image: Supplied

10. A horde of 500 fireflies will be buzzing through the Royal Botanic Garden
There are only a few bugs that inspire a sense of romanticism – butterflies maybe, or ladybugs for their duds – but there’s something dreamy about fireflies and their glowing gracefulness. That’s probably why Dutch artist collective Toer created 'Firefly Field', a delicate light installation simulating a family of 500 fireflies. It will appear to hover above the ground and show the blinking, light-up ritual of fireflies looking for love during mating season. In reality, it’ll be built on a superfine steel structure with flexing rods that give a mesmerising movement to the installation at the Royal Botanic Garden.

11. Vivid is bringing a snowstorm to Circular Quay... kind of
While there are fab performance and artistic elements to Vivid Sydney, we have to admit that a big part of the festival is shiny things. If you’re in the market for an internet-breaking Instagram post or a new DP, head to 'Let it Snow' by artist Jing Li and Lawrence Liang. This Circular Quay light installation allows light-seekers to walk through a cloud of LED bulbs which replicate that pumping Thredbo snow machine. The tendrils of light will react to pedestrian movement and the weather, so you’ll really feel like you’re in the tundra once the crowds gather.

Start planning how you’ll fill your belly come Vivid. 

Words by Ben Neutze and Olivia Gee.

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