Pursuit of Performance

Vivid Sydney’s Ignatius Jones Helps Public Art Come to Life

Deb Miller Landau iQ Managing Editor
Ignatius Jones

The creative director behind the world’s largest festival of light, music and ideas says his job is to take art off the walls and bring it to the streets.

As 2.3 million visitors took to the streets at Australia’s Vivid Sydney this year, it’s clearer than ever that people love art they can touch, hear and experience.

The 23-day festival is an ode to interactivity, and the event’s maestro, creative director Ignatius Jones, believes that’s the way art should be.

“We like to say we’re taking art off the walls, and we’re putting it on the streets,” said Jones, who’s been with the festival since its 2010. He said traditional art is often inaccessible, protected by barriers in hushed museums.

“Bah humbug!” said Jones.

“Let’s put the art on the streets where people can touch it, and feel it, and smell it, and lick it if they want to – although we don’t encourage the licking,” he smiled. “What Vivid has done is really put art in a very tangible place.”

Vivid Sydney

Vivid has always been a way to lure art-enthusiasts to Australia during the southern hemisphere’s winter, when the popular summer-city of Sydney typically goes through a tourism dry spell.

Jones said the festival not only brought tourism to the island continent in winter, it lured the locals out as well. For everyone, including small business owners, Vivid breathed life into the off season.

“The people who own pubs and restaurants and are saying to us, ‘well, it’s like 23 nights of New Year’s Eve, but without the drunks,’” said Jones.

Typically, locals would hunker down until spring, but Jones said the festival made people realize the winter wasn’t so bad, and it gave them the opportunity to get outside and enjoy Sydney in a whole new way.

The key to the festival’s success lies in the genre-bending innovation that results when art, music, light and technology collide.

“Digital technology is a great enabler,” said Jones. Artists are like wizards, he said, seemingly creating works of art by some sort of magic, and whenever new technology emerges, it seems a little like magic too.

Vivid Sydney

“So, by getting these two wizards together and by combining their magic, we create a magic that’s exponentially greater than either of the wizards could create.”

Intel has long been the technology partner for Vivid Sydney, and Jones said this partnership is integral to the festival’s success. “Artists are traditionally people who think outside the fold,” said Jones, whereas technologists follow patterns of what’s been learned previously.

“When the liberating force of art meets the disciplining force of technology, they create something completely different, something magical,” he said.

Vivid takes place at night, in the dark, which invites a certain layer of mystery – it changes the canvas. An example of this is the Lighting of the Sails, a Vivid tradition where the white sails of the Sydney Opera House become a canvas for spectacular projection.

This year, the sails transformed into an animated canvas for Australian indigenous art. Six artists from different clans created contemporary “Songlines” that depict Australia’s First Nations’ spiritual and cultural history and offered a visual tapestry that weaves through their personal journeys.

The projections, powered by Intel Core i7 processors, mapped to the sails seamlessly. Eyes on the Harbour used Intel RealSense technology to scan visitors’ faces in 3D and project them onto an 82-foot (25-meter) high water screen.

Vivid Sydney

Jones believes the more accessible the art, the more people will embrace it. He said that by making installations interactive, technology allows people to become part of the artwork and part of the artistic experience, rather than just looking at it.

For example, entering the domed Electric Jellyfish installation at the Museum of Sydney was a multi-sensory experience for festivalgoers who could control their own light and sound show by moving an electric light ring inside the dome.

Vivid Sydney

“One of the wonderful things about Vivid over the last six years is seeing the members of the public become the artists,” said Jones. “They look at the installations and what we’re doing with technology, and they become inspired to do it themselves.”

Jones believes this genre-bending of art and technology is the way of the future. “Art without technology has no use,” he said. “Technology without art has no soul.”


Editor’s Note: Vivid Sydney is proudly owned, managed and produced by NSW and Destination NSW. In this Experience Amazing series, iQ explores how computer technology inside is enabling incredible experiences outside.

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