Lighting the Sails at the Opera House

Vivid Sydney 2016: Lighting of the Sails at the Sydney Opera House
May 21, 2016
Andrew Taylor
Deputy Arts Editor, The Sydney Morning Herald
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The centrepiece of Vivid Sydney 2016, Songlines promises to be a spectacular show, with the Opera House changing appearance, even structure, and the facade peeling away to reveal the work of six Indigenous artists selected by Lighting of the Sails director Rhoda Roberts.

The sails will be lit up with the art of Karla Dickens, Djon Mundine, Gabriella Possum Nungurrayi, Reko Rennie, Donny Woolagoodja, and Gulumbu Yunupingu.
More than a dozen projectors erected on scaffold towers almost 500m away will beam their art across the water to light up the Opera House.

But the beauty of this year’s Lighting of the Sails is more than skin-deep. As Roberts puts it: “Nothing gets programmed because it’s pretty.”

Songlines was devised by Roberts, the head of Indigenous programming at the Opera House, to reflect cultural knowledge and rites.
Ignatius Jones creative director and Jess Scully creative director of Vivid Ideas in front of ‘I love you installation at Circular Quay.Vivid light projections on Customs House.
“We want more than pretty pictures, we want depth,” Roberts says. “There’s so much layering to Aboriginal culture.”
But weaving the different songlines, or dreaming tracks, of the artists into a seamless projection on the canvas of the Opera House is no easy task.
“You don’t have the luxury of just slapping up artworks,” Roberts says. “There’s so much protocol and cultural responsibilities for each artist. It’s a lot harder.”

“For Dickens’ artwork, hundreds of frames were “painted”, along with stop-motion and time-lapse techniques, to create her forest of trees and silhouettes of crows scanning the million-dollar harbour views.

Dickens has painted on cars and boats and items she discovers at her local tip in Lismore so the Opera House sails are, in a sense, yet another found object for her to use as a canvas.

“I’m always incredibly excited when works can be transformed and move from different media and have a new life,” she says.

The sequence featuring Dickens’ work from her Loving Memory body of work is bold and bright, but “it’s not just fairy floss”, she says.

Dickens painted the series of artworks at a time of personal hardship when she was grieving the loss of a baby and a friend who had died of cancer.

She regards the crow as a source of strength and solace.

“The crow represents the old people, the ancestors,” she says. “I believe they visit when you need to know you’re not alone.”2003-show-vivid_sydney-opera_house_620_412_100