Tag Archives: Liam Ryan

Morphic Mirror at the Vivid Festival

Winter’s coming on in Sydney, with fog and bitter chills (bitter by Sydney standards – probably balmy if you’re from Saskatchewan). The Writers’ Festival is over and the Film Festival is more than a week away. But there’s Vivid to light up our nights.

The Opera House, Customs House and the MCA become screens for brilliant animation at 6 o’clock every night from last Friday to Monday week. I don’t think any of the three is up to the standard set in the last two years, but it’s still worth joining the crowds at Circular Quay each night for the spectacle. There are luminous spectacles along Macquarie Street, in Luna Park, and in Darling Harbour as well – I haven’t seen them yet, but the photos on the Vivid site are very promising.

Those are the big items. But the walk from the Opera House to the Rocks and down to Walsh Bay involves, I don’t know, hundreds of smaller scale light sculptures and installations. There’s an electric graffiti wall in a lane in the Rocks that has butterflies flying through rainforest – but all the foliage wilts and dies when anyone walks too close. There are myriad mirror balls in a Walsh Bay breezeway. There are enough interactive light-projecting set-ups to keep a family happy for hours.

And again this year, my brilliant son Liam and friends are part of it, with their creation, the Morphic Mirror. It’s a responsive funhouse mirror: hold your arms wide and the surface of the mirror contorts so that  your reflection broadens; wave your hands in the air, cross your arms over your body, and your image morphs in response. Like the Social Fireflies and Screaming Rapture of previous years, the Morphic Mirror has an intimate, human-sized feel, and as this video demonstrates is a real crowd pleaser, one person at a time.

Morphic Mirror is created by Frank Maguire, Jason McDermott and Liam Ryan.

There’s more to Vivid than the lights. Evidently there’s music and ideas as well. The lights will do me.

My two sons and friends

Have a look at this music video, directed by my elder son, featuring the Screaming Rapture of which my younger son is co-creator, music by a friend of them both.

If you saw the Screaming Rapture at last year’s Vivid Festival, you probably would have had no idea it was capable of the kind of complex responsiveness it shows here.

(If the embedding doesn’t work, you can see the clip on YouTube.)

Screaming Rapture at Vivid

I’ve been having trouble getting to the blogging desk this week, but I can’t let any more time go past without saying what a great time I had visiting Vivid down at the Quay last Friday night.

Vivid is billed as a Festival of Light, Music and Ideas. All I’ve seen is the light. I was at a lecture on contemporary art recently where a stooped and grey-bearded gentleman decried the ascendancy of spectacularism in contemporary art exhibitions. He may have said something about bread and circuses, and he certainly did say that somehow spectacle serves the agendas of governments. So I’m uneasily aware that I may be contributing to the end of civilisation as we know it if I recommend the multi-faceted spectacle of Circular Quay just now. However, recommend it I will.

The lighting of the Opera House Sails is fabulous: the moment when they started to flutter was heartstopping. The sails, the Customs House trompe l’oeil and  the gigantic Socialist Realist animation on the MCA are the Really Big Items, with the sunflowers and roses in the Argyle Cut not far behind. But there are any number of smaller works, many of them interactive, to enrich a stroll around the quay from now until 11 June.

In some ways the most restrained exhibit of all is Screaming Rapture. In contrast to the bright colours everywhere else, it’s a relatively small, stark black structure with a white light inside it. All it does is respond to sound – different ones of its black louvres open in response to different frequencies, volumes and durations. As we arrived from the Rocks, we could hear rhythmic clapping, which turned out to be someone playing with it. In my brief time in front of it, a small child sang and just the top row of louvres flickered. A man shouted basso profondo and just the bottom rows stood open. I sang ‘My love is like a red red rose’, and it moved prettily. Later we heard prolonged screaming and saw the whole rectangle show bright white.

Photo by Reuters, downloaded from hungeree.com

There’s a nice piece on the SMH site where one of the creators, Frank Maguire, talks about it. My son Liam Ryan is another of the brains (and late night labourers) who brought it into being. It’s not just paternal warmth that makes me think that amid all the awe-inspiring (I mistyped that as aww-inspiring, and I guess that’s accurate as well)  spectacle, this piece speaks of a world where technology is at our beck and call, doing the bidding of even the smallest child.

The Screaming Rapture Cometh

Last year my son Liam was one of the team that created Social Fireflies for the Vivid festival. This year they’re producing Screaming Rapture. The social fireflies moved in response to light, from outside or from each other. The louvres of the rapture respond to sound. You make a noise. They flash. I don’t know about the title, but it’s looking cool.

Fireflies in the Inner West Courier

That‘s my son, one of ‘three inner west designers’:

In a fig tree in Circular Quay there are 48 mechanical fireflies ready and waiting to dance with you.

Each firefly has a brain, which is a circuit board, and an energy efficient LED light in their tail.


On Friday night we caught the bus to Circular Quay for the start of Vivid. To tell the truth, I’ve had only the vaguest idea of what Vivid is until now. Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed have featured in past years, and I’ve heard that the Opera house has been lit spectacularly. I’ve meant to have a look, but never managed the trip to town. I’m not sure I’ve completely grasped the concept yet, but it’s at least partly a festival of light-related art.

The animated illuminations of the Opera House are wonderful. The Customs House, if anything, is even more wonderful. For gee-whiz technical brilliance and stuff you can’t take your eyes off, they’d both be hard to beat. There’s a reason so many people were lugging proper cameras with tripods around the Quay area. I won’t embarrass myself by uploading any of what I managed to capture on my iPhone. Vivid have a photostream on Flickr, and here’s someone else’s take on Customs House from You Tube:

Apart from the two big items, there are more than 40 ‘light sculptures‘ scattered around the Quay and the Rocks. Number 23, Social Firefly, was the big drawcard for us. Created by Jason McDermott, Liam Ryan & Frank Maguire, the second of whom is one of my two brilliant sons, it’s a medium sized fig tree near the MCA that’s full of gizmos. Here’s a phone shot of one gizmo in captivity:

The tails of these gizmos (at the bottom of the one in the photo) light up firefly green when light shines on them, and they also move in response to light. So a beam of light from, say, the torch tethered to the tree, will make one of the ‘fireflies’ light up, and set it swinging back and forth. When its light hits another, that one is animated in turn, and soon the whole tree is full of dancing green lights. It’s not the only interactive sculpture, and it’s certainly not the easiest to photograph or film (as the Art Student and I demonstrated to our own satisfaction), but it’s fascinating, and gets the paternal pride cells swelling

So there you are, that’s a glimpse of this Vivid thing that fills the weeks between the Writers’ Festival and the Film Festival in Sydney.


The Sydney Writers’ Festival is over, and Vivid is about to light the town up. In this house we’ve been aware of a Vivid project that looks very interesting, and the Sydney Morning Herald site put up a teaser for it on the weekend:

They buzz like fireflies, light up like fireflies, but forget about calling them insects. Social Firefly is the latest installation to be announced as part of the Vivid festival, and is made up of a smattering of interactive robots flying around the fig tree at the Overseas Passenger Terminal.

The creatures are a collaboration between designers Liam Ryan and Jason McDermott from the firm Arup and Frank Maguire.

They have been programmed to respond to light, and to each other.

‘When light is shone on one of these little creatures, it will react and change the way it is moving and shine light around its immediate neighbourhood,’ McDermott said.

Visitors to the installation will be able to shine torches on the ‘fireflies’ to provoke a response, and see the ripple effect of that on the community in the tree.

Vivid starts of Friday, and Fireflies is scheduled to be switched on at 6 o’clock.