Kiwi artists take on Sydney's Vivid festival

Unfurlii by Rana Abboud and Ewen Wright
Rana Abboud & Ewen Wright

Unfurlii by Rana Abboud and Ewen Wright

Rana Abboud has a thing for "monster flowers", or Frankenplants.

A three-time veteran of Sydney's Vivid Festival — a three-week extravaganza bringing together art exhibitions, talks and light installations — the Sydney-based Kiwi has a knack for creating magical Frankenplants that move and react to bystanders.

One was made from crushed plastic cups, which shook and clattered when people approached. Another was made from hundreds of metal plates that opened and shut when people clapped.

Unfurlii, in resting position.
Rana Abboud and Ewen Wright

Unfurlii, in resting position.

But this year's effort, Unfurlii, is the most ambitious yet, which strikes Abboud and her husband Ewen Wright as somewhat ridiculous given that they are working around a baby daughter and their full-time jobs as architects.

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Cutting edge: The Sydney Opera House during Sydney's Vivid festival.
Daniel Boud

Cutting edge: The Sydney Opera House during Sydney's Vivid festival.

"Every year we come back and go, what were we thinking?" laughs Abboud. "We would love to just get a sheet and project things onto it, but Unfurlii moves up and down and changes colour and reacts to people. It's really complicated, and we are cordoning off parts of the house where you can't have a little person coming in."

Unfurlii is modelled on the curling shape of a fern. When sensors at the top of the structure "notice" movement below, as people reach up their hands or jump, the three stems fold up into themselves protectively and change colours.

There are hundreds of moving parts and the whole structure needs to be watertight to avoid malfunctions in inclement weather. It also has to be robust enough to withstand interference from admirers who may want to grab hold of it.

During the Vivid Sydney festival every major building becomes a multi-coloured canvas.
James Horan

During the Vivid Sydney festival every major building becomes a multi-coloured canvas.

The couple plan to join the crowds wandering around Walsh Bay, where their piece will be on display, and watch how people react to it — their favourite part of the whole process.

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"It's great seeing people enjoying them because it takes a hell of a lot of work to make them happen. Our first year, people didn't know how [the plants] were reacting, because they had hidden motion sensors, and people couldn't tell if the [flowers] were reacting to sound or activity.

"It was hilarious watching people trying to guess, and people telling you how they thought it worked."

Vivid Sydney runs until June 18.
DEREK FLYNN/Fairfax NZ

Vivid Sydney runs until June 18.

Vivid brings together 150 light artists from 23 countries. Their work is displayed in eight precincts around Sydney, which also plays host to 500 speakers and nearly 200 music events. Now in its eighth year, it is the largest festival of its kind in the world. 

Last year Abboud and Wright transformed an often overlooked alley in The Rocks known as the Suez Canal with their piece Clapiconia, inspired by the heliconia pendula plant. When bystanders clapped, the geometric flowers strung above them opened and closed.

​Born in Beirut, Abboud moved to Wellington with her family aged three. She went to Victoria University and did a Masters degree at the University of California, Berkeley. She met Wright in Wellington and they moved to Sydney 10 years ago.

The Harbour Bridge during last year's Vivid light festival.
Ethan Rohloff

The Harbour Bridge during last year's Vivid light festival.

"This is the kind of thing we do on the side as a little bit of an outlet, to do something interesting and creative that we don't get to do at work," says Abboud of the light installations, which she "bullied" her husband into making with her.

"I've always been obsessed with lights and things that combine interactivity and movement."

Other Kiwi light artists to show their work at Vivid are Napier-born Mark Hammer (now living in Sydney) and Auckland-based Angus Muir, Hamish Steptoe, Jarrod Barrow, and sisters Julia and Alexandra Heaney.

Kiwi artist Jarrod Barrow's  Spectrum is lighting up a corner of Sydney Vivid this year.
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Kiwi artist Jarrod Barrow's Spectrum is lighting up a corner of Sydney Vivid this year.

* Vivid Sydney runs until June 18.

 

 

 

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