Sunflower lights up talking sculpture at Sydney’s Vivid Festival

Published 20 May 2014

The Sunflower , Southern Cross University’s solar powered audio-visual system, is heading to Sydney this month to bring life to ‘Ray’, an interactive, talking light sculpture, at Vivid Festival.

'Ray' will be the first installation to be powered by renewable energy at Vivid, Sydney’s annual music and light festival, held along the harbour foreshore from May 23 to June 9.

Standing seven metres tall and positioned outside the Museum of Contemporary Art, Ray will be made up of strips of multi-coloured light connecting to a base.

Ray is the brainchild of Pollinate Energy, an Australian social enterprise that installs solar lights in India’s urban slums. Ray embodies Pollinate Energy’s vision of positive change through collaboration and sustainable solutions.

A whole host of design and creative teams have rallied behind the story of Pollinate Energy to bring Ray to life for the Vivid Festival. This collaboration includes the University’s School of Arts and Social Sciences musicians and researchers Dr Barry Hill and Dr Matt Hill; Sydney based sculpture designers Amigo and Amigo; creative data systems company S1T2; and experience-design duo Wildwon.

The SCU Sunflower, designed and constructed by students, researchers and creative arts technicians at the School of Arts and Social Sciences (SASS), is Australia’s largest solar-powered audio-visual production system. It has provided renewable energy at Byron Bay Bluesfest (where it was officially launched in March last year), the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival, Tekstar Festival (Byron Bay) and the WOMEX Festival in Brisbane.

At Vivid, festival-goers can interact with Ray by pulling on cords located in the charging pods, causing computer-animated light sequences to shoot towards the summit of the sculpture. Ray will gradually get fully charged from the coloured lights pouring in, culminating in a surge of sound, light and colour.

Dr Barry Hill and Dr Matt Hill have composed a soundscape for Ray’s installation that will be programmed to match the movement of the lights around the sculpture through a six-channel spatialised audio soundscape.

“This interactive design symbolises the way that the more our community engages with ideas around sustainability, the more energy will be put into developing innovating solutions to global energy and technology needs,” said Dr Barry Hill.

In collaboration with Byron Bay-based creative data programmer artist Kim O’Sullivan, the Sunflower has recently been installed with an interactive data network that enables SCU technicians to monitor information from the solar energy generation and production cycle via a mobile phone.

Thanks to a wi-fi communication network that takes advantage of the Sunflower’s newly installed interactive data capabilities, Vivid festivalgoers can interact with Ray to find out about his day using #HiRay via his social media identities:

@say_hiray Twitter
@say_hiray Instagram
/sayhitoray Facebook

Ray will report on how he is feeling: loved or lonely, high or low on solar energy, happy or unhappy about air quality and pollution levels. He will also be collecting information at the installation site, including ambient weather data, amount of solar battery charge and number of public interactions.

“The creative arts partnership with Ray’s developers Pollinate Energy and Vivid Festival is a natural fit and links strongly to the Sunflower project’s research aims as an innovative interdisciplinary research project that highlights the creative possibilities of new media and sustainable energy technologies,” said Dr Barry Hill, who is the University’s Contemporary Music course coordinator.

“The aim is to develop a 'think green' ethos within the Australian creative arts industry and to promote best practice in solar and alternative power generation. Vivid strongly reflects the themes of the Sunflower solar audio research project, combining the perfect combination of music, light and a public festival for the Sunflower to get involved in - almost too good to be true.”

Alexie Seller, national manager of business development and operations at Pollinate Energy, said their organisation wanted to work with specialist partners to make the Ray’s solar component a reality.

“We recognised immediately that we would need to do something innovative - putting panels on a roof somewhere just wasn’t going to cut it. Along with Dr Barry Hill from SCU, we pulled in renewable energy and structural engineers from AECOM to provide expert engineering advice.”

Four students from the University’s Contemporary Music program will be travelling to Sydney to monitor the Sunflower’s status at the Vivid Festival and to act as ambassadors for the Sunflower project.

“This is the first festival that I’ll be accompanying Ray to, so it’s pretty exciting,” said Sonya Gatland, a guitarist who’s in the third year of her Contemporary Music degree.

“It’s awesome that the Sunflower harnesses the power of the sun. And the fact that it fits in a trailer and is portable makes it so effective for festivals.

“Vivid is also a fantastic networking opportunity for me, too.”

Photo: A designer's impression of Ray.

Media contact: Sharlene King media officer, Southern Cross University, 02 6620 3508 or 0429 661 349.