Guerrilla graffiti paints the night at Vivid Sydney

8 June 2012

James Nagel and Michael Kellis's guerrilla graffiti projections are roaming the Vivid Sydney festival site.
James Nagel and Michael Kellis's guerrilla graffiti projections are roaming the Vivid Sydney festival site.

James Nagel and Michael Kellis don't want you know who they are. Which makes a profile rather difficult. What they want you to know is that during the Vivid Sydney festival on now, guerrilla graffiti projections will be roaming Circular Quay and the Opera House precinct. The two-man band of undercover artists is on a mission and has a message they will splash all over the harbour.

"We're against boring lighting," says James, a Master of Design Science (Illumination Design) student at the University of Sydney. "We're projecting graffiti onto buildings precisely because it's in your face and it's a creative use of light."

Michael - who also studies Illumination Design - says that lighting is a little bit like graffiti itself.

"If it's done right, it can look really good. But when it's bad, it's really bad," Michael says. "With this project we can express our message without defacing any property - which is one advantage that light has over traditional spray-on graffiti."

The two will be roaming the Vivid Festival with custom-made projection trolleys. Armed with a series of preconfigured projection-stencils and laptops to customise the projection output to suit any surface they encounter, James and Michael will have their knowledge of lighting - and their bodies - put to the test. Each trolley will weigh 60kg by the time projectors, laptops and generators are loaded and will need to be pushed up, down and around the Rocks district.

James and Michael are completing their final year of their master program. Michael comes from an electrical and engineering background while James is in lighting sales. Both say that the courses they have taken as part of their master's degree have helped inform their contribution to Vivid this year.

"We had the idea after the stage lighting course. And we both took the photography course together so we thought to combine the two," Michael says.

"I was originally going to build some press by doing this guerrilla awareness campaign in Canberra," James says. "I was going to project our slogan - lighting against Mission Brown - onto Parliament House.

"Mission Brown are the boring guys in lighting. We have one projection that just simply says 'Light this Wall' to draw attention to how lighting can enhance even very plain things," James said.

"So the project's involvement in Vivid was just a bonus. We're totally committed to this. I have quit my job and have moved to Sydney for the three weeks of Vivid to make this happen."

Michael and James have discussed turning their experience in Vivid into a business venture. They're confident that their no-damage form of graffiti could be a perfect fit for innovative brands looking to make new advertising spaces.

"We could get a company's logo, say someone like Red Bull, and go and splash it all over the city. It's easy to change and does not damage because we're not really graffiti, just light," James said.

James and Michael's mobile guerrilla installations show how illumination and lighting can combine aesthetic experimentation and technical skills to produce a social message. The Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning congratulates James and Michael on their innovative approach to lighting and is excited to see the installation in action at Vivid this year.

Read more about James and Michael's work at Vivid Sydney.

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Media enquiries: Kath Kenny, 0478 303 173, 02 9351 1584,