What’s Art About? Reply

Traffic-control billboards displaying smiley faces or quirky, ironic messages created by Jasper Knight and Isabelle Toland on display at Martin Place.

by Fraser Tye

In the past week, residents, commuters and tourists in Sydney may have noticed the city’s streets, laneways, parks and public spaces city taking on a new look and it’s all for art’s sake…

For a month from September 21, Art & About Sydney will make the city its urban canvas, taking art out of the galleries and performances out of the theatres and putting them in unexpected places. This year, the theme is ‘In Colour’ and the slogan is ‘Art in Unusual Places’.

In Hyde Park, giant trees are lit up after dark as part of Craig Walsh’s artwork titled, Emergence. Here, large-scale projectionsof people’s faces appear on its southern trees, revealing monuments of people who have been involved with civic action and protest at this site in the past – you can also hear these monuments of people talking.

 “I’m very interested in representing histories in a space that don’t normally get represented in the monuments you see in other areas of Hyde Park,” Craig says. “It’s about making reference to that element of history [civic action and protest] which is an important component to a contemporary culture and the human condition.”

On Macquarie Street, people can enter a house, designed specifically for Art & About, that’s raining inside. James Dive’s artwork titled, I Wish You Hadn’t Asked, is a fully furnished suburban house designed to “self-destruct” and “rot” over time as it pours 200 litres of recycled water every minute from its ceilings.

James refers to this house as a “private world” that represents “a moment where something is said or done which cannot be taken back, and when that world slowly deteriorates over time”. Over the three-week period of the artwork, visitors will be provided raincoats and James expects the house will go from “somewhere being fun, light and joyful to somewhere you won’t want to spend much time in”.

Near Green Square station in Alexandria stands a giant green crate, measuring 10 metres high by 10 metres wide, made from recycled crates embedded with 25000 tiny, edible plants grown by local residents and businesses.

The Great Crate is a creative and colourful addition to one of Sydney’s rapidly developing communities. The Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore says, “Green Square is one of Australia’s fastest-growing precincts, so it’s the perfect home for this innovative art project that celebrates sustainable growth and encourages people to work together to find ways they can live more sustainably.”

Gill Minervini, organiser of Art & About, has aimed to avoid Sydney’s iconic and internationally recognisable harbour as a setting for public art. She says events like Art & About can help reveal some of the city’s hidden charms.

“We use some iconic places like Hyde Park, but we also use laneways and even windows, staircases and other unpredictable places,” she says.

Now in its eleventh year, Art & About Sydney has come a long way since its beginnings as a visual arts event in 2002. As Ms Minervini says, “We’ve now moved into performing arts, and all sorts of media.”

The event now features art which is audiovisual, like Emergence with its projections of faces and voices at Hyde Park. The performing arts side of the event is noticeable in the free band-gigs which pop-up in outdoor settings around the city. At 12.30pm every Friday from 28 September to 19 October, performances from emerging musical talents will perform at a secret location, with the address revealed at 5pm on the Wednesday before.

Other interesting examples of the event’s art include Reko Rennie painting the old Commercial Bank at Taylor’s Square in pink and blue fluorescent, geometric diamonds. There are 12 electronic traffic-control billboards displaying ‘smiley faces’ or quirky, ironic messages such as, ‘Are you talking to me?’ created by Jasper Knight and Isabelle Toland on display at Martin Place. Mr Knight says traffic-control billboards often “boss you around” whereas the ones on display in Martin Place will encourage “people to stop, look up and relax, and take a look at things around them”.

In total, there are 22 art-installations that are  engaging or provocative public display 3D artworks, like Jasper Knight’s. While there are extended opening hours at the Art Gallery of NSW, the Australian Museum and Museum of Sydney as well as numerous art exhibition launches, art workshops and markets, it’s the public art installations that interests Gill Minervini the most. She believes the installations make art accessible to the public. “I think people love the sense of discovery, of new places and maybe not places that they’ve thought of visiting, or are seeing in a different light.”

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