Now in its 12th year, the Art & About Festival is a unique Sydney creation – a celebration of public art, bringing exciting, eccentric and provocative works to people in the sorts of places they’d never expect to see them.
The festival takes over parks, city squares, train stations and all sorts of other unexpected corners of Sydney, and runs on the spirit of curiosity. Gill Minervini has been Creative Director of the festival since its inception, a unique privilege for someone in the arts field. This year’s festival, she says, is all about projects that involve the audience. “We’ve been building towards that for a few years, and we’re very excited to have the audience involved in the projects, be it as they’re developed, or as they’re viewed. We don’t want people to be passive spectators – we want them to be able to engage with the artists and works in ways they never have before.”
Each year, Art & About features a number of eye catching works. This year, the jewel in the festival’s crown is Snailovation, an ambitious project that sees giant, colourful gastropods taking over Sydney. “The work is by an Italian collective called the Cracking Art Group,” Minervini explains. “The snails first appeared at the Venice Biennale a few years ago, and it’s their first time in Australia. There will be 24 of them dotted throughout the city, so it’s all about the joy of discovering these two-metre, brightly-coloured snails around the city. We did a photo shoot with them the other day and the pictures are already going mad on social media. It’s a big, fun, accessible installation by a very experienced group of people, and it’s exquisitely made.”
Also on the agenda is a stunning installation work called Field, which will sit in Hyde Park North for the duration of the festival. Put together by a New Zealand artist collective called Fresh, Field is a collection of 48 mirrored plinths, which act as a maze, allowing people to wonder through and get a whole new view of their surroundings. At night, the plinths light up to add a further unique and special dimension. “The banners for this year’s Art & About are by an artist called Maya Barkai,” Minervini says. “The series is called Walking Men Worldwide. She’s collected the walking men symbols, from when you cross the road, from 99 cities around the world. They’ll be on 700 banners around the city, and they’re a really stunning collection, not to mention a timely one, since places like George Street are about to undergo a huge transformation for light rail.”
Art & About kicks off on Friday September 20, with an opening night party set to turn Martin Place into an open-air cinema and concert venue. “We’ll be setting up deck chairs and showing Shaun Tan’s film The Arrival,” Minervini says. “It’s a beautiful film, and it’s about the theme of immigration, which is especially timely, given that the theme of this year’s festival is ‘Private Lives, Public Places.’ The film tells the private story of people moving to an unfamiliar land, but it plays out in a very public way, and it will be shown amid the buildings and the hustle and bustle of the inner city, which is beautiful.”
The opening night party also features a performance by The Break, a surf rock band comprising Brian Ritchie of the Violent Femmes, as well as various members of Midnight Oil and Hunters & Collectors. “There’s a great mix of stuff,” Minervini says. “You can dip in and out of the film, have a drink, hear some great music. It’s going to be a really fun party.”
BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN
Art & About hits various venues around Sydney on September 20 and runs until October 20.