Artist Craig Walsh has been working with music festivals for nearly two decades, beginning with a commission to produce works for Brisbane’s much-missed musical gathering Livid.

One of his most memorable works was a series of interactive sculptures, positioned around a stage, that would interact with concertgoers between bands. “I’ve always been interested in that idea of interactivity,” he says, “and when you do works like that, you learn a lot about producing and presenting in an outdoor festival environment, and about the audience’s expectations from a work.” After Livid, Walsh was approached by the then-burgeoning Splendour in the Grass festival, and has never looked back since.

As Arts Programmer for Splendour in the Grass, Walsh has the job of overseeing the weird and wonderful works that appear on site, alongside the music. “One of the reasons I really like Splendour is its willingness to work with new and emerging artists,” he explains. “Sometimes artists will approach us with their proposals, and sometimes, I’ll pursue artists who I think have the potential to create great works for that environment.” Walsh also likes the site-specific nature of Splendour’s arts program. “We try to integrate the artworks all throughout the festival – you don’t need to travel to a specific site to see them, because they’ll be around wherever you go. You’re surrounded by the art.”

This year, the Splendour festival moves to its new, permanent site north of Byron Bay, and Walsh is excited by the possibilities this opens up for permanent works, that evolve and change over time. “We have an opportunity to think about artworks that are not just about the three day experience – we’re thinking about how artworks can transcend many festivals, that can change over the years, for repeat festival-goers to see their evolution,” he says. One such work comes from artist Sam Songailo, who’s been commission to create a work inside the new site’s main entrance tunnel.

“The tunnel is quite large,” Walsh explains. “Its purpose is to get people in and out of the site, and it’s for all the trucks to come through carrying equipment to set up, but we’ve asked Sam to do a work in there for this year. He’s filled it with some bright, psychedelic colours.” Next year, the festival will commission a new artist who will hopefully be able to do a new work that responds to Songailo’s. “You’ll see remnants of last year’s work, as well as a new one,” Walsh says. “We’re hoping to keep doing that over the years, to keep documenting the festival as the artwork evolves. That’s the kind of thing that’s only possible with a permanent site.”

As for other highlights of the festival program, Walsh points to the Tent Of Mircales, a perennial feature of Splendour. “The tent takes a different theme every year,” he says. “This year, it’s The People Vs The Tent Of Mircales. It’s become a court, so there’s going to be an interaction between the performers and the audience. People will be summonsed to court and have to go through the procedures. It’s a very gifted group of performance artists, who can create a work specific to a rock audience. That’s an important work for the festival, for its identity.”

Another exciting work is Disco Ghost, in which artist Julia Drouhin will play records made of chocolate. “That’s a much more intimate type of performance,” Walsh explains. “I don’t quite know how she makes them, but I know that she needs two full days of preparation. We’re providing her with a deep freezer and she’ll be pulling the records out to play them just before the performance, and then offering them to people to eat.”

BY ALASDAIR DUNCAN

Splendour in the Grass runs from July 26-28 at North Byron Parklands.

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