HomeArticlesArts & CultureCelebrating creativity with SWELL
SWELL Sculpture Festival 2019

Celebrating creativity with SWELL

Kate Veling | September 2019

Gold Coast’s iconic outdoor, seaside sculpture festival has become one of Queensland’s major cultural events.

Each September the beach and Esplanade at Currumbin is transformed by numerous large-scale art works that celebrate creativity, engage the local community and capture the spirit of the Gold Coast.

The combination of a stunning coastal location, leisurely beach walks and cultural experience has installed SWELL firmly in the hearts of Gold Coast residents and visitors. The festival personifies our city in its laid-back and casual outdoor atmosphere. It allows people to experience art in the course of daily life, outside of museums or galleries and they can physically engage with the sculptures – walking under and around them, interacting with them and touching them. And a big draw card for families, kids can shout, run and play without being shushed. SWELL has played a significant role in the development and growth of our cultural landscape.

Now it’s 17th year, Swell is a familiar and much loved event locally and further afield. The exhibition is open all hours so visitors can enjoy it any time, and they do. There are the early birds who come to see the sculptures in the light of the rising sun, and at the end of the day there are guided twilight tours where guest curators take people on artistic expeditions, sharing their insights and perspectives.

Out of 55 sculptures being showcased this year, 29 are by Queensland artists and 15 of them are from the Gold Coast. Local artists, Rebecca Cunningham, has a piece called Ancora in the exhibition, which was inspired by one of her life drawings. Rebecca is heavily involved in the local arts scene. She has been holding life-drawing sessions at The Dust Temple for years and was recently commissioned to create a trophy for the Gold Coast Music Awards. She often does live painting at musical performances, festivals and local venues.

Rebecca has been coming to Swell since she was a teenager and has two artworks featured in previous years.

“Swell ignites a lot of creativity in the area,” she says. “It draws in artists from all over the world, and it draws in locals to experience the art-world. They get to experience their local beach in a whole new way.”

In her opinion, making art accessible is one of the things Swell does best.

“That’s the beauty of having your art in a public space,” she says.

“It changes the way people look at the art. Its as though when you put the art in their everyday environment they seem to be more open to exploring it and having an opinion on it, whereas not everyone feels inclined to visit an art gallery and step foot in that world.”

In a first for the festival, Swell has partnered up with the Gold Coast Film Festival to present a free outdoor screening of local environmental documentary, “Rubber Jellyfish”. The film explores the effects helium balloons have on the environment, wildlife and human beings.

Filmmaker, Carly Wilson, was not a filmmaker at all until she made this documentary but was so passionate about raising awareness about the issue that she learned the skills as she went.
She was studying her Masters in Animal Science at University of Queensland and started researching float turtles – sea turtles that have ingested so much plastic and rubbish that they can no longer dive down to the ocean floor to feed. She unearthed an alarming statistic that in a study of deceased turtles, 78 per cent of rubber items found in their stomachs were from balloons.

“My next thought as a curious person was – what does the balloon industry have to say about that?” explains Carly.

“And so I found a balloon store here on the Gold Coast. I looked at their website and it specifically said that balloons cause no negative impact on the environment and no harm to wildlife, including sea turtles.”

Every balloon company and website made the same claims and after investigation, Carly discovered that the source of this “information” was a study that the balloon industry paid for in the 80s.

“It wasn’t real science,” says Carly. ‘It wasn’t published in a scientific journal, it wasn’t peer reviewed. The study didn’t contain anything you’d expect from high quality science but it did say balloons were completely harmless to the environment, completely biodegradable.”

Rubber Jellyfish” has been screened over 60 times around the world, and has had a powerful impact, leading to changes in policy about balloons in a few places. After a screening in Fremantle, WA, in July, the local council banned balloon releases from government property. And Ray White Real Estate has stopped manufacturing branded balloons as a direct result of the documentary.

Carly is hoping similar change will happen on the Gold Coast and loves the synchronicity of screening her documentary in a beach setting. “We need to be thinking our way out of disposable products full stop,” she says, adding that the film has had a huge impact on viewers because it’s something they can take action on immediately.

“That’s part of the power of it I think. A lot of environmental films are overwhelming to people. This one, the message and the solution are so simple that people can really do a lot with it.”

Swell runs from 13-22 September and the 10-day showcase of installations, digital works and sculpture will be complemented by a program of entertainment and activities including the children-focused SWELL Kids Element area, the SWELL Smalls Gallery of small-scale sculptures, as well as adult and child master classes and guided tours.

For more information visit SWELL.

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