Gold Coast’s iconic outdoor 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.
SWELL, is one of six organisations that have received Accelerate Triennial funding (2015-2018) from the City of Gold Coast and is now in its 16th year. Annually SWELL attracts 260 thousand + visitors and showcases the best of our city’s arts, culture and lifestyle. Creative Director, Ruth Della, reflects on what makes the festival so popular and so important for the Gold Coast.
“Art in the public realm is accessible,” she says. “It’s essential to the cultural fabric of any city or town as storytelling, historical reference or to show the aspirations of a place. Public art enlivens a space and creates the opportunity for conversation and exchange. It’s vital for a city and its people to stay connected, and art can do this, one moment at a time.”
Since 2009 SWELL has branched out into collaborative community arts projects, working with artists and members of the public to create some unforgettable public art installations. One of the most memorable was the ANZAC Poppy Art Project, which saw Elephant Rock in Currumbin covered with poppies made from recycled plastic bottles to celebrant the centenary of Gallipoli. For this project, SWELL liaised with local environmental artist, Lynne Adams, the Currumbin RSL and collaborated with students at Palm Beach Currumbin High School and Elanora Primary School who made the flowers. The installation was a visually striking backdrop to the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Currumbin Beach.
In April this year as a part of the Commonwealth Games arts and culture program, Festival 2018, SWELL collaborated with a world-renowned design duo to create another incredible piece of public art, The Urchins. The outcome was two radically up scaled crochet artworks suspended in Appel Park in Surfers Paradise, that were made with the generous help of 80 crochet enthusiasts.
“With both of these incredible artworks there was a deeper connection at play with the people involved and the layers of interactions,” says Ruth. “Art experiences like The Poppies and The Urchins are empowering and Gold Coasters are very receptive to contributing and participating in something beyond their world. It’s wonderful.”
The Urchins were designed by internationally acclaimed architecture and design studio, Choi+Shine. The husband and wife duo, Jin Choi and Thomas Shine, visited the Gold Coast to source inspiration from our local landscapes and seascapes for the artwork.
Once the concept and crochet patterns had been designed, SWELL put the call out for volunteers to help crochet the super scaled urchins. It was no small task and this next stage of the project was challenging but ultimately very rewarding, as a community of crocheters collaborated to create something extraordinary.
“We had a fantastic response from the Australian and international crocheting community. Over 200 people expressed interest to get involved,” says Ruth. “In the end, over 80 crocheters from the Gold Coast and Brisbane were enlisted plus a number from North Queensland, Darling Downs and South Australia. The community engagement raced to a start with a concerted effort to get patterns and the 3mm nylon rope to people at the quickest rate possible. It was a logistical feat to manage 80 people and the distribution of eight patterns and various rope lengths ranging between 150 metres and 400 metres.”
“There was a real sense of belonging within the Urchins Australia group, and this created a compelling and special connection to the community,” explains Ruth. “New bonds and friendships were formed. The pure passion for crochet combined with generosity and willingness to ensure the project was a success was so overwhelming. Every crocheter exuded these qualities, and it was an incredible experience to work with each of them.”
A Facebook group allowed the volunteers to communicate, show their progress, troubleshoot any issues and offer each other support. Ruth says a real sense of camaraderie formed between the members and they would share ingenious techniques to stop the ropes getting tangled as they worked or guard their fingers against friction burns.
For SWELL, the project was hugely valuable and an affirmation of their passion for connecting people, art and place.
“Working with Jin and Thomas was an incredible experience,” says Ruth. “It was professionally rewarding to work with two artists we had followed and admired. Gaining insight into the process of their large-scale projects and how Jin abstracts from nature were especially impressive. Working with them assured us that our approach and method is spot on and reinforced our capacity to work on projects of this scale and high standard.”
“Secondly, working with over 120 people on this project was immensely satisfying. The generosity and pure passion of the crocheters was awe-inspiring. Joining the crochet world was extraordinary. It was such a collaborative effort and everyone was passionate about the end result. We also worked with local artists on the final stages and installation of the Urchins and this strengthened our connection with these artists. It was a meaningful exchange of skill and knowledge for everyone involved and boiled down to a great crew to work with.”
Public art is always made for the community, but in this case it was hand made by the community and the response to The Urchins at Festival 2018 made all the hard work and sore fingers worth it.
Ruth reflects on how the Commonwealth Games and Festival 2018 have enriched our city and how its legacy will see the Gold Coast’s cultural sector continue to thrive.
“Festival 2018 was a world-class offering right on our doorstep, rich with local artists and local participation yet balanced by incredible national and international artists and acts,” she says. “The artistic diversity and cultural exchange offered through the program was authentically Gold Coast in its ability to welcome and embrace artists, acts and visitors from across the suburbs and across the world. It was a wonderful celebration of the arts. It again showed that Gold Coast artists and organisations working in visual arts, performing arts and the music industry have the goods! Excellence should be embraced and continually cultivated especially so the creatives in our city can live and work on the Gold Coast and, contribute to the Coast’s cultural landscape to invigorate its people.”
SWELL Sculpture Festival 2018 is on from 14-23 September.