HomeArticlesArts & CultureA new generation of souvenir art: Byron Coathup

Super Souvenir by Byron Coathup. Image credit: courtesy of artist

A new generation of souvenir art: Byron Coathup

Samantha Morris | September 2018

Byron Coathup is an artist, designer and curator. The Gold Coast artist has been included in group exhibitions at Falls Festival, Bleach*, QT Hotel and HOTA and he runs Maverick Hair and Art Space where he’s quarantined a space specifically for contemporary art exhibitions and events.

His most recent work ‘Super Souvenir’ was exhibited as part of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games and its arts and cultural event Festival 2018.

Byron said the ‘Super Souvenir’ project was conceived from a work he made for Bleach* Festival in collaboration with Gold Coast City Gallery in 2016 titled ‘The Culture Shop’.

“It was a pop-up souvenir store that carried local artists’ work from an existing exhibition at the gallery to an offsite location in a Coolangatta shopping mall,” he explained.

The essence of the work wasn’t driven by the sale of souvenirs but more so the unity and memory of what these objects bring to our community.

“So this is how ‘Super Souvenir’ became more of a deconstructed version of a souvenir shop where the community and tourists can discover and even BYO their own souvenirs to access a deeper understanding of why we collect these often silly things,” he explained.

Like many local artists, Byron received support from City of Gold Coast in the lead up to the Commonwealth Games to develop his work. He was one of ten artists selected to participate in GENERATE – part of a large initiative which saw some $7 million invested into the local arts sector through the City’s Accelerated Cultural Development Program over the past four years.

The three-year, three-stage initiative brought together some of the city’s most talented emerging artists specifically to develop content for the GC2018 arts and cultural program.

GENERATE’s legacy is that much of the work created was distinctly Gold Coast – none more so than Byron’s.

He said he found the program “a bucket-load of hard work and inspiring.”

“It was great to be a part of a group of Gold Coast creatives that worked together to realise our own ambitious projects,” he told We Are Gold Coast.

“We were guided in many different directions at first. Many of our ideas in the early stages actually didn’t make the cut at the end but this is part of the whole creative process of picking apart your ideas and making sure each component fits in.”

“To work together and thus debut our projects and ideas on a world stage is nothing short of brilliance.”

While there’s no doubt the actual presentation of new work to international guests was one of the biggest outcomes of the GENERATE program, Byron says for him, it was the chance to realise an even grander idea than what he’d envisioned in the initial stages.

“Personally I feel like I have grown as an artist through this process, often thinking I wasn’t going to pull it off, but that’s pretty normal,” he said.

“I was also lucky to be mentored by guest curator, Virginia Rigney, who helped me to learn the fundaments of curating and bringing all these ideas together.”

The end result was a mobile-hybrid contemporary arts and culture space staged in a repurposed 1978 Viscount caravan which was parked in high traffic areas during GC2018 and Festival 2018. ‘Super Souvenir’ was effectively one part art gallery and one part micro-museum, on wheels.

As well as exhibiting souvenirs and mementos – both new and old, Byron also invited visitors to bring their own souvenirs and join the conversation about the role they have in contemporary society.

“We had quite a few come along which was surprising because we thought it was going to be tricky to get people to come visit at first,” he said.

And it wasn’t just the general public who jumped on board. The local artistic community also took time to bring in skate decks, hand-painted globe balls, postcards, china plates and wooden thongs, among more traditional souvenir items.

“We also had the opportunity to record these conversations in the caravan where we have archived some of this content and hope to release them soon,” Byron added.

He’s obviously very grateful for the opportunity to participate in GENERATE.

“The benefits and support from the council GENERATE program was something special,” he said. “I don’t think I would have ever had this kind of support to realise an ambitious project such as this… hats off to them for injecting some trust into us as artists to pull off new and brave projects that are culturally rich to its place of origin.”

“There was nothing better for the community and tourists coming to GC2018 than to have them experience work that was made by artists living and working here.”

“The icing on the cake is to have these people walk away with a lasting impression of what the Gold Coast is actually about and how we as a city have showcased ourselves as ironically, uniquely Gold Coast.”

Byron Coathup

Now that the dust has settled on the Games, Byron has his sights set on taking ‘Super Souvenir’ on the road. He managed a recent pop-up activation in Broadbeach for the Edge National Architecture Conference where he curated a collection of Gold Coast souvenirs that have an attachment to past architecture and he engaged six artists dealing with notions of space, material and architectural photography to exhibit work in the caravan.

“We also took the project to the Sunshine Coast for Horizon Festival where we presented a new exhibition of souvenirs that melt these two coasts together,” he said.

The project, titled ‘Sunshine/Gold’ featured three Gold Coast artists and three Sunshine Coast artists displaying contemporary modern souvenirs that might conflict or marry the coasts together.

“On other side of things I also run my Gallery in Coolangatta called, Maverick Hair & Art Space. We have an exciting run of exhibitions coming up over the next half of the year so be sure to come and visit us,” he said.

_ _ _

Generate is a City of Gold Coast initiative through the Regional Arts Development Fund and a partnership between the Queensland Government and the City to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland. The Queensland Government also supported Generate through the GC2018 Arts and Cultural Program.

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