Not to rub it in to readers on the other side of the planet but summer is rapidly approaching for those of us in the southern hemisphere. With temperatures already soaring in the 30’s (Celsius), Sydney does a good job of making the most of the outdoors by using the city as a backdrop for various cultural events.
The recently completed Arts and About Festival transformed the city into a set for art installations, exhibitions and events (you can still check out the Laneway Projects through January 31, 2012). From the upcoming Sydney Festival to the recent Night Noodle Markets in Hyde Park, Sydney is a city of festivals; a society of spectacles. The city provides fertile ground for a plethora of dynamic events and activities designed to utilize its magnificent and varying landscapes: from the gritty laneway to the under-utilized spaces in the city, to its well known beaches.
Sculpture by the Sea, located on the Bondi to Tamarama Coastwalk, and apparently the “world’s largest free-to-the-public outdoor exhibition,” is currently underway through November 20. Turning the beach into a public gallery for contemporary sculpture is genius. Sculptures representing more than 100 artists are dispersed throughout the landscape; submerged in water, nestled amongst rocks, standing tall on cliff tops or sitting amongst the crowds of beach dwellers. It’s difficult to decide what is more alluring, the art or the beach. Decide for yourself and if you cannot make it, no worries, you can take the virtual tour here.
This past June, Vivid Sydney, a festival of lights, music and ideas, took advantage of the winter darkness. Buildings became screens for animated light displays, small interventions (over forty) were dispersed and scattered throughout the Harbour’s periphery, producing a haze of vibrant colors over the Central Business District (CBD).
To be honest, I have found the museum culture in Sydney to be underwhelming (although there are some excellent galleries). As a New Yorker, I took for granted the wealth of culture surrounding me. I miss the ease of making a quick stop at the Met or jumping in the MoMA for a peruse. Despite not having easy access to the MoMA, Guggenheim, Whitney, DIA or the Met anymore (to name a few), I have been impressed with the varied arts-based activities that Sydney has to offer. These festivals and events not only activate the city but also represent and showcase talents from Australia and beyond.
One festival taking place now through December 11th, is Outpost Young Artists Project, presented by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. Located on Cockatoo Island, the largest Island in Sydney Harbour, Outpost is a project demonstrating Australia’s leading role in the street art movement. The island’s incredibly rich history-from an imperial prison, to an industrial school to a reformatory to the site of Australia’s largest twentieth-century shipyard-serves as a perfect canvas for the artist.
The trip begins with a ferry ride to the desolate island. You can choose from a variety of stops starting at Circular Quay and arriving at Cockatoo Island. This is an experience all to itself. The ferries are a unique public transportation system in Sydney and although they tend to cater to exclusive waterfront locations, they are great for exploration. The trip is breathtaking as the ferry meanders through the Harbour revealing secret wonders-a single house perched above a secluded park; a lone kayaker; eucalyptus trees growing out of the sandstone; barnacles attached to the rock revealed as the tide shifts in out”¦. The city, bridge and Opera House appear and disappear as the boat moves further west.
As the ferry approaches the final destination, the unique geography of Cockatoo Island begins to appear. A flat expanse of space followed by steep vertical sandstone slope, acting almost as a fortification and bunker to the many spaces immersed within. Just south sits a series of abandoned industrial warehouse spaces that remain untouched, excluding the new Island Bar, nestled within and serving as a perfect spot for a cocktail and uninterrupted Harbour views. Further west lies a unique waterfront campground for Sydneysiders and tourists. Layered on top of this diverse landscape, splashes of color begin to emerge as 150 artist interventions are revealed.
For five weeks, artists are transforming these gritty industrial relics. The festival is a performance amongst itself. The work will evolve over time, providing visitors with a changing experience throughout the festival. Small interventions are scattered throughout, providing different possibilities for activities.
For example, chalk dispersed throughout invites users to personalize the cement-scape. Industrial warehouses are transformed into gallery spaces, a true juxtaposition between the art and the history of the island. Spaces of play, such as the ping pong room, provide leisure activities for all ages. Surfaces between buildings are animated with a diversity of art, while also framing vistas of the harbour. Long, linear and cave-like corridors carved into the impressive sandstone provide spaces of display, even as water drips through the rocks crevasses (hopefully the art is protected).
The juxtapositions create truly unique spaces for the street artists who have been given a platform to take their underground process of spray paint and stenciling to the public. In some cases, artists are still on-site creating new pieces on left over walls and structures.
Festivals like Outpost, along with many others including the Vivid Light Festival, the Sydney Design Festival, Sydney Architecture Festival, Crave Sydney International Food Festival, Mardi Gras, Sydney Film Festival and Festival of the Winds, provide cultural outlets for Sydney’s general public. Sydney’s natural beauty and good weather makes it the perfect canvas for varied cultural experiences”¦perhaps just as good as wandering around a museum.
William Feuerman is a New Yorker (via Los Angeles and San Francisco) who is currently living in Sydney, Australia. He is the principal of Office Feuerman, a Sydney based design office, and is faculty at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). You can follow him on twitter @OfficeFeuerman.