Contour 556/2020, Canberra’s biennial public art festival

In its third season ‘Contour 556’ Canberra’s biennial festival of public art curated by Neil Hobbs is spreading its trail of creativity from the shores of Lake Burley Griffin to include a range of new outdoor spaces, inner city streets and laneways, galleries and art institutions from 9 to 31 October.

Explaining the festival’s wider reaching footprint in 2020 Hobbs says, “There is a lot of pragmatism involved. We always dreamed of a city-wide event but took small steps. Public events need to use public infrastructure (or costly temporary bump-ins). The first two events were really trials for testing the model for an external public art festival. We had considered a range of sites north and south of the lake, and more urban-based like in Civic, but settled on the southern side mainly for the physical amenity and proximity to the main cultural institutions.”

Peter Vandermark + Marie Hagerty, Something In The Air (S.I.T.A) 2020, 2020, stainless steel armatures, acrylic shapes, swivels, split rings, fishing line, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artists and Contour 556/2020, Australian Capital Territory

‘Contour 556’ in 2020 continues its vision to bring audiences a showcase of work inspired by Canberra’s history as provocation to reflect on the past and the present, and to think more deeply about how our actions in the past have shaped the way we live now, our purpose in the world and how we can progress towards a better future. Sixty contemporary artists and three artist collectives respond to the evolution of these themes with a showcase of sculpture, installation, painting, drawing, photography, dance, poetry, walking performance, drawing performance, animation, projection, augmented reality, spoken word and walking events. Artists include Byrd, Kenny Pittock, Megan Cope, Louis Pratt, Hannah Quinlivan, Karla Dickens, Ro Murray + Mandy Burgess, Sean Davey + Aishah Kenton, to name just a few.

“In putting the open-ended power of art in the way of people’s daily lives, where they walk, run, sit in the sun and think about the world, contour556 could well hasten the community insights necessary for our transition to better ways. Bring on the art!”, writes Christopher Wallace in the Contour 556/2020 catalogue.

Kerrie Poliness, Participatory drawing, 2020, chalk on pavement, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Contour 556/2020, Australian Capital Territory

Contour 556 highlights: Until 17 November audiences will be mesmerised by artists Marie Hagerty & Peter Vandermark’s Something in the Air (S.I.T.A) 2020, an installation of mobile creations suspended from the ceiling in the entrance of Canberra Glassworks.

On Friday 16 October from 6 to 7pm ANU Drill Hall Gallery presents Panopticon, a live art activation by interdisciplinary visual artist Katy Mutton introducing audiences to reactive wearable art devised as a tool for counter surveillance movements. For more information and to book tickets click here. Until 29 November ANU Drill Hall Gallery is also hosting Lightworks an exhibition of paintings that dally with illusions of light, abstraction and colour by artists Lesley Dumbrell, Trevor Vickers, Virginia Coventry and Richard Dunn.

Lurk Burley Griffin by Lurk Collective engages with the lake and its surrounds as a site of mystery, fecundity, threat and transformation. A series of video works, which feature poetry, visuals and soundscapes by artists Zoe Anderson, Caren Florance, Jacqui Malins and Melinda Smith that meditate on what exists beneath the surface and lingers at the edges, both literally and metaphorically. Saturday 24 October from 10 to 11am at Civic Square. Sunday 25 October from 2.45 to 3.15pm outside East Space Gallery (next to Ziggurat), and the third performance on Friday 30 October from 2.30 to 3.30pm back at Civic Square. 

On University Avenue Acton on Saturday 31 October from 11am to 12pm artist Kerrie Poliness invites audiences of all ages to join her in a Participatory Drawing project, and at the Humanities Precinct – between King Edward Terrace and National Library on Sunday 11 November from 1 to 2pm. The large-scale ‘walking drawings’ will be created with jumbo sized chalk and drawing sticks to form circular pathways on the paved ground across both sites. This event welcomes wheelchair users. Read more about the project here.

Outside East Space Gallery (next to Ziggurat) on Sunday 11 November from 2 to 4pm Indigenous Australian artist Tony Albert invites participants to enter a confessional booth and partake in Confessions. This collaborative performance work, using only pen and paper, will explore abstract ideas associated with non-verbal conversations and the play between visibility and invisibility.

Tony Albert, Confessions, 2019, steel, timber, acrylic and fabric, 250 x 360 x 240cm. Courtesy the artist and Contour 556/2020, Australian Capital Territory

Venues: Springbank Island, Civic Square, West Basin, 8 Petrie Plaza, 16 Marcus Clarke Street, King O’Malleys, Henry Rolland Park, Lake Burley Griffin Central Basin, Commonwealth Place, Bowen Place, Aspen Island, Bowen Park, Barton Artbox – 7 Young Street, Barton, Cox Gallery, Canberrra Glassworks, Drill Hall Gallery Australian National University (ANU), as well as Thor’s Hammer Mixing Room Gallery and Canberra Museum and Gallery. Map locations here.

To show your support for your favourite artist and their work be sure to put your walking shoes on and visit as many events as you can. The People’s Choice Award invites online voting from the public and puts entrants in the running to win either a painting by artist Jack Featherstone or a set of prints by artist Franck Gohier.

The full calendar of events is available on the Contour 556/2020 website along with imagery and write ups about the artists and their creative manifestations. Some events require bookings and all will adhere to Covid-safe practices. There is much to see, enjoy!