This year marks the debut Brisbane Festival program for artistic director Louise Bezzina, who vowed to curate a diverse program tailored to the social environment that would “take the art to the people” when she spoke to InQueensland last month.
True to her word, this year’s series of events and installations, set to take place from September 4-26, will reach 190 suburbs in what has is being described as a “Boldly Brisbane” program.
A total of 490 stagings of 91 events – 73 of which are free – will take place across the city, including 28 new works that have been commissioned especially for Brisbane Festival 2020, with the program including everything from music and performing arts to large-scale visual-art installations.
Fittingly, this year’s Brisbane Festival begins with Jumoo, a citywide traditional smoking ceremony led by Yuggera and Turrbal custodian Shannon Ruska, which aims to ward off bad spirits and create a pathway for a brighter future.
“This is a really important way to open the festival,” Bezzina told InQueensland, saying it was intended to “refocus us to just let go and move forward for the following three weeks as we experience wonderful art on the land of the Turrbal and Yuggera people”.
Riverfire – which usually closes Brisbane Festival and is its most popular event – won’t take place this year due to social distancing restrictions, but in its place, Sunsuper Night Sky, a new laser, light and sound installation by internationally acclaimed audio-visual artist Robin Fox, will be held every Friday and Saturday night for the duration of the festival.
“We’re not in a position to have mass gatherings where we can’t trace people who are attending our events and obviously Riverfire is so popular and such an iconic part of Brisbane Festival, but it would take a miracle for us to be able to run that event, this year,” Bezzina said.
But she said the installation by Fox, who has previously commissioned works for a range of Australian and international events including Tasmania’s MONA FOMA, Sydney Festival and Adelaide Festival, would be spectacular in its own right.
“Robin will be beaming lights and lasers off over 12 buildings in the CBD that you’ll be able to see over a two-hour duration, set with a beautiful composition, and you’ll be able to see it from hundreds of vantage points across the city,” Bezzina said.
“It happens for two hours, and it does run for eight nights so there’s really no reason to all rush into a particular spot and that’s the whole intention – you don’t all congregate for a 20-minute spectacular, you get to take it at your own pace and move around the city.”
More than 700 local artists will be employed for this year’s festival, bolstering an industry that has been particularly hard hit since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“The thing I’m most excited about is that we are employing artists to perform live and to be connecting with audiences and I think that this program allows for so many new audiences to engage with Brisbane Festival, because we’re going to 190 suburbs, so we’re covering the entire city,” Bezzina said.
There will only be one major international commission for this year’s festival but for anyone visiting the inner-city during Brisbane Festival it will be unmissable – in the most literal sense of the word.
Messengers of Brisbane, created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, will feature six separate seven-metre sculptures of Gouldian finches, at locations including the Goodwill Bridge, QPAC, Brisbane Powerhouse, Queensland Museum and South Bank.
“Messengers of Brisbane is absolutely stunning and the birds are giant and they’ve been made to be absolutely exquisite and impeccable in their texture through the fabrication and they’ve got pink party hats on,” Bezzina said.
“Gouldian finches, the most beautifully coloured Australian native bird and the other part that I really love about it is that it raises awareness for an endangered species that was once quite an abundant species of bird in Queensland.”
Helpmann Award-winning Gold Coast dance-theatre company The Farm will bring Throttle – its part-dance, part-thriller, part- drive-in movie experience – to Brisbane Showgrounds following a sell-out debut season at last year’s Bleach Festival, and All the Queens Men will bring its Coming Back Out Brisbane event online and to The Tivoli.
Another highlight is the Street Serenades program, which will feature some of Queensland’s best-known artists performing on bespoke stages on wheels, bringing music to the streets and performing for free in socially distanced locations across the city.
“We’ve got acts like Busby Marou, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Tom Thum, Briefs Factory, Camerata Chamber Orchestra so there’ll be some extraordinary talent performing in parks, cul de sacs – places where people naturally gather across the city,” Bezzina said.
She said she was particularly looking forward to Sahara Beck and Jaguar Jonze’s performances as part of the Street Serenades line-up.
“I love seeing young, amazing, strong women lead and command us to take notice,” she said. “They’ve got something important to say and they’re amazing artists who put on beautiful performances and it’s really great to have them in the program.”
There will also be a range of ticketed musical performances at venues including QPAC, Brisbane Powerhouse, The Old Museum and the Tivoli.
“I’m really excited by the program for the Tivoli because it’s a great line-up and we’ll get to sit in that gorgeous, gorgeous venue and listen to amazing music from Custard to Megan Washington, Katie Noonan, Naomi Price – really great musical artists, which is something we haven’t been able to do for so long,” Bezzina said.
Most of the members of Custard live in various parts of NSW these days, but as drummer and sometimes vocalist Glenn Thompson recently told InQueensland, they’re happy to still be referred to as a Brisbane band.
“It’s just what we are, I mean, nobody ever calls us ‘that Sydney band Custard’,” Thompson said.
Queensland Arts Minister Leeanne Enoch told InQueensland the fact the festival was proceeding was “a result of the fact that we’ve been able to manage the health crisis so well”.
“I think it’s going to remind everybody of how much they’ve missed the arts,” Enoch said. “It’s going to remind them of the value of the arts in our everyday life and I am so excited about what this program is going to look like, and what it’s going to feel like, and it couldn’t come at a better time.”
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