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After a record year, Coast's beach sculpture festival to swell further


SWELL Sculpture Festival on the Gold Coast is planning to return literally bigger in 2021, with organisers already putting the call out for entries.

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Festival organisers are aiming to attract super-sized sculptures to upsize the event.

SWELL was one of the first major arts events in Queensland to go ahead in 2020 as pandemic lockdowns, border closures, and the mass cancellation of events devastated arts and cultural exhibitions across the country and around the world.

The September event attracted record crowds and hit the big time on social media as arts and culture-starved audiences were drawn to the sculptures displayed along the 1km sandy stretch of Currumbin beach and, for the first time, three other Gold Coast locations.

Now Queensland’s largest outdoor sculpture exhibition is about to get bigger.

Festival Co-founder and Artistic Director, Natasha Edwards, said SWELL had opened to entries from Australian and international artists for 2021.

Swell 2020 attracted huge crowds to the Gold Coast beaches. (Photo: Supplied)

They will join as many as 20 artists who were accepted into SWELL in 2020 but were unable to exhibit due to COVID-related lockdowns or restrictions, potentially making the exhibition one of the largest yet.

SWELL 2021 would also be aiming to upsize sculptures from artists as well as the duration of the exhibition from its current 10-day run, she said.

“SWELL has taken a lot of strengths from this year. During the quiet times we’ve been able to sit down and have a think about the success of our exhibition,” Edwards said.

“We would like to see the exhibition evolve to extend its dates. We would like to have three weekends so people can plan to come for longer and artists can have more programming to engage in as well.”

Edwards said the SWELL team would also encourage more large-scale artworks.

“We would like to have more support to be able to provide artists with opportunities to really upscale their works as well, and some of them really lend themselves to be beautiful big land artworks.”

SWELL is offering more than $27,000 in award money, artist subsidies, residencies, programming and installation support.

Edwards said the prize pool was vital to support artists devastated by the impacts of coronavirus on the industry.

She said audiences were responding to arts events that had evolved and pushed on despite restrictions, with SWELL 2020 experiencing record-breaking crowds, long waiting lists for ticketed events, and international engagement that extended from children all over the world joining in to the artist-led workshops to the viral social media response to a number of the artworks.

Gold Coast artist Mari Hirata beat out a field of more than 40 artists to win the major SWELL Sculpture prize for her piece “Sentinels”, a collection of metallic green pieces that looked like caterpillars attached to Currumbin Rock.

“Lobsterarri”, a commentary on waste built around a deserted red sports car by artist Giuseppe Filardo, also proved a crowd favourite along with “Guardians of the Gold Coast” by Guy Cooper.

“Lobsterarri was a huge hit. On social media was where the images and videos really took on whole new life. Currumbin got a huge mention and the Gold Coast got a huge mention,” Edwards said.

“There were a lot of people who were following who couldn’t be there. But having said that, we still had record crowds.”

The 2021 exhibition was an open entry process, which made SWELL different to many other gallery processes, she said.

“Audiences identify with the diversity of works presented and the artists who think differently about the world and challenge themselves through the presentation of meaningful sculptures and artistic commentary.”

Entries are open until midnight on January 31, 2021.

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