If you go down to the lake today, you’ll find … a ziggurat made of straw. And a lot of other fascinating, puzzling and lovely things.
The Contour 556 sculpture festival is back and the three-week event, the brainchild of Neil Hobbs and his team, brings with it a plethora of dazzling, puzzling and exciting pieces of public art arranged around the lake and through the city.
Region Media is pleased to be a media partner for the biennial event, now in its third iteration.
There are events, installations and interventions, like the stack of straw bales Fiona Hooton has placed on the lakeshore, inspired in part by the Griffins.
Fiona explains that Walter and Marion had planned a partly Japanese inspired ziggurat-shaped Capitol building for where Parliament House now stands.
“Marion arrived in 1911 full of hope and buoyed with excitement. This country was a global leader at the time, setting a gold standard for issues like women’s suffrage.
“She’d downed tools in her own career but when she got here, it was disappointing to find out she would only ever be Mrs Griffin. The engineers, the town planners, the leaders, were pretty much Boer War generals or the like.”
The Griffins found a supporter in King O’Malley, but Americans weren’t popular in general and the idea of an Asian-inspired monolith didn’t get much traction, Fiona says.
But Marion came from an activist background: her mother Clara Perkins Mahoney has been a lifelong fighter for the vote and had a passionate interest in social housing and alleviating the terrible poverty she’d seen in Chicago’s slums.
So she found a way to make it work.
“Particularly now, in this year where we are all trying to adapt and change, the Griffins get shinier and brighter when we look at how to grow and have a creative life in tough times,” Fiona says.
The ziggurat design is also referenced in Melbourne’s now restored Capitol Theatre, which Fiona toured not longer after works finished. The structure on the lake includes a QR code you can use to access an animated recreation of the two Capitols – the building we didn’t get and the one we retrieved.
Hay was sourced from a farmer at Eugowra and the ziggurat was placed to create an intervention on the land and water axis.
“I like finding those hidden narratives and bringing those stories back to the surface, the invisible things that have shaped the city but that people don’t know about any more,” Fiona says.
That also informs her approach, with collaborator Catrina, to the Localjinni collective tours around the city at night. The program was piloted at the last Contour 556 and won the people’s choice award.
“We call it a virtual artist-run initiative,” Fiona says. The pair take walking tours through the city, embellished and illuminated with film, dance, visual art, animation and “social yarning”. This year, the walking tours will happen through the city’s alleyways and around the Lake.
“It’s all about telling stories of place, and it’s a social enterprise too,” Fiona says. One of her intentions is to bring women’s history back into focus and to create a safe space for people who feel uncomfortable in the city at night.
In addition to the Contour 556 program, the walks are supported by CMAG, local historians and the Australian National University School of Art and Design. Archival material is supplied by National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.
“As a practitioner, Contour 556 is absolutely vital,” Fiona says.
“Art in public space often becomes corporatised and there’s no cultural capacity or interaction with locals, no sense of leaving anything on site. Neil gets that festivals are about experimenting with audiences, trialling new material. That enables people like me to have a platform to try new things and come up with new forms of practice that are scaleable.”
Fiona says that she’s never forgotten seeing the Little Bay wrapping project by Christo, commissioned by John Kaldor and delivered in 1969.
“That sight has stayed with me all my life,” she says. “There might be a slow boil on ephemeral artworks, but we’re all ephemeral. Things take their time and they sink in.”
Spaces are limited for the Localjinni tours, so you will need to book. Canberra Dance Theatre will also be performing at the straw ziggurat on 24 October.
To find out more, visit Contour 556.