The bronze sculptures twine across the wall, unfurling in curving loops. As you get closer, the shapes resolve a little surprisingly. Are these actually scraps of weaving?
Yes (and no). The artwork chosen to represent this year’s Design Canberra Festival reflects the idea of transformation. Sculptor and artist in residence Lucy Irvine took pieces of weaving and cast them in bronze, using repetition and pattern to signal how creativity builds and changes.
The festival opens on 2 November after several years of pandemic constraints, and Craft ACT director Jodie Cunningham says the transforming image couldn’t be more apt for an event that celebrates the multiple ways Canberra engages with great design.
The broad-ranging program launched by Minister Tara Cheyne includes several elements from the last two years that continue to resonate, including the nurture program, journaling challenge and for the first time a Creative Kids program that encourages younger visitors to consider what Canberra’s future (and their own) might look like.
“Last year, the community really responded to them – the nurture workshops which were run by artists,” says Jodie. “They were able to learn to make things in a quiet, social way and they really loved it. We ended up attracting new audiences to Craft ACT because of the gentle nature of making together. It was about togetherness and reconnecting.
“So we decided this year that we would run that nurture stream through the festival with more workshops than ever before, to give people the opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people, and have that positive experience of making for well-being and for peace and calm.”
Jodie says there’s a conscious intention to provide access to the festival for people who may not place themselves in the design world.
“I think people get really uptight – they say ‘I can’t draw, I don’t know how to do things, or I have to make a masterpiece’,” Jodie says.
“A lot of people think they’re not creative, but everyone’s creative in some way. For example one of our jewellery makers runs a workshop about mark making. All you have to do is make simple marks on a page and straightaway the act of using your hands is so sensory and meditative.”
The journalling project will also return. Each day participants are sent a prompt around the theme of transformation. Jodie says an unexpected Instagram community formed last year, connecting people through their shared content. Register with the Festival to participate in this year’s challenge, including access to the journal, tips and workshops.
Jodie has a long-running interest in art as therapy. She points out that accessible craft activities like knitting and sewing require repetitive sensory activity that people find both calming and creative.
“We are promoting contemporary craft and design, but we’re giving our audiences a way into it through crafts and practice,” she says.
Parts of the city will also be transformed for the duration of the festival. Jodie says there will be many more public art interventions and City West will be activated by a discovery trail.
“That gives our makers and designers an opportunity to bring their work into the public space while the audience explores a part of Canberra that may be new to them, or changed by the transformation theme.
“We want people to ask themselves ‘What can I find? What’s it about? What does it mean?’,” she says. “The theme is so pertinent right now with our society in such acute transformation.”
The festival includes artists talks and design talks across the month, architecture tours, Sunday sessions, markets at Dairy Rd, open studios throughout the month, a survey exhibition of Blanche Tilden’s jewellery, Tom Moore’s magical hybrid glassworks, and a festival hub in Civic Square. Lucy Irvine’s feature installation, The Stills, will be at Canberra Contemporary Art Space.
Jodie is particularly excited about the six symposiums linking urban planning and public art. They’ll look at shaping Canberra’s future through art as they consider design thinking and art practice.
“I think there’s so much power in art and creativity,” she says.
Design Canberra runs from 2 November to 20 November across a range of sites. Tickets and events are now live on the Design Canberra site.