Art that illuminates the street

Interview: Kym Ortenburg & Yandell Walton, Gertrude Street Projection Festival

Young Blood, Arika Waulu, Gertrude St Projection Festival, 2014

Young Blood, Arika Waulu, Gertrude St Projection Festival, 2014

For its eighth year, the hugely popular and aesthetically innovative Gertrude Street Projection Festival has been curated for the second time by festival co-founder and executive producer Kym Ortenburg and Yandell Walton—one of the featured artists of the second festival. Walton says, “I was really interested in volunteering for the festival to try to get a really good mix of contemporary art and community projects within its 30 to 40 sites. I think throughout the selection process that has been a really strong focus for us so it’s not outweighed by one side or the other.”

Ortenburg, with a background in producing, says that some years ago she attended the Australian Television & Radio School “and was always very interested in light. Yandell’s background as a visual artist and my more moving image, video-based and film location interests have combined. We both bring particular aesthetics to the festival and both very much enjoy the idea of projection being site-specific. I think that’s where our collaboration works the best.” Walton adds, “Another focus has been to provide a platform for emerging artists or artists who have not necessarily worked within the medium and offering them technical support. I’ve done a lot of mentoring and projection workshops. This year we’ve picked a lot of artists who might not necessarily have the skills but with our team we can make it happen.”

Ortenburg says of projection art, “it’s come a long way in a very short space of time. Yandell was one of the early artists and [others such as] Kit Webster, Hugh McSpedden and Ian de Gruchy even earlier. These are among the people who first started to look at the whole idea of site-specific projection art. And now it’s come to the forefront in the minds of many artists really interested in combining their passion—whether it’s sculpture or visual art or animation art—and the [realisation] of it in a specific site.”

In Europe and the UK, and in Melbourne, there are large screens in public squares. What’s the difference between showing works there and in a suburban street?
Ortenburg suggests, “this type of event gives the community—the artists and the audience—new ways of looking at something that’s quite familiar. The streetscape that they walk up and down all the time is suddenly transformed [and they experience] a new and different way of looking at it, either visually and aesthetically or just the notion that you’re drawing attention to something.” As an example she cites very large projections onto the Atherton Gardens Housing Commission Estate in the 2014 festival. “That really transformed both the people who live there and the people who walked by and hadn’t really thought about social housing. Suddenly it became an incredibly magical canvas that had great impact.”

During the festival, is there a sense of Gertrude Street itself being full of light and magic?
“Yes,” says Ortenburg, “people give us a lot of feedback about that very fact. It brings everybody out into the street. It’s freezing cold, it’s dark, it’s Melbourne in July so to get thousands of people out, of all different ages from 6pm till midnight is a pretty fabulous achievement! And the audience, the residents and the artists are all part of a community. It creates its own little sphere of ‘magic’ in the middle of Melbourne winter.”

How much do the works vary in scale and how are sites selected?
Walton says, “we have massive building projections but also much smaller works. We have works that use mini-projectors and some that combine projection with traditional mediums like painting and sculpture. You can project onto anything, so a lot of the works are not [conventionally] screen-based at all. They’re using, for example, a transparent material to suggest a ghost-like figure. Or they’re projecting within a space that also has objects in it so they’re creating more of an installation rather than just a projection. It was really obvious this year reading the applications that younger artists are using projection in many different ways, combining disciplines, which is so exciting for me. As a visual artist myself, I’ve never really done screen-based work; I’ve always pushed projection into more of a spatial practice and, clearly, younger artists are doing that more and more.”

The co-curators offer as an example Dalton Stewart, “a painting student at VCA who has not worked with projection before and will project an animation onto a painting he’ll hang.” Walton offers another example, “Arika Waulu’s Young Blood involves projection onto cowhide. The projected imagery is just as important as the object itself in the reading of the work. I’m also co-curating with Arie Rain Glorie a [complementary] show at Seventh Gallery that’s looking at projection conceptually in which the five artists are not necessarily using projection machines—it could be light as in neon art. We’re giving the general public access to contemporary art and ideas of projection.”

Are there film and video makers among the festival artists?
“Cinematographer Chase Burns submitted a very big work we’re projecting on two sides of the Builders’ Arms Hotel, which is on a corner.” Ortenburg notes that the festival street works do not have sound; “this challenges filmmakers and creators of video installation to create images that can hold an audience without it. That’s always interesting to see because sound is such an important component of film.” Established dance filmmaker Sue Healey is included in the Gertrude Contemporary gallery with her work On View.

Just how important is site?
Walton responds, “It’s massive, from choosing the artists to negotiations to do with site. We have to get permission for the sites and [sometimes] have to go back to the artist and say, this is the site we’ve got, can you work with it? Each work is different; each site is different. You’ve got totally site-specific works that are mapped and logistically site-specific but conceptually as well. So it’s huge! That takes up the most time in this whole business.”

What’s an example of a work engaging with a site?
Ortenburg says that Arika Waulu’s cowhide screen work is displayed “within a very eclectic shop called Tarlo and Graham which sells antique exotica. Arika’s work sits within this aesthetic as well. The projections are of protests in relation to the closing of remote Aboriginal towns and communities in Western Australia; these have been intercut with images of earlier protests.”

How are most works seen?
“We have two works,” says Walton,” that involve going into restaurants, all the others you see as you walk along Gertrude Street. In terms of scale, there are some you can see from a car or a tram because they’re so big. With others you get most impact as you walk. It’s only a kilometre long and there are 35 works along the way.” Ortenburg adds, “Some of them are quite discrete so you have to really look. People enjoy that process of seeking out the projection and seeing how it’s interacting with the site and the streetscape.” RT

Gertrude Street Projection Festival, director Nicky Pastore, co-curators Yandell Walton and Kym Ortenburg, Fitzroy, Melbourne, 10-19 July

RealTime issue #127 June-July 2015 pg. 54

© RT ; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

11 June 2015
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