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Chippo Beams with festival spirit

Back for its fifth year, the free one-night festival showcased the work of 500 creative artists and performers flooding the alleyways and outdoor spaces of the Chippendale Creative Precinct (CCP) with light, art, music, dance, video, workshops, street food and other performances.

Local resident Bronwyn Mehan said she was excited by the positive atmosphere, live music and fantastic installations. “I love Beams. I live like two blocks away. So, it is virtually my local street party. Isn’t it marvellous!”

CCP president and festival director Nicky Ginsberg said Beams takes art out of the “construct of the white cube” and puts it in an urban context that makes it comfortable for people—so it’s a pleasure for them to walk past the installations and to interact with them.

This year, creative contributors had interpreted the festival theme “Spirit” in myriad ways, Ginsberg said, and she’d curated works for each laneway to reflect a different “take” on the theme.

In Queen Street the approach was classical—featuring flautists, operatic singers and sensitive art installations.

“I’m trying to think of the word to describe it,” said Ginsberg, “but I can see willowing cloth blowing in the wind and a beautiful soundscape that’s very ephemeral.”

In O’Connor Street, 50 artists created a “live” graffiti mural with each artist painting two square metres of a 100-metre-long canvas. The mural was later auctioned by aMBUSH Gallery in Central Park to help fund a STARTTS project that gives young refugees a chance to work with musicians from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Sydney-based artists Jayanto Damanik and Nicole Kelly, and Goulburn-based artist Tracy Luff, ran interactive workshops that involved people of all ages creating origami garlands they festooned between the trees, lanterns that cupped tealight candles, and prints they hung on nearby hoardings.

Elsewhere in the precinct, opera singers rubbed shoulders with rappers, a crowd bopped silently in the dark to disco music streaming through their headphones, and a two-storey terrace belched smoke and dripped with glass globules lit gaudily pink.

Each laneway featured five hours of uninterrupted music and the diverse line-up included jazz/pop/R&B acoustic duo Jana Aveling and Kartik; Astrix Little’s electronic pop; reggae outfit Freda’s Boss; indie pop rock group The Runaway Houses; and Goldheist, winner of the 2016 People’s Choice Award at the Tamworth Country Music Festival.

Chippo the Chelsea of New York

Ginsberg first came to Chippendale 10 years ago to establish NG Gallery and Mission café (since closed) in Little Queen Street and soon envisaged turning Chippendale into the next Chelsea of New York.

“I set out to transform the area into an arts destination because I thought I can’t be the only gallery here; I’m going to have to bring other galleries alongside me to make this work.”

Now Chippendale has more than 17 galleries and is on the world map.

“We’ve got an article coming out in the Wall Street Journal next week, we’ve had articles in the London Evening Standard, in lots of British tabloids, in the US, the New York Times, and in lots of Asian magazines and tabloids and in-flight magazines. I’m unbelievably proud of that.”

Twenty-four assistant curators drawn from art colleges and universities around Sydney helped Ginsberg bring Beams to the streets.

“What they’re contributing is extraordinary,” she said. “I couldn’t do without any of them. They’re my production team.”

Fine Arts graduate from UNSW Emily Twomey volunteered for BEAMS in 2015 and helped young festival-goers make bird’s nest headdresses. This year she submitted her own work in collaboration with specialist Australian short story publisher Spineless Wonders using micro-literature from two of its anthologies.

Twomey created four short films that screened at Beams in a terrace house in Dick Street. Her take on Julie Chevalier’s “Flash Fiction Rules #1”, Mark Roberts’ “City Circle”, Ali Jane Smith’s “Sans Relache” and Charles D’Anastasi’s “Broken House” also featured in the Beams showreel shown in three locations around the Central Park precinct.

Ginsberg recalled viewing Twomey’s films during the curatorial selection process. “There were four two-minute pieces, and we just all went, ‘Wow!’ It was just one of those immediate reactions; she’s so talented, this is so exciting … I remember being quite taken; the work was quite sensitive and beautifully composed.”

Twomey’s work is part of Spineless Wonders’ #storybombing initiative that inner-west designer Belinda Kaiser says aims to take short Australian stories everywhere. At Beams, #storybombers distributed printed versions of the four screened stories—originally appearing in the Spineless Wonders anthologies Out of Place and Flashing The Square.

“We’ve tried to make the print versions visually interesting enough that people get curious and take them away and read them on the way home instead of playing on their phones or whatever,” said Kaiser.

“In Sydney you see people playing on their phones all the time but, instead, they could actually engage with a story that really takes them somewhere else. That’s what I find exciting about it. Taking short stories out to places where people don’t expect them, and where they actually give them something.”

A unique Sydney festival

Ginsberg has curated Beams’ eclectic creative offerings since she founded the festival in 2012 and believes it is internationally distinctive.

“It’s a boutique-style festival, so it’s not like Vivid. It’s unique—highly original. There’s nothing like it, I don’t think, anywhere in the world.”

What started as a four-laneway festival with 4,000 people has since expanded to incorporate nine laneways drawing a 25,000-strong crowd.

“It’s madness!” said Ginsberg. “We’ve come a long way.”

 

This year Beams showcased new ways of working with technology and art—with things to touch, speak into, or which were only activated by music or certain sounds.

 

And, while the festival is tailored to everyone who wants to have a good time, it’s also about community, said Ginsberg, “Do you know how important that is? And it’s even more important in this day and age where everyone is sitting behind a laptop.

“Beams brings people out, it gets people involved, it gets people talking again. The long communal dining table (one in Little Queen Street and one in Kensington Street) does the same thing. It gets people making new friends. What I love about the music and the dining table is that people start to dance—and it’s a free festival.

“For once in their lives people can come and have a good time and spend $10 on a delicious dinner from Kensington Street Social, Bistrot Gavroche or Mekong and then get a lovely glass of red or white wine from Paxton’s, or a Wayward Brewing Company beer, and have a field day.”

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