This free new exhibition – featuring a giant hammerhead shark – will engage all your senses

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This free new exhibition – featuring a giant hammerhead shark – will engage all your senses

Bright Footscray
Words by Joanne Brookfield

Footscray Arts Centre’s new exhibition Bright is a safe space for all to connect with and enjoy art.

Spring brings with it blue skies and welcome sunshine, not to mention a rainbow of blossoms that transform our streetscapes and gardens with explosions of colour and fragrance. The vibrant nature of the season has also been the inspiration for curator Pamela Debrincat’s latest exhibition Bright.

“Bright is about colour, joy and playful freedom,” explains Debrincat, of the chosen artworks that are intended to ignite the senses and invite audiences to touch, explore and connect. Aligning with Spring, Bright encourages regeneration through play, connection and sensory experience.

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A visual artist herself, working with sculpture and mixed media, Debrincat’s own work explores circles in different forms and uses bright colours to bring them to life. Currently she is a part of Footscray Community Arts’ ArtLife Studio Residency program, which supports artists with disability to work towards ambitious and high impact public projects.

As Daniel Santangeli, Artistic Director and Co-CEO of Footscray Community Arts explains, “Our ArtLife Studio Residency program is unique in the Australian arts landscape. With hands-on support from the Footscray Community Arts team, this is an NDIS enabled program provides contemporary artists with lived experience of disability with the space, resources and networks to set and achieve ambitious artistic projects.”

Based on her personal experience of isolation within the mainstream contemporary arts industry, Debrincat emphasizes sensory exploration in her curatorial work, aiming to foster a stronger connection between the audience and the artist. This means Bright, which features the work of Emily Floyd, Darren Aquilina, Megan Hunter, Thomas Miller and Prue Stevenson, is a participatory art experience.

Bright emphasises our need for connection and closeness and rebuilds our capability to interact and participate. The exhibition’s radical curatorial process brings together five installations without a defined beginning or end, each beckoning the viewer to interact with the work and contribute their own meaning.

“Many of the artworks in Bright are participatory in some way, engaging multiple senses. Darren Aquilina’s work, which explores emotion through colour, is a flowing, textural and silky welcome. You are invited to walk through it like a maze and feel it,” she says.

Aquilina, a visual artist who joined the ArtLife Studio program in 2019, explores emotions through colours and layers in his paintings and drawings, often painting birds eye views with repetition, systems and texture. He will often experiment with fabric and different materials as surfaces for his painting, and in Bright, his first exhibition, the public are welcome to touch the piece as they walk through it.

The next installation is a large inflatable hammerhead, where artist Megan Hunter, who has a focus on local wildlife, the climate crisis and often references the sea and waterways in her work, has been collaborating with mentor artist, Emily Floyd.

“The two artists draw our attention to the waterways we depend on and the hidden beings that live there. This vibrant work encourages a sense of consciousness of what is around us, even if we cannot always see it,” says Debrincat.

Renowned for her text-based sculptures, printmaking and public installations, Emily Floyd has work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia; the NGV and the National Gallery of Australia, plus more nationally and internationally.

She met Hunter during Melbourne’s lockdown in 2021. “We connected on Zoom every few weeks to talk about our shared interest in colour, care and community. We talked a lot about making art, going big and worlding speculative futures for the Maribyrnong River,” recalls Floyd.

Once restrictions eased they met in person at Artlife Studio at Footscray Community Arts and continued to connect creatively. “When Megan told me she was making a giant hammerhead shark for the exhibition Bright, I had the idea to make a pair of penguin friends to keep the shark company. The penguins are posed in a gesture of care, because whenever I visit Megan at ArtLife, she’s always looking out for other people,” says Floyd of their collaboration.

Bright, which officially launches on Saturday 21 October and will run until mid December, also features Thomas Miller’s Reflection Portal. A contemporary surrealist artist, Miller works across digital art, markers and fineliners, watercolour and painting.

His Reflection Portal is an organic 3D line drawing, using bright neon lights and a metallic wire to reflect colour and merge patterns of visual light on a circular mirror below, meaning the sculpture can be viewed from multiple angles.“I like to offer people the opportunity to see the world through new and alternative perspectives,” he says.

Considering the highly sensory nature of the exhibition, Prue Stevenson, who is both an artist and a “proud autistic person”, has created a Portable Quiet Room to provide a space for processing and downtime.  “It invites touch and has a softness which evokes safety, warmth and quiet,” says Debrincat of the old golf umbrella Stevenson has used to recontextualise the idea of shelter.

While Bright contains high-sensory content including bright lights and bright colours, as an advocate for d/Deaf and Disabled artists and arts audiences, accessibility is a central focus to Debrincat’s curatorial practice, so the exhibition will also have two relaxed sessions for visitors who could benefit from a quieter gallery experience with reduced light.

“I want the exhibition to feel safe and not overwhelming. It’s bright and has moments of high energy, but there are also moments and places of quiet where the art helps you relax,” says Debrincat, who wants the exhibition to be a safe space where everyone can connect with the artworks in some way.

“When people use their senses and have calm spaces for processing, they can feel their emotions and find a sense of belonging,” she says. “Bright gives you the freedom to create your own interaction and decide your own beginning and end.”

For more information and to book, head here.