At first light on 12 August, a rugged-up audience will once again gather on the sands of Burleigh Heads to greet the break of day, this year to the sound of iconic Indigenous Australian soul singer Emma Donovan. Now becoming a regular event, this dawn performance will also mark the launch of the 2021 Bleach* Festival. In its tenth year, the annual contemporary arts festival is a fixture of the Gold Coast, spreading out through various locations, bringing new and diverse works and artists into communities across Queensland’s lowest coast. Limelight caught up with Rosie Dennis, Artistic Director of Bleach* to find out what’s in store for this year’s festival.
Firstly, how have you fared through the rocky situation over the past year, and how did it affect the 2020 Bleach* Festival?
Personally, I’ve fared ok. In saying that, last year was hard – emotionally and psychologically for myself and the team. We have a committed team and a supportive Board and together we worked through the challenges of producing the Festival which we delivered a few months later than we had scheduled. It was important to not cancel or postpone, really important.
It’s your second year as AD and you can finally launch a full festival. That must feel good?
I am really excited where this year’s program has landed and looking forward to opening next month. In saying that, it’s hard to completely relax and enjoy this last month of delivery and detailing, given the evolving nature of COVID and the impact it is having on our industry, in particular festivals and other large-scale cultural events.
What ideas are at the heart of the festival, and what do you hope audiences will take away with them?
After last year it felt important to build a festival where passion and self-determination are at the core. The theme is Listen To Your Heart – it became a bit of a mantra for me on a few levels the past year.
It’s a very diverse mix of artists and genres. How important is it for you to be able to bring all of these different artists together in one festival?
I think it’s really important to program across genres. The way I have curated the Southport Hub in particular is for multiple works, across genres, to be experienced together for, what I think, offers a richer, more complex perspective of a place.
How have you involved First Nations artists in your program?
First Nations artists’ work is throughout the Bleach* program. With the newer works or projects we’re creating for the first time there’s a lot of conversation between the artist(s) and our team. Something like the First Night Feast is led by Dale Chapman and Chris Jordan who have worked closely with our First Nations Curator Jo-Anne Driessens and a few traditional owners both throughout the process of designing the menu. How the Feast program is evolving is quite organic; there are many artists and cross pollination of ideas between food, landscape, story and place. It is a slower process which is important and something we want to continue for future festivals. Rather than dropping a work onto a site, we build an experience connected to a place.
Are there any performances or events in particular in this year’s festival that you’re particularly excited about?
I’m really looking forward to First Light – there’s nothing like being on the coastline, at that time of day, as a way to invite people to listen to the place and be present to the moment. It’s really something special. The Coast locals are early risers so it felt like an obvious choice to align the opening of our festival with the daily rhythm of the neighbourhood.
You are using a lot of outdoor and unusual spaces from beaches to abandoned buildings, can you describe how you are using some of them? And is that an important element in your programming?
Programming outdoors or in non-conventional spaces is central to Bleach*’s festival identity. This year we’re transforming the site of a former private school – The Star of Sea – into a venue. The school was demolished about five years ago and a proposed development stalled not long after and the site has laid bare ever since aside from a lone basketball hoop and weeds overgrowing the rubble. I’m hoping when audiences come, the site design, the work we’ve curated, and the site itself provoke a deeper conversation around our relationship with urban re/development.
Do you think the Bleach* Festival has changed a lot over its 10 years?
It has definitely grown in size and scale. Looking at past programs, the Festival’s ambition really shifted in the lead up to the Olympics as a result of increased investment from the City. This continued support from the City has been vital to the ongoing success of Bleach* as it has allowed the festival to dream into the future without having to fundraise year-on-year.
What changes are you hoping to make as AD?
I think the scale of Bleach* is really manageable – it’s big enough to have a presence within the City and small enough to create experiences from the ground up each year. I’m keen to continue to build our First and Last Light performances so they become something that people know about and look forward to. I’m also keen to build our Feast program as real time conversations feel critical right now.
Do you think the Bleach* Festival has had an effect on the culture of the Gold Coast community, and if so, what do you think that is?
I do think we’ve had an effect. This is in part due to the fact that there are limited presentation opportunities for artists to present their work up here in a Festival context.
Finally, is there anything audiences should know?
The Gold Coast is changing. There is so much more to this place than the childhood memories people have of Surfers Paradise.
More information on this year’s Bleach* Festival can be found here.