Brisbane Festival’s new Artistic Director Louise Bezzina had finished programming the 2020 Festival – her first in her new role – and had her sights set on 2021 when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in Australia.

“I had to remake this whole festival,” she tells Limelight. Between bans on mass gatherings, public health restrictions and closing borders playing havoc with planning, “there’s a lot of commissions that I had planned for this year that will move into 2021″.

Louise BezzinaLouise Bezzina. Photo © Jade Ferguson

“This Festival was not the one I had prepared,” Bezzina says of the new program, which has been carefully created to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions. “But on the flip side I’m really, really, really, happy and excited that we are delivering a live, rich, Brisbane-focussed multi-artform festival across the city.”

The Festival opens on September 4 with Jumoo, which means smoking in the Turrbal language. It is the first piece in what Bezzina describes as “the largest First Nations program we’ve ever delivered in the Brisbane Festival”.

“We have for the first time a First Nations curatorial team and a First Nations creative producer working at Brisbane Festival,” she says. The ‘Blak  Curatorium’ will consist of artist and producer Alethea Beetson, Blaklash Creative Co-Directors Troy Casey and Amanda Hayman, and dance producer Merindah Donnelly, with producer J-Maine Beezley coming on board in the new role of First Nations Creative Producer. “To have wonderful artists from various artform specialties working with me to curate the program is great,” Bezzina says.

Jumoo will be “a big city-wide cleanse”, she explains. “To welcome us in to this year’s festival and to reset and refocus after quite an odd year.”

The 2020 Festival will feature outdoor city-wide events, from an aerobatics display to the Festival’s major (and only international) commission, Messengers of Brisbane, by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, who was responsible for the giant yellow Rubber Duck that floated into Darling Harbour in 2013 as part of Sydney Festival. “He’s a wonderful, playful, large-scale public artist, who I’m quite a big fan of,” Bezzina says.

Messengers of Brisbane. Photo courtesy of Brisbane Festival

Messengers of Brisbane will see six giant Gouldian finches alight on the city at various locations. “The Gouldian finch was chosen because they are the most spectacular Australian native bird, but also they were once in abundance in Queensland and the Northern Territory and now they’re an endangered species,” Bezzina says. “Because we don’t have a hub this year, because we don’t have the ability to have big mass gatherings in any way, these six birds on iconic locations – including the Goodwill Bridge, QPAC, Brisbane Powerhouse, Queensland Museum and the CBD – will really highlight to the city, to our visitors and residents, that Brisbane Festival is on, look up, smile, they’re super gorgeous, they’ve got their party hats on – it’s festival time!”

The finches won’t be the only indication that the Festival is taking over the city. On Fridays and Saturdays, Robin Fox’s Sunsuper Night Sky will light up the heavens. “He’s an extraordinary laser artist and also a composer,” Bezzina says. “What he’s making is an installation that will be beamed off 15 buildings from the inner city area, and they’ll be viewed from hundreds of vantage points across the city.”

Audiences will be able to listen to the work’s soundtrack on a frequency provided by Brisbane Festival. “We’ll also be recommending that people go on a series of walking trails,” she says.

Brainbow Magic. Photo © Hiromi Tango

Other outdoor works will include artist Hiromi Tango’s Brainbow Magic and Rainbow Circles (Healing Circles), which have emerged from the artist’s exploration into the therapeutic potential of light, colour and contour, while an interactive, animated artwork called Avoidable perils will ask audiences to make a moral decision. “This is going to be fantastic,” Bezzina says, describing a game in which a cute creature faces dangers which passersby can choose to save them from with their phones – or just keep walking. “It’s going to be projected up on the wall at the new Metro Arts building,” she says. “A really lovely piece.”

Meanwhile, Brisbane Festival and the Institute of Modern Art have co-commissioned three artists – Hannah Brontë, Julian Day and Kinly Grey – to create text-based public works exploring our relationship with shared spaces and modes of creating connections at a distance.

Street Serenades. Photo courtesy of Brisbane Festival

The large-scale outdoor musical event Street Serenades was the first thing Bezzina came up with when coronavirus hit. “It’s the biggest music extravaganza that we’ve ever delivered,” she says, describing how free concerts – featuring groups including the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, Camerata, The Australian Voices and more – will take place in all 190 suburbs of the city council. “Brisbane City Council is actually the biggest City Council in the country,” she says.

Lawrence English has curated a series titled The Listening Etudes, a collection of “really exquisite and interesting experimental music concerts,” Bezzina says, featuring the likes of Erik Griswold, Vanessa Tomlinson and Gabriella Smart. Meanwhile, Katie Noonan, Megan Washington and a live version of The IsoLate Late Show are among the highlights at the Tivoli.

The Farm, ThrottleThe Farm’s Throttle. Photo © Art-Work Agency

In dance, the Festival will feature The Farm’s Throttle, described by Limelight as “a B-grade thriller viewed from inside your own car”. Bezzina presented the work as part of her final program for the Gold Coast’s Bleach* Festival in 2019, and the drive-in experience seemed like the perfect fit for a socially distanced Brisbane Festival.

Silence, at the Brisbane Powerhouse, is a work by new contemporary First Nations dance collective Karul Projects. “This is about treaty, it’s about sovereignty, it’s about the questions that we aren’t asking,” says Bezzina.

Yaron Lifschitz and Circa’s Leviathan, a co-commission by the Brisbane Festival and the Perth Festival – where the work premiered earlier this year – will be the only performance taking place in a socially distanced QPAC.

Audiences will even be able to access some events from the comfort of their own home, such as a new work by The Good Room, titled Red Light, which Bezzina describes as “a little more saucy”. Writers Benjamin Law, Krissy Kneen and Mandy Beaumont will deliver an intimate audio experience directly to your phone. “Just something super fun, a bit tongue-in-cheek,” she says.

“Brisbane Festival is just the tonic our state needs,” Bezzina said. “It is a chance for us to welcome joy and celebration back to the suburbs and streets, and reacquaint ourselves with the city, its people, artists and lifestyle.”

Brisbane Festival runs September 4 to 26

The Full Program