Bellingen Shire’s biennial Open Up To Art (OUTA) weekend, occurring on the first weekend in May, is bringing together a diverse collection of visual artists from multiple disciplines to excite, challenge and stimulate and definitely provoke conversation.
Open Up to Art is quite unique in its approach, pushing the artists to explore different perspectives and mediums while challenging the viewer’s preconceived ideas on art and life. It is an event both inspired and run by the artists themselves, with a goal firmly rooted in bringing artists and the community together.
The inaugural OUTA in 2017 surprised and inspired, with subject matter that varied from the confronting to the beautiful. And this year’s event promises to be so much more. “This year’s OUTA has grown to include ceramics, life-drawing, printmaking and photography, alongside drawing, painting and sculptural installations. An exciting range of workshops will also be offered for those keen to challenge their own creativity, while local indigenous artists will bring a richness of culture and diversity to the weekend,” says OUTA co-organiser and local artist Shelley O’Keefe.
Shelley facilitates local artist co-operative ‘Arts network Bellingen’ and is the Secretary of ‘Arts Mid North Coast’. We interviewed Shelley about the weekend and what has driven her to create such an ambitious, edgy and inspiring event for all.
This year’s overarching theme for Open Up to Art is ‘Y Art’. So why art Shelley?
Why not art!! Art reflects the social, political and psychological framework of a society and allows us to make meaning of the world we live in. Artists have a responsibility to reflect both beauty and despair. A world without art would be dystopian, completely undesirable.
In this current political climate artists need to deal with the so-called alternative facts, creating spaces for complex thinking and multi-level discourses. OUTA hopes to foster discussions, to stimulate thought processes and the imagination.
What did you hope to achieve when initially conceiving Open Up to Art?
We wanted an art event that wasn’t commercially driven, but rather one that opened up the artists and the community as a whole to different ideas and approaches.
Each of the six exhibitions in OUTA also has its own theme. Is having a theme or themes important to what you’re trying to achieve with OUTA?
I think so. All the artists will have different perspectives on the themes, which is exciting. Their personal experiences colour their perspectives, just as the viewer’s own perspectives will colour his or her perception of the art and its meaning.
Like everyone, artists can get stuck in a rut with their art. Having a theme tends to push the artist to try something different and by doing so, take their work to the next level. With so many artistic disciplines being involved this year it will be completely open to each artist’s creative imagination.
You are exhibiting at the Bellingen Framing Gallery in a group exhibition with the theme ‘Mixed Messages’. What does ‘Mixed Messages’ mean to you and how will it be reflected in your works?
True art has meaning- it has a message. However, each viewer will perceive that message differently based on their own experience and perceptions. Hence, the meaning of the intended message can not be definitive.
Many of my works reflect the turmoil of the past 12 months, having lived through the extreme lows and then the unimaginable highs of my partner surviving a life threatening event.
My series ’17 days’ reflects the days spent in intensive care- the invasiveness of infection and the hollow or ‘void’ experienced when all control is relinquished. The feelings were ‘mixed’ and the interpretation of these works will also be mixed based on the viewer’s life experiences.
What are you most excited about with this year’s program for OUTA?
The inaugural OUTA event in 2017 drew crowds from a wide circle of our community and beyond. But this year there is a palpable level of anticipation about the event. All of the works will be new and fresh and the incorporation of the Urunga artists this time means greater artistic diversity, reaching a wider audience. This year we also have a Gumbaynggirr Indigenous language and music workshop being staged at the Belfry Guesthouse.
The acclaimed artist Greg Stonehouse will be an exciting addition to this year’s collection of artists. His small sculptural installations have an intensity that will be very thought provoking. And the theatrical designs of local costume designer Amanda Fairbanks will be modelled through the streets of Bellingen and sure to make a stir.
The generosity and contributions made by the Bellingen Shire Council, Arts Mid North Coast and the multiple venues involved means that Open Up to Art has already grown into one of the most significant art events in the region. So we welcome the whole community to imbibe in the fun, vitality and the stimulation that this weekend will offer.