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by Hannah Quinlivan

photo by Hannah Quinlivan


Public art matters. The intensity of arguments about it is proof. 2020 sees the third contour556 public art biennial since Neil Hobbs founded the event in 2016. During this time statues of Captain Cook in Australia, Cecil Rhodes in the UK and confederate statues in the US, amongst others, have been the focus of urgent public debate on colonialism and racism – debate that is necessary, ongoing and showing some positive results. 

The artworks showcased at successive contour556 biennials are the opposite of the congealed celebrations of imperial triumphalism which still form the bulk of sculpture punctuating public spaces in the west. Instead they are open, intriguing, nuanced invitations to engage with contemporary artists’ interrogation of life as we know it and live it. contour556 artworks draw one into conversations about place, purpose, past and future, about what kind of future that will be and the contingencies shaping it. Crucially, the works invite reflection about agency – the choices which made the present what it is today, and the choices open to us right now to change path for a fair and sustainable future. 

Arranged in and around Canberra’s inner south and inner north which meet at contour 556 – the water level of Lake Burley Griffin – the 2020 biennial confirms the event’s subtle yet compelling invitation to engagement on the biggest issues facing Australia and the world. In putting the open-ended power of art in the way of people’s daily lives, where they walk, run, sit in the sun and think about the world, contour556 could well hasten the community insights necessary for our transition to better ways. Bring on the art! 

Chris Wallace

'Open Cube'
by Harijs Piekalns

by S.A. Adair


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