Fremantle’s High Tide Festival: Wonder and Illusion As Artists turn streets Into Stage
Ted Snell, 3 Nov 17

Zora Kreuzer, Arcade (2017) Liebler Facade, Fremantle. James Whineray

Fremantle proudly proclaims itself a “city for artists”, and while that has been a somewhat hollow boast in recent years, there is evidence of its former cultural vibrancy returning. The Fremantle Arts Centre, ArtSource and Spare Parts Puppet Theatre have held the fort while other venues and organisations have collapsed into the back hole of Australia Council funding cuts, but the opening of the High Tide festival of site-responsive art raises hopes for a return to the city’s artistic leadership role.

Announced as the inaugural event of a new Fremantle Biennale, High Tide brings together a group of artists who respond to and work with the history, landscape, and community that define a city’s sense of place.

Within the West End, these artists have created works within, on and around its buildings and public spaces. While many of the public murals currently colonising walls around the country infiltrate the urban landscape, the works created for High Tide grow from it and act as a trigger to re-examine the environment they inhabit. They are a prompt to re-think its history and a stimulus to re-assess preconceptions of place.

Felice Varini has been working on major urban installations around the world since 1978, so he was a natural choice as keynote artist for this festival. He began his career designing for the theatre, and after refocusing his creative energies as a painter, his ambitions expanded from the confines of a rectangular canvas to tackle architectural interiors and eventually expanded urban environments.

His latest work for High Tide returns full-circle to explore the world of illusion, light, magic, and shadow that was at the centre of his theatrical practice. His painting in the heart of Fremantle transforms High Street into a stage, which we are invited to activate. Wandering down towards the Roundhouse at the end of the street one enters a space of surprise and wonder, where shards of yellow paint interact with the buildings and are enlivened by the coloured garments of fellow performers taking an afternoon stroll.

Felice Varini, Arcs d'Éllipses (2017) High St (from Round House to Town Hall), Fremantle. Installation view High St. James Whineray

Varini’s Arcs D’Ellipses is captivating, in every sense. Not only does it attract attention but it beguiles and charms with its looping, yellow arches that intertwine through the buildings of the old port town. The effect is mesmerising. It demands sustained engagement and encourages return visits to confirm our first impressions.

Felice Varini, Arcs d'Éllipses (2017) Installation view Town Hall. James Whineray

The painting is premised on the notion of a fixed point of view, from which we read the six yellow arches framed and contained by the streetscape. Standing on the stairs that lead up to the Roundhouse at the end of High Street is the sweet spot where everything comes together with startling clarity. All the fragments of yellow that seem arbitrarily painted on the walls, footpath, and signage you have just walked past, coalesce into a brilliantly composed series of golden arches that literally pop up from the street and seem to hover magically in front of you.

With permission from the City Council, Varini and curator Tom Müller blacked out the entire West End for an evening and projected the image of the arches onto the buildings, while a team of volunteers atop Cherry Pickers carefully drew the outline of the arches wherever they struck a solid surface.

Then over a four-week period, Varini and his team applied very thin aluminum sheeting that wrapped around these surfaces, adhering to each area, no matter how small. The resulting yellow fragments are embedded in the streetscape and provide markers to discovery of architectural features, forgotten elements and surprising juxtapositions.

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