Award winning intermedia artist David Pledger, the team behind Gold Coast’s transformative Bleach* Festival, and QT Hotels & Resorts recently teamed up to debut a thoughtful, possibly game-changing concept going by the name of Hotelling.
Apart from the annual Bleach* Festival, there are not too many who would recognise Gold Coast, and specifically Surfers Paradise, as a location with a bustling arts scene. When people regularly think about the sun-kissed city the stock images are invariably ones of leisurely beach sessions and rowdy nights on Cavill Avenue. In part, the local government have the youthful excess of Schoolies to thank for that stigma, and even though the powers that be are trying their damn hardest to push against that undesirable image ahead of the 2018 Commonwealth Games, it’s one that has unfortunately left a stubborn stain on outsider perception.
All the new developments and premium restaurant brands in the world aren’t nearly enough to truly transform a city, its culture, and its image. They certainly do help, but time and time again it has been shown that a city’s transformation truly springs to life when it stands on the shoulders of artists and thinkers, the people who regularly trade in using spaces to provoke, inspire and entertain. At a glance, that’s what Hotelling was all about, giving artists free reign over a slice of Surfers and seeing what they’ll do with it, using the colourful QT Gold Coast as a canvas.
And what a canvas this stunning property made. The lobby spills out to a large pool area and a vibrant, ornate garden, but not before offering you a hyper-bright lounge area and the entrance to their popular Stingray Bar & Lounge. This is a very busy, very exciting ground floor, a perfect playground for these artists; its one in which each participant thrived as they used floors, rooms and even the shallow kids pool as platforms for various interactive and thematic art performances, all riffing on the concept of hospitality and the “behind closed doors” mystique of hotel life.
Down the Rabbit Hole
The Hotelling program was then split into two parts in order to make full use of QT Gold Coast, both by day and by night. Both Saturday and Sunday nights ran the main stream of the concept, which was fashioned as “Down the Rabbit Hole”, a whole made up of various working parts all spread throughout the hotel and its many rooms, each part relying on the creativity and imagination these artists used to approach their respective site-specific work.
The audience began the night in the lush Penthouse, a party hostess named Slavka whipping crowds into a sea of shaking hips and shrugging elbows. Basking in the night light that poured in from the three-floor windows (seriously, you have to see that view during the day), the artist slid her fantastical performance into the familiar pocket of an ostentatious house party before laying down the loosely formed instructions for the night. The audience was to be split into manageable groups, each assigned to an affable guide who would lead the charge around various rooms across several floors before slowly working down to the tennis court where accomplished performance artist and variety entertainer Moira Finucane dazzled crowds with a balloon-popping burlesque show set in seductive swathes of bright red. The night would end back up at the penthouse where Finucane donned a more serious, slightly macabre personality for the night’s darkest performance, right before purifying herself in the Penthouse’s 80s style European bathtub.
The halls themselves were at times platforms for surreal vignettes, artists channeling what seemed like exaggerated occurrences in the hotel’s history. Step out of the elevator and you may have come across a sad woman in her nightwear desperately seeking her lost bunny, who may or may not have been the creepy Donnie Darko like masked human-rabbit eerily pacing the hall a few floors up. There was also the bear-hatted and shirtless Russian who had one too many drinks, creepily stalking the halls and knocking on doors. Yep, at times it felt like The Shining, and at others it felt like an amp for the range of emotions guests bring with them on their vacation, many of whom forget to separate their home life from their holiday.
Take for example the in-room performance of a man (artist Todd MacDonald) who starts as a warm and welcoming host, ushering you into his room before you watch him fall apart while on speakerphone to his wife. It’s voyeuristic and so well acted that it’s slightly concerning. Watching this slightly tipsy I.T executive have his marriage almost torn to shreds over a miscommunication is intentionally uncomfortable, given how you are almost shoulder-to-shoulder with the artist himself. That’s the point though; Hotelling seemed to want to minimise that gap between audience and artist, at least as much as reason would allow.
Other in-room performances included a slightly confusing and confronting obsessive homage to music icons like Patti Smith and Mick Jagger, an imaginary escape room like challenge with an atmosphere of urgency created by a well thought out apocalyptic scenario (that one required group work), and a curious, adult “discussion slash interactive sex counselling service” involving whips, chains and actor Sam Frost tied to a bed. Then you had small tweaks and nuances like the hotel pool transformed into a projected scene imagining a body of water in what seemed like the Jurassic age, designed to be viewed from high up above.
The Afternoon Playground
While “Down the Rabbit Hole” repeated across both nights of Hotelling, the other side of this program was reserved just for Sunday afternoon, the traditionally lazy period when the Gold Coast sun as it as its best and brightest. Where “Rabbit Hole” was very much a group experience, The Afternoon Playground valued one-on-one conversation and allowed those engaged enough to get a little personal.
Many of the artists who participated in “Rabbit Hole” dressed down and took on some more realistic personas – okay some were still purposely over-the-top – seamlessly edging into everyday life at QT Gold Coast, each with their little corner spot so they could lie in wait for their audiences to come up, often individually, and interact with what they had planned.
MacDonald was seated by the entrance to the hotel begging for deep and meaningful conversation, to which he was more than qualified to provide. Finucane was donned in a sunhat with her feet dangling in the kids pool, cushions set up so one by one audiences could confide in her whatever was on their minds, the artist filling the role of a sort-of counselor who ended each session with a sincere blessing.
Nearby was Foster set up on the astro-turf ready to mix intimate yoga classes with a bit of old school Zeppelin-scored fun complete with air-drumming in between positions of downward dog and sunset salutation, and out the very front of the hotel was the duo of Jan and Dean, a bubbly couple who would take you into the back of their carpeted panel van and treat you to a 7-minute short film of their not-so-subtle, and bizarre, “Christmas” shenanigans.
Elsewhere, anyone who held a ticket to The Afternoon Playground could head off on a mystery bike tour with performers Alicia Min-Harvie and Jonny Haselam as arty tour guides, more than willing to show off the less touristy sides of the linear Surfers Paradise
There was quite a bit to take in here, and though it wasn’t as focused or considered as Down the Rabbit Hole, the very instance of these artists beginning to think how they can insinuate themselves into the ecology of a Gold Coast hotel is exciting. With time, The Afternoon Playground could be a way for artists to spice up your everyday Sunday with potentially inspiring, meaningful, and low-key performances hidden in the everyday, that kind of thinking will only grow these concepts and spark true change to how we think about the Gold Coast as a destination and a place to live.
Making the hotel a transformational experience has been done in other parts of the world, and reportedly its been to great effect. When done well, it softly picks audiences outside of their comfort zones but places them inside spaces that feel safe and inclusive enough to foster participation, but also confront; this was the crux of why Hotelling worked and the very human, hospitable environment these artists shaped with their own idiosyncrasies built this inaugural event into something really promising. The possibility of Surfers Paradise one day seeing several or even all of its 150 hotels turn into platforms for site-specific art could be just what the city’s reputation needs.
“Gold Coast hotels are a bit like Melbourne’s laneways were 20 years ago”, Pledger told me before the program kicked off. “20 years ago the laneway in Melbourne was where you’d put your rubbish, but now they basically characterise the city, they are like the dominant architectural feature.”
“You can’t get away from the fact that you have 150 or so hotels in Surfer’s Paradise, so what do you do with that? You can’t take it away so you have to enter into the fact that they are there, so how do you do that?”
And that right there is why the future progression of Hotelling as a broad concept could be such a major facelift for Surfer’s Paradise. What we saw at QT Gold Coast is just the beginning of the kind of cultural currency that buys cities a new identity, placing artists as real catalysts of real change.
“I think with Gold Coast there’s a whole thing where [hotels are] seen as a bad thing, I see it as an opportunity, these hotels are an interesting part of the landscape and create an interesting dynamic. You permit yourself to be someone different because you’re on holiday, that is quite invigorating and that’s a great space for art to function.”
Hotelling took place at QT Gold Coast on the 4th and 5th November, 2016. For more information about the program visit the official Facebook page HERE.
The writer attended Hotelling as a guest of QT Hotels & Resorts