Kate Beynon’s Friendly Beasts


Working in collaboration with contemporary artists, the Children’s Art Centre creates new and unique artworks and projects for the young, and young at heart to engage with artist’s ideas and ways of working. A key part of achieving great outcomes is in the design. For Kate Beynon’s ‘Friendly Beasts’ we wanted to create immersive spaces that invoke a sense of playfulness, encourage creativity and mindfulness.

Kate Beynon was born in Hong Kong in 1970 and moved to Australia in 1974 and has recently completed her PhD at Monash University, exploring the presence of creatures — including mythical beasts and hybrid human figures — in contemporary art and how they relate to theories of cultural identity. Her work is informed by multiple visual traditions including Western and Eastern comic books, animation, film, graffiti, calligraphy and fashion, and her rich artistic practice and beautiful watercolours provided fertile inspiration for us throughout the creative process of bringing to life the ‘Friendly Beasts’ exhibition.

Watercolour concepts by Kate Beynon / © The artist

Once you enter the space you meet the ‘beasts’ in life-size form. Adapted from the artist’s Dance of the Spirits and Apotropaic Vessels series, each character has special attributes and different personalities. Mysterious Blue Shaman is a healer through music, magic charms and dance; mischievous, energetic Lotus Monkey encourages joy and play; grinning Tu-Dao Dog is a friendly and loyal companion; and snaky-haired Gorgon Girl stops bullies in their tracks by turning them to stone.

You also can connect with the characters by touching the hand shaped sensors which change colour from rainbow to the creatures colour. Sounds representative of the creatures traits emanate from their illuminated bodies that are displayed against a soft background of watercolour blobs adapted from Beynon’s artwork.

Pass through an illuminated Moon Gate that incorporates details inspired by traditional Chinese lanterns that carry symbolic meaning in Chinese culture and reflect a common topic of Beynon’s work — hybrid identity. The use of contemporary materials such as Ampelite Fibreglass sheeting and LED lighting to achieve a subtle illumination in different colours symbolises a connection between tradition and the contemporary.

The activity ‘Beast Remix’ uses templates based on Beynon’s works so you can create a new hybrid creature of your own imagining. For this space we incorporated a selection of masks made by children during trials into the wallpaper so that their inventions could provide a source of inspiration for others. Once your mask is completed, pass through another Moon Gate that leads you to the dancing zone where you can dance with the beasts in the artist’s three channel video installation, Visions from a Ghost Tale / Friendly Beasts.

Beynon also wanted to have a quiet space that encouraged children to sit down and engage in a relaxing and meditative activity. The Lotus Garden is an oasis featuring a collaborative drawing activity that invites you to use coloured pencils and organic-shaped stencils to create a landscape in which your beast might live. Kwan Yin, the Goddess of mercy, compassion and kindness in Chinese culture looks over the space with a dramatic large-scale reproduction of the artist’s representation of Kwan Yin in the Lotus Field and an animation of her many armed-figure on display.

Installation photographs: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA

Lotus flower lights designed and made by Sachie Muramatsu especially for our exhibition are suspended above the drawing table, while a custom designed carpet of a lotus pond and garden complete the space. These gentle and contemplative colours, as well as ambient sound envelopes the space and creates a multisensory experience.

Laura Mudge is Senior Program Officer, Children’s Art Centre
Kasia Jarosz is former Exhibition Designer, QAGOMA

Friendly Beasts’ was the ninth in a series of large-scale interactive projects developed in collaboration with the Children’s Art Centre and contemporary Australian artists.