Canberra is known for its suite of formal public sculptures and monuments, most the result of lengthy commissioning processes with the artists required to fulfil demanding briefs for longevity and public safety.
As sites for respectful national commemoration and in some cases pilgrimage, for locals they might be the backdrop for your regular commute, walk or cycle, and in the process, some start to become unseen. Others almost shyly blend into the landscape as if an intruder into the formality of the Griffins' grand vision.
But our city also has a lesser-known history of being the stage for the presentation of challenging temporal sculptural, performance and multimedia practices. These are the occasions for artistic experimentation, for risk taking and not a little controversy. Critical to many is the idea that seeing art is more like being a witness, an active participant in the interaction with the artists' ideas; at their best they offer the kinds of unscripted moments of encounter that has literally changed lives.
The contour 556 festival, on now, is the latest of these gatherings of unconventional art in unexpected places. Last weekend, you may have stumbled upon artist Ham Darroch walking through Civic pulling a cart with the upturned harp of a piano on wheels that "played" the pavement.
Or perhaps you've walked past Fiona Hooton's Straw Ziggurat of haybales right on the parliamentary axis by the lake foreshore, which pays tribute to the Griffins' progressive ambitions for an unrealised building that would celebrate the achievement of all its citizens.
One not to miss, in the sheltered bay of West Basin, is Hannah Quinliven's rippling form Shroud that hovers just above the glistening water; on still mornings and evenings, when the sky seems to float in the water, its delicate form harnesses a new way of appreciating this familiar view.
The festival, now in its third iteration and featuring 67 artists, is the brainchild and philanthropic project of landscape architect Neil Hobbs.
Running over three weeks, the final days include a symposium that aims to shed light on some of the key moments in Canberra's history of these similar kinds of fleeting art.
With much of this past work ephemeral and loosely documented, the forum is an opportunity to refresh our appreciation of the ambitions and impacts of some of these works, and in doing so, recover some of these lost creative moments that are laid down like an invisible archaeology in our city's collective memory.
As curator, I first conceived of the idea when I came across a photograph in the Canberra Museum and Gallery's archives, of what appeared to be a giant pink lava lamp in the middle of the water fountain in Civic Square.
All I could determine at the time was that it was taken in the mid-1970s, back when I had just started high school. I lived nearby and very likely went past it, but I had no memory of it.
It's taken almost a year to identify it and to find someone who can tell the story of what, it turns out, was called Chromasonic Tower, by leading experimental multimedia artist Stan Ostoja-Kotkowski. The work was commissioned for one of the biggest multi-arts festivals Canberra has ever seen, in the heady Whitlam era. Australia '75, held in March of that year, was a celebration of creativity in arts and sciences.
Stephen Jones, a recent graduate of the Australian National University, was an experimental musician in Canberra to participate in the category of Computers and Electronics.
He would go on to be a principal member of electronica band Severed Heads, and is now a leading writer, curator and archivist of Australian media art.
Drawing from his own records and personal participation in the event, Jones is still able to reflect on the gestation of the work he did during Ostoja-Kotkowski's Coombes Fellowship.
"The main interest shown by all the participants was various aspects of the idea of synaesthesia," he says.
"Basically, there was great deal of interest in the possible futures of the electronic arts, and most of the artists who were working in that field came to the festival."
By the late 1960s, the art scene had become a battleground, and nowhere were the lines more fiercely drawn than around art presented outside conventional gallery walls.
Traditionalists like Elwyn Lynn, who occupied influential critical and curatorial roles, declared: "Happenings, environments and protest stunts are rather curious events from a physiological point of view - from an aesthetic one they are just rubbish."
Despite the limitations of the local art scene at the time - no art school or permanent public gallery - Canberra seemed acutely ready to present such work. The young modern city, with its wide spaces and the very lack of precedent, seemed to embolden a new generation of artists and directors to make things happen.
One of the few local artists attuned to the new trends was Arthur Wicks, who had grown up in Reid and in 1968, having just returned home from a residency in Paris, he proposed and was commissioned to make Emanuel, a sculpture intended as an alternative contemporary response to a Christmas Tree for St Margaret's church in Dickson.
Painted in vivid enamel, the 10-metre-high minimal sculpture form was only up for a month, but Wicks was to continue to dip in and out of Canberra's temporal art projects. He returned in 1978 with an outdoor video installation involving him inside a white cube with peep holes for passers-by to look in on him reciting the words of the Dismissal.
But Canberra also had the mandate to represent the nation and connect to the world, becoming a place of opportunity for artists to go beyond local agendas of the day.
Drawn to Canberra from the United Kingdom for a PhD scholarship at ANU, Donald Brook established the Centre for Australian Sculpture from his home in Deakin in 1966, with a claimed roll-call of representation of significant artists and an eye on securing public art commissions in the rapidly growing city.
He was optimistic about his project.
"Everything about Australia promises well for sculpture," he said at the time.
"There is sunlight and space and a creative ethos - or if you prefer, a huge building program."
But despite this enthusiasm, there was not enough to sustain the gallery, and a year later he went on to influential academic roles in Sydney and then Adelaide.
Meanwhile, the creative happenings that critics like Lynn so feared became a visible part of the landscape, with events such as the Aquarius Arts Festival at the ANU in 1971, which featured an early version of Stan Ostoja-Kotkowski's Chromasonic Tower in collaboration with architect Derek Wrigley, then head of the ANU Design Unit.
Aside from the 2013 Centenary Festival, it's hard to find another festival program in Canberra's history as wide-ranging as what came next with the Australia '75 Festival. Boldly declaring to provide "something for everyone", with film, science, a children's festival and computer art, it included Sidney Nolan's collection, then housed at Lanyon, along with pop legend Marcia Hines.
Encountering new kinds of art outdoors was a key element of the festival, and then-emerging artist Bruce Reynolds, who had grown up in Narrabundah, made a pitch to be part of it.
Although the National Gallery of Australia would not have physical premises for almost another decade, Reynolds recalls the impact of having founding gallery director James Mollison in town and building a national collection out at Fyshwick.
"My involvement with the Australia '75 Sculpture festival culminated in an informal gathering in the Commonwealth Gardens tunnel, where Mollison ceremoniously declared our contribution to the festival open - to the vinyl soundtrack of Relayer by Yes," he says. "With my co-artist Andrew Townsend, I would meet the generous and perceptive Bert Flugelman. We got this gig by proposing an ambitious installation that was selected above that of a number of established artists."
Reynolds has gone on to build a significant practice, including award-winning public art projects in Queensland, and will be one of the speakers at next week's symposium.
Their House in the Forest was one of 32 works presented in Commonwealth Park clustered around the children's lake area, with most coming from the Mildura Sculpture Festival. In contrast to the mostly contained metal forms by other sculptors was Bert Flugelmans mythic Earthwork - six polished aluminium tetrahedrons buried in a deep trench, which is now the most legendary "unseen" sculptural work in the city.
Its presence underground is now marked by a discreet sign, but across the lake in today's Sculpture Gardens, the impact of his participation in that event is very evident in his much-loved Cones, which was commissioned by Mollison the following year and realised in 1982 with the opening of the National Gallery.
The Whitlam dismissal ended plans for a second festival in 1977, but a year later Ingo Kleinert, head of sculpture at the new Canberra School of Art, along with Diana Ashcroft Johnson and a budget of $3500 from the Arts Council, launched Act I. It was followed in two-year intervals by Act II and Act III. These were more provocative performance and public participatory art events where, unlike Sculpture '75, most works were conceived for the location.
Provocative veteran artist Mike Parr presented Dream 1, where he cast himself on the lake in a small dingy and stayed out all night on the water, the boat drifting on its own. The physically humble work, documented in grainy black-and-white photographs, was a purposeful critique of this giant artificial body of water.
He wrote, "I was very interested in the idea of the collective unconscious. I thought, it's amazing, here's Canberra with the great problem of trying to relate to the country and they go and build a sort of ersatz unconscious right in the middle of it ... I thought I would drift on the lake and come up with a dream that's going to make it alright."
For Neil Hobbs, public art is a means of challenging how we feel about public space.
"It can surprise, provoke, delight, inform and focus our attention. It is embedded in our memories," he says.
"Canberra's legacy of past events was not experienced by many of today's residents. Through CMAG and contour 556's collaboration, the legacy and future of public art and public realm can be remembered, considered and recognised."