Changing public perceptions of contemporary art may seem like a fairly complicated task, but for Noosa Regional Gallery director Michael Brennan, it’s all in a day’s work.

After five years at the iconic gallery’s helm, Michael continues to breathe new life into the way contemporary art is displayed, viewed and interpreted, by continually re-imagining concepts of how art practices interact with different spaces, the natural environment and each other.

The gallery’s diverse following is one of the key contributors to its expanded profile, both locally, nationally and internationally.

“One of the approaches I’ve tried to embrace since I’ve been here is recognising that it’s not only tourists that come into the gallery,” Michael tells salt.

“A lot of locals to Noosa, and the Sunshine Coast more broadly, really value having this as a kind of a beacon for contemporary art on the Coast here, and we make sure we’re providing new experiences for them each time they come in.

“It’s really about making sure that the artists who are living and practising locally, that exhibit in the gallery, are seen in a national and international context; putting them alongside artists from further afield that have rising or established reputations.”

Michael explains that the collaborative process between gallery and artist, as well as exhibiting differing artists’ work side by side, is essential to “opening a conversation” between different art practices.

He cites an example of a recent exhibition at the gallery of First Nations artists Fiona Foley and Michael Cook.

“So, we’ve got a theme about the treatment of First Nations people across the gallery by two artists who have quite different photographic practices,” he tells salt.

“You get the chance to experience and engage with the individual works, but you’re left with these broader themes that open up between them as well, and I think that’s really valuable.”

A feature event of Noosa Regional Gallery’s artistic program is the Floating Land exhibition, a biennial outdoor exhibition in its twelfth iteration this year running from June 24 to July 30, where temporary outdoor art installations throughout the Noosa region can be viewed and engaged within unique spaces.

This year, the title of the event is Floating Land: Us and Them, which will feature about 15 diverse installations at various sites from the beaches to the hinterland.

The theme of this year’s exhibition examines the divisiveness that has arisen within sectors of society, largely as a by-product of the pandemic.

“There’ll be some really abrasive content in there, no doubt, but unless you confront things, there’s not really an opportunity to understand someone else’s point of view,” Michael says.

One of the projects in the exhibition is the work of Gosia Wlodarczak, an internationally acclaimed Melbourne-based drawing performance artist. She will be performing her drawings on perspex screens, or sneeze guards, that will be dividing up specially installed picnic tables.

Another key project for this year’s Floating Land is the work of Iranian artist Hoda Afshar, who came to prominence with a series of photographic portraits of detainees on Manus Island.

That series of photographs is to be presented in large scale on a weather resistant surface and displayed in the Noosa Woods area.

“It’s setting up a really contextual contrast, I guess; these portraits of men who were detained on Manus Island, and in the background we’ll be able to see the opulence of the Noosa River and the mansions behind,” Michael tells salt.

“You probably couldn’t set up more of a stark contrast and subject matter. I think that dynamic really prompts people to think about where they stand in that very broad spectrum of haves and have-nots.”

A film called Terror Nullius, presented by New York-based art duo Soda Jerk, presents an un-writing of Australian national mythologies, and will be shown at an outdoor starry night cinema experience at the Apollonian Hotel at Boreen Point.

Michael explains that the settings in which the Floating Land projects are viewed are integral to the works of art themselves.

“Floating Land has always had a strong connection to the natural environment; it’s often been about those kind of ecological, environmental, and by extension, social issues,” he says.

”I think that for all of these projects, even though some of them would be more commonly seen indoors, the meaning kind of shifts a little bit when you take it out into the natural environment.

“And vice versa – the environment that it’s in is temporarily affected by the artwork being there. So it helps us see spaces in a different way, but it helps us think about the artists’ works in a different way as well.”

Looking to the future, Michael strongly hints at the possibility of a larger, purpose-built gallery in the pipeline for developing new art projects in a region that is inextricably linked with its surroundings, and to continue expanding the gallery’s artistic program.

“There’s a lot to be said for the preservation of the natural environment I think, whether that’s the pristine beaches or the fantastic hinterland areas,” he says.

“It sets the tone for everything that you do and has the potential to be optimistic and positive. You feel like anything’s possible.”