There’s a new ARI* on the block in the Perth CBD. Situated in the Bon Marche Arcade building on Barrack Street, the whimsically named Cool Change Contemporary is a multi-gallery space that will be hosting a monthly program of exhibitions, supported by regular performances, screenings, workshops and events. Ahead of the opening of Cool Change and the launch of its first round of exhibitions, Nina Levy caught up with four of the ARI’s seven founders, Emma Buswell, Melissa McGrath, Shoshana Rosenberg and Matthew Siddall.
Even though it’s only one flight of stairs to reach Cool Change Contemporary’s home on the first floor of the Bon Marche building, I can’t resist taking the lift, in spite of my fear that it might stop working while I’m inside. It’s totally worth the risk. The lift appears to be in its original condition (the building dates back to 1895) and as it trundles slowly upwards I can almost feel the decades slipping away.
Upstairs, however, while the aesthetics are still pleasingly vintage, the atmosphere is – true to its name – contemporary. Light and bright, the place is a hub of industrious activity, with the young team painting and polishing the various rooms in preparation for its opening, which, at the time of the interview, is three weeks away. Three of the members of the founding committee – Melissa McGrath, Shoshana Rosenberg and Matthew Siddall – are happy to take a break to show me around and fill me in on the project, with a fourth, Emma Buswell, joining us during the conversation. The other founding members are Jess Boyce, Grace Connors and Miranda Johnson.
So what is Cool Change Contemporary?
“We’re a multi-space, multi-artform, artist run initiative,” answers McGrath. “We’re aiming to be a kind of hub for multiple points of expression,” adds Rosenberg. Siddall continues, “Not necessarily just visual arts, but across the artistic spectrum: performances, workshops, visual arts exhibitions, of course, but not necessarily just the traditional sphere of painting. We’re trying to expose people in Perth and the surrounds to art that might challenge them or change their way of thinking… and we’re continuing the great legacy of artist run initiatives around Perth and continuing on from what Moana Project Space did, and Free Range Gallery and OK Gallery and others.”
As readers may be aware, all three of these gallery spaces have closed in recent times, although Moana Project Space is still planning to reopen in a new space. “Shosh and I have just come back from living elsewhere for a few years. When we left Perth there were lots of ARIs and lots of different events happening, small festivals,” remarks McGrath. Coming back the pair have found that much of that activity has fallen away, in particular, the opportunities for artists to interact and exchange ideas.
Cool Change Contemporary has been created in response to that lack, says Buswell. “We all recognised that there probably needed to be a space like this in Perth, and particularly a multi-gallery venue space, where you can have cross-disciplinary works – experimental performance, music, visual arts, also shop space and studios – so creating a culture here, in this building. You see the success of those kinds of ventures over East, projects like First Draft in Sydney, Seventh in Melbourne. There’s a whole host of galleries over there that create a really generous community because they have four different audiences attending one event, for four different exhibitions. We’re creating a space, as well, where people feel safe and welcome, and happy to come here and spend time with the peers and develop that critical conversation.” McGrath adds, “It’s not just about what we’re showing [at exhibitions] but about the conversations that we’re cultivating and the relationships that spark because maybe you meet someone here that you wouldn’t have otherwise.”
It’s about creating alternative performance space too. “From the performance/music end of things, there aren’t a lot of venues that are available to people who make the kind of music that doesn’t make a lot of money or attract huge audiences, and also music that maybe people don’t want to drink five pints to while they listen,” observes Rosenberg. “My background in punk and hardcore music tells me that the best way to do things is to move away from [traditional music] venues and those more mainstream, institutional ways of thinking about things. To me, a pub is an institution, so that was kind of my motivation to make something new that operates a little differently.”
Even though the space hasn’t opened yet, there’s already huge interest in Cool Change Contemporary from within the visual and performing arts communities, and the response to their first call out for expressions of interest was massive, the team tell me, resulting in a strong opening line up. When Cool Change Contemporary opens its doors to the public on August 3, it will be launching not one but three exhibitions.
“In Gallery One we’ll have a show by Eric C, a TAFE graduate who was recently in the “Hatched” show at PICA,” says McGrath. “They’ll be showing some new textile works. Gallery 2 will be a solo show – by Paul Sutherland who’s a Curtin grad, two or three years out of uni – looking at technology and leisure time.” Buswell continues, “And the personal relationships and public face relationships that we establish on social media.”
“And then in Gallery 3 we have an evolving show by Oliver Hull, who’s also a Curtin alumnus, and currently lives in Melbourne,” finishes McGrath. “He’s giving Cool Change a gift of a series of weather measurement systems, both precise and poetic,” she laughs.
“Some of them are mood rings reconfigured into fantastical sculptures,” explains Buswell. “And then others are very precise, quality weather test instruments, that we’ll hopefully be installing outside the building so we can keep a constant weather update of what’s going on in Cool Change. Oliver’s looking at things like more organic forms of gauging how temperature affects the environment.”
“We also have a two-week residency by Laura Edmunds who’s a Welsh artist,” adds McGrath. “She will be in Perth for a show at Paper Mountain in August. She’ll be doing a residency which is bridging her drawing practice with sound and performance.”
“She’s talked about linking in with people who do a lot of extensive vocal techniques… that’s actually quite exciting because it’s linking more musical performance with gallery ‘on-wall’ visual arts,” remarks Rosenberg. “We’ve also taken on local independent musician Eduardo Cossio’s “Outcome Unknown” [a concert series of experimental music]. That will start in August and we’re looking forward to having exciting performances throughout the year.”
It all sounds super cool… but that’s not where the name “Cool Change” came from, explains McGrath. In the wake of the closure of Moana Project Space, which was named for its former home, Moana Chambers, the group (which includes five Moana directors) was keen to choose a different type of name. “We were hoping that the name would represent something more about what was actually happening in the space, and acknowledge the reality that, as much as this space is beautiful and at this moment feels ‘home’ for Cool Change, in the future it might not be,” elaborates McGrath. “There are challenges to maintaining a single physical space for the life of a project in Perth and [so we felt that] if we had a name that was representative of what we wanted to do rather where we are located than it would be a better representation of what we are.”
The team also likes the name “Cool Change” because it connects strongly with Perth’s climate. “Key to the name is that we are deciding to do this in Perth,” comments McGrath. “There’s a lot of passion for this city, so recognising and honouring the location that we’re working in is important.”
Want to support Cool Change Contemporary? The project is currently funded by the seven founders but you can give them a hand and make a contribution to their crowd funding campaign: www.gofundme.com/cool-change-fitout
Pictured top is the Cool Change Contemporary founding committee. Back row (L-R) Miranda Johnson, Emma Buswell, Matthew Siddall, Grace Connors. Front row (L-R) Melissa McGrath, Shoshana Rosenberg, Jess Boyce. Photo: Nicolee Fox.
* ARI: artist run initiative