News, Reviews, Visual arts

Portraits of place and ‘progress’

Review: Tami Xiang, Esther McDowell/Yabini Kickett, Tom Freeman, Lisa Liebetrau, ‘August exhibitions’ ·
Cool Change Contemporary ·
Review by Stephen Bevis ·

The Bon Marché Arcade Building on Barrack Street was once one of the grandest spots in Perth. Built in 1895 by a former convict who made good as a bookseller, its fortunes have reflected the dramatic shifts in commercial, retail and social behaviour over the decades.

In its heyday, it was a popular link from Barrack Street to the now defunct Bon Marché drapery and department store, which ran between Hay and Murray Streets before being sold off to David Jones in 1954 and eventually demolished. Now Bon Marché is an arcade to nowhere. Many of its rooms are empty, although a few small businesses keep its spirit alive. So too does the artist-run initiative Cool Change Contemporary, which is celebrating one year of revitalising this often overlooked premises with its rolling program of residencies, exhibitions, workshops and events.

Bon Marché’s colourful and varied history is a rich well for Cool Change artist-in-residence Lisa Liebetrau to draw from in her site-responsive works and archival ephemera that evoke the stories, memories and characters that inhabit the once-bustling mercantile rooms. Liebetrau reflects on the building’s life cycle from grand openings to bargain-bin discounts, decline and possible renewal led by the artists who now inhabit this space. The Bon Marché story is just one of many in Perth as economic disruption pock-marks the city’s face with empty retail tenancies.

As Liebetrau’s catalogue notes say, “the transitory nature of artist-run initiatives cultivates the opportunity for marginal spaces and neglected buildings to breathe new life into them and allow their past to gain new visibility”.

Occupying the main space at Cool Change, Tami Xiang also considers the impact of shifting currents of economic and social fortunes in her show “Peasantography Lucky 88”. This is the latest in the Chinese-Australian artist’s “Peasantography” series on the disruptive effects of the Chinese economic “miracle” and the Hukou household classification system assigning people rural or urban roles. Many millions have been lifted from poverty in China but this has involved an exodus of working-age people from rural regions to the cities under the Hukou system. The result has been a hollowing out of villages and towns across the Chinese countryside, with children left with grandparents while the parents take up work in the industrial cities.

Last year, Xiang’s “Peasantography Family Portrait” show at UWA’s Cullity Gallery focused on the Chinese families split along generational lines. It was a powerful, dystopian collection of images of “absent” urban parents paired with photographs of their children nestling in the arms of elderly carers.

With “Peasantography Lucky 88”, Xiang has zoomed in on the aging rural poor. Unable to work, their pensions are linked to the ubiquitous two-tier Hukou classification which applies a rural welfare payment of 88 yuan ($18), a rate which until recently was much less than that received by their counterparts in the city.

Xiang has photographed a series of retired peasant farmers against a red studio background with the meagre objects they have purchased with 88 yuan. The number is considered lucky in Chinese numerology and, despite their privations, many of Xiang’s subjects consider themselves fortunate to get a pension at all, having endured the worst extremes of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. There is a poignant nobility about these images, as Xiang’s dislocated subjects stand in dirty footwear on pristine red studio sheets and stare impassively at the viewer while clutching their purchased goods.

Displacement and the significance of objects imbued with meaning also feature in “Kala Koorliny – Going Home” by Esther McDowell/Yabini Kickett. The Balladong Noongar artist has created a series of textiles, hanging installations and works on paper using natural materials collected while moving through country.

Esther McDowell/Yabini Kickett, 2019. Dyed linen with Marri leaves and rust. Image courtesy of the artist.

McDowell has incorporated marri leaves, feathers, gum nuts and even a small animal skull in her work, which includes three Moort Boodja dresses created and worn as a salve to homesickness in her own land. This wearable art enables the artist to carry her country with her to offset the on-going disruption to Noongar country. Kata Lines, a series of four drawings on paper using eucalyptus dyes, pastel and ink, represent her family’s passage through the Darling Scarp (Kata Mordo) in flowing compositions of place and knowledge.

Sitting comfortably in a building oozing with history and memory is Tom Freeman’s “Brick”, a playful, layered tribute to the metamorphic qualities of the material which built this city. Freeman incorporates stray bricks retrieved from around Perth and reimagines their qualities, both in form and function.

Referencing the malleable properties of source clay, Freeman introduces sensuous ceramic extrusions, glazes and plastics to create characters and stories for these inanimate building blocks. He experiments in scale and context to dream of alternate states and purposes for these humble, utilitarian objects.

Tom Freeman’s Four Loops, found brick, stonewear clay, glazes. Picture by Bo Wong.

These four exhibition are all highly rewarding in their own right but the connections between them strongly speak of the relationship between “progress” and its impact on the places we inhabit and the people we connect with.

Walking back down the narrow stairs from the ARI into the arcade and streetscape below, and beginning to reflect on the exhibitions above, I found myself reaching out to touch the textured brickwork and thinking, “If only these walls could talk”. In a way, they have – thanks to the artists of Cool Change.

These exhibitions run at Cool Change Contemporary, upstairs in the Bon Marché Arcade Building, 74-84 Barrack Street.

Picture above: Tami Xiang’s “Peasantography: Lucky 88” at Cool Change Contemporary.

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August 19, Calendar, Visual arts

Visual Arts: August Exhibitions at Cool Change Contemporary

2 – 24 August @ Cool Change Contemporary ·
Presented by Cool Change Contemporary ·

Please join us for the opening night of three new exhibitions and welcome  our July artist in residence on Friday 2 August, 6-8pm.

Gallery 1:  Tami Xiang: Peasantography: Lucky 88
Gallery 2:  Esther McDowell / Yabini Kickett: Kala Koorliny – Going Home
Gallery 3:  Tom Freeman: Brick (Supported by the Australia Council for the
Arts and the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries).
Project Space Residency: Lisa Liebetrau: A Form Close to that Originally Intended

Exhibition Continues: Saturday 3 August – Saturday 24 August.
Wednesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm

More info:

Pictured: Esther McDowell, 2019. Dyed Linen with Marri leaves and rust.
Image courtesy of the artist.


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Mixed Media artwork
Calendar, July 19, Visual arts

Visual Arts: July Exhibitions at Cool Change Contemporary

5 – 27 July @ Cool Change Contemporary ·
Presented by Cool Change Contemporary ·

Join us for the next block of exhibitions at Cool Change Contemporary:

Andrew Nicholls and Sion Prior: Hymn
Gallery 1

Nathan Beard: White Gilt
Gallery 2

Grace Wood: Ersatz
Gallery 3

Opening Night 5 July, 6-8pm

More info

Pictured: Grace Wood, Stand Back, 2019. Digital print on cotton canvas. Image courtesy of the artist.

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Calendar, Exhibitions, June 19, Visual arts

Visual Arts: June Exhibitions at Cool Change

8 – 29 June @ Cool Change Contemporary ·
Presented by Cool Change Contemporary ·

Cool Change’s June Exhibitions include:
Gallery 1: ‘Drifting Proximities’ (Tessa Beale, Bina Butcher & Phoebe Clarke)
Gallery 2: ‘Deep Heritage’ (Cassie Lynch, Rebecca Orchard, Andrew James Williams, Mei Swan Lim)
Gallery 3: ‘Suburban Musings and Other Curious Finds’ (Pip Lewi)
Project Space: ‘Here, with a bang!’ (Lauren McCartney)

Opening Night: 7 June

More info

Rebecca Orchard, Fragments of A Shifting Landscape, 2016. Image Courtesy of the Artist.

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50% Rice 50% Spice
Calendar, February 19, Visual arts

Visual Arts: February Exhibitions

1 – 23 February @ Cool Change Contemporary ·
Presented by Cool Change Contemporary ·

In Gallery 1, Melbourne-based artist Dalton Stewart presents a new body of work for ‘Rush’, continuing his investigation of urban and spatial structures in relation to the presence of the body.

Guy Louden returns to Perth with ‘Network Archeology’, a solo exhibition in Gallery 2 that imagines the end of the internet and recalls the collapse of our networked age from the perspective of a post-apocalyptic future.

Stephen Armitstead explores the memory of site and the notion of imbedded presence through photography, video, installation and ceramics in Gallery 3 for ‘Remnants: false impressions of time & space’.

In the Project Space, Devon Ward presents a robotic installation ‘The Tempering’ that attempts to imbue primordial elements–water and earth–with a vital psychological force.

Opening night: Friday 1 February 6pm-8pm
Exhibitions continue: 2 – 23 February
Wednesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm

More info

Guy Louden, ‘Sleek Memory V’ (detail) , 2018, laser etching on UV glass,
copper, stainless steel, steel wire rope, 15x15cm.

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A man and a woman with a microphone
Features, News, Performing arts, Visual arts

Cream of the crop, 2018

What were Seesaw writers’ favourite shows this year? What were the highlights and lowlights for the arts in WA? And which artists will our contributors be looking out for in 2019?

As 2018 draws to a close, Seesaw writers reflect on the year that was and the year that will be.

Xan Ashbury
Top shows
Cloud Nine, by Caryl Churchill. Directed by Jeffrey Jay Fowler for West Australian Youth Theatre Company in July.
Gutenberg the Musical, starring Jacob Jones and Andrew Baker. The musical was directed by Erin Hutchinson for Western Sky Theatre in June.
Huff by Cree playwright and solo performer Cliff Cardinal and directed by Karin Randoja, staged at the Subiaco Arts Centre in March by Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company.

cloud nine
Lexie Sleet,‘Ana Ika & Phil Lynch in ‘Cloud Nine’. Photo: Daniel Grant.

Looking forward to…
Our Town at Perth Festival. Black Swan State Theatre Company present Thornton Wilder’s classic play. Clare Watson directs a cast of professional actors and everyday citizens.
Le Nor at Perth Festival. Perth theatre-makers The Last Great Hunt tell interwoven stories of love in a world that’s falling apart, as they perform a faux foreign film live.
Re-member Me at Perth Festival. Lip synching maestro Dickie Beau channels audio recordings of great historical performances of Hamlet. Billed as “humorous and haunting”.

Sandra Bowdler
Top shows
Tristan und Isolde (Wagner), WASO, Perth Concert Hall – a world class performance
Nicola Benedetti (violin), Musica Viva, Perth Concert Hall  – riveting performer
Van Diemen’s Band, Callaway Auditorium, UWA – great Baroque music

WASO’s ‘Tristan and Isolde’ impressed a number of Seesaw’s writers. Pictured is Gun-Brit Barkmin, as Isolde. Photo: Andy Tyndall.

Looking forward to…
WASO evening with Gun-Brit Barkmin Perth Concert Hall – the star of WASO’s Tristan (August)
St Matthew Passion, St George’s Cathedral Consort, Perth Concert Hall (April)

Jan Hallam
Top Shows
Tristan und Isolde, WASO
Joan, Lucy J Skilbeck at Fringe World
Remembrance Day ConcertPerth Symphonic Chorus

Arts highlight
Iain Grandage’s appointment as Perth Festival Director

Looking forward to…
Komische Oper Berlin Mozart’s The Magic Flute

Belinda Hermawan
Top shows
Various artists, “Dark Swan – Contemporary Tales of the Gothic Antipodes”, at PS Arts Space
Amy Perejuan-Capone, “This Is How We Walk on the Moon”, at Customs House

Fran Rhodes, ‘Fraught Territory’, 2018, Oil on board, exhibited in ‘Dark Swan – Contemporary Tales of the Gothic Antipodes’.

Arts highlight
State government-funded writing and mentorship projects for WA emerging writers

Arts lowlight
Another year without the WA Premier’s Literary Awards

Looking forward to…
Fringe World Festival
PICA’s 2019 program

Miranda Johnson
Top Shows
“No Second Thoughts: Artemis Women’s Project” @ LWAG – a stunning inquiry into the continuing history of feminist art in WA.
The Second Woman @ PICA – If I could turn back time I would have made the effort to try to attend the whole 24 hours of this endurance piece! However, the four hours I spent watching Nat Randall and assorted men replay the same scene over and over was life-changing.
Can I say the entire Unhallowed Arts program? It was so amazing to have a festival (a monstrosity!) that encompassed institutions, ARIs (artist run initiatives), performance, experimental and visual art, and cutting-edge science and humanities research.

Second Woman
Life-changing: ‘The Second Woman’

Arts highlight
Nationally, the (slowly…) increasing number of ARIs that are now able to offer artist fees to exhibiting artists. I hope that a Perth ARI is soon able to access funding that will allow them to pay artists on a regular basis too!

Locally, it would be hugely biased of me* to say the opening of a new ARI in Perth’s CBD… but seeing a few more spaces opening up as exhibition venues has been heartening. I’m thinking of venues such as Old Customs House and the Lobby as well as Cool Change Contemporary here!

* Miranda is a co-director of Cool Change Contemporary.

Arts lowlight
The renaming of the Fringe World Pleasure Gardens to include a certain company’s name has been a recent reminder for me of the huge amounts of money that oil and gas companies give to the arts, and how they use the arts to appear “progressive” whilst contributing hugely towards climate change, making no effort to reduce emissions and paying very little tax. Of course it’s not news that this happens and that all our arts institutions rely on this source of funding in lieu of adequate governmental funding, but it’s been increasingly on my mind, and something that I think will require a reckoning amongst us artists and arts professionals – we are all implicated.

Looking forward to…
“Cassils” @ PICA, as part of Perth Festival
“Love, Displaced” @ Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, as part of Perth Festival
The Violent Years @ The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights, as part of Fringe World

Leon Levy
Another year of frequent absences from Perth has meant missing some significant productions and performances. Some of these – had I seen and heard them – would most certainly have jostled for inclusion in a “top 3” which was, in any case, challenging enough to achieve.

Glitter and Be Gay
Emma Matthews in ‘Glitter and be Gay’. Photo: Stephen Heath Photography


Top shows
Tristan und Isolde – WASO c. Asher Fisch
Glitter and be Gay – Emma Matthews with WAAPA’s Faith Court Orchestra, c. Peter Moore
“Masters of Modern Art from the Hermitage”, Art Gallery of New South Wales

Arts highlight
“Don’t Stop the Music” (ABC TV), for the moving depiction of the transformative impact of the introduction of music teaching at primary school level, and for the possibility that it will prove to be a catalyst for widespread adoption of music in the school curriculum. Such a development would also be an apt tribute and memorial to Richard Gill whose untimely demise was a grievous blow to music-education and to the nation… the “arts lowlight” of the year, if this loss can be thus characterised.

Looking forward to…
Mozart’s Magic Flute, Komische Oper Berlin (Perth Festival)
An evening with Gun-Brit Barkmin, WASO, c.  Asher Fisch
Bach’s St Matthew Passion, WASO, St George’s Cathedral Consort, c. Joseph Nolan

Since I’m only allowed to nominate three events, I’ll have to keep as a secret the fact that I’m also looking forward to Wot? No Fish!!, with Danny Braverman (Perth Festival), and can barely contain my excited anticipation of the glorious Elgar Violin Concerto, to be played by Nikolaj Znaider with WASO under Asher Fisch.

smiling Nina!

Nina Levy
Top shows
Really difficult to choose this year! So many great shows.

Attractor by Gideon Obarzanek, Lucy Guerin, Dancenorth and Senyawa’s , presented as part of Perth Festival. Oh the Dancenorth dancers. Sigh.
Huff by Cliff Cardinal, presented by Yirra Yaakin and Cliff Cardinal. Utterly compelling.
You Do Ewe by Unkempt Dance, performed by Co3 Australia as part of “The WA Dance Makers Project”. Ok, I didn’t actually see this work in the theatre because I was interstate for the season, but the studio show won me over with its highly relatable humour.

‘Attractor’. Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti.

Arts highlight
As I said at the time, the realisation, earlier this year, that we only have one more festival under Wendy Martin sent me into a period of premature mourning. At the risk of sounding unoriginal (because I’ve edited this piece and know how many other people have said the same), the appointment of Iain Graindage as the next Perth Festival director made my heart lift.

And seeing Strut Dance’s Sunset headline the 2019 Perth Festival launch was pretty special – a huge achievement for local independent dance.

Arts lowlight
The passing of the wonderful Richard Gill at age 76, conductor and music educator extraordinaire – such a loss to our community.

At a more personal level, I am also deeply saddened by the recent passing of my friend and mentor Lesley Goodman, a visual arts educator, who worked at the Art Gallery of WA for many years. For a short time I had the privilege of working with Lesley at AGWA, as her education assistant, and learned so much from her about how to talk to young people about visual arts.

Looking forward to…
Dada Masilo’s Giselle at Perth Festival
STRUT Dance’s Sunset at Perth Festival
Thirty Five Square’s A Westerner’s Guide to the Opium Wars, part of The Blue Room Theatre Summer Nights at Fringeworld

Photo: Justin Spiers for Pet Photo Booth

Jonathan W. Marshall
Top shows
2018 was an especially good year for dance, beginning with Vessel in the Perth Festival: a piece in which the dancers hunched forward so as to become faceless, moving sculptures.
Marrugeku’s trilogy of solos Burrbgaja Yalirra (Dancing Forwards) was also superb, featuring Eric Avery’s tremendous “burlesque” (or disrespectful re-enacting) of colonial tropes, performed while dressed in an animal hide tail coat, and using a violin and a microphone stand in ways which would feature well in a punk band.
Although there were strong musical showings from both Greywing Ensemble and Decibel (notably the latter’s wonderful Revolution), for sheer digital joy, Robin Fox’s lesson in live avant-techno was hard to go past.

Black Swan State Theatre Company’s ‘Hir’ was a standout. Pictured is Jack Palit. Photo: Daniel James Grant.

Arts highlight
2018 saw the first program at Black Swan Theatre actually devised by still relatively new artistic director Clare Watson (who had until now overseen much of the work programmed by her predecessor). While Xenides and Skylab were disappointing, it was still a bold selection of works, and the bleak queer/trans drama Hir was a stand-out.

Arts lowlights
Robert Lepage’s approach of taking significant cultural events, conflicts and exchanges and turning them into feel-good theatre about families continues to be massively over-rated (Far Side of the Moon, Perth Festival), while Fringe seem to be digging in their heels in their misguided belief that the more massive and completely uncurated the Fringe festival is, the better — even though this means that artists end up competing with each other for audiences and the program booklet is completely impossible to navigate. At least the Blue Room are curating their Fringe program; always worth looking out for!

Looking forward to…
WA’s gift to new music, the organisation Tura, turns 32 next year, kicking things off with Cat Hope’s bass and extended-vocal-technique opera Speechless (Perth Festival 2019), while our fabulously inventive MoveMe dance festival is almost certain to be back next year.

Meanwhile PICA continues to bring us some of the most exciting interdisciplinary performance, with new works from Aphids (who’s fabulously rag tag Howl featured at PICA in 2018) and Last Great Hunt already programmed.

Also worth looking out for is a new adaptation of Medea from Black Swan Theatre, who are also hosting Nakkiah Lui’s Black Is the New White, which made waves in Sydney in 2017.

Claire Trolio
Top shows
Not only was Dizzee Rascal (for Perth Festival) my gig of the year – his show was one of the best live music experiences of my life so far.
Let Me Finish was a powerful, hilarious and emotive feminist work that showed at The Blue Room. If you missed it, it’s coming back for Fringe next year so get tickets!

Five women laughing and hugging
Powerful, hilarious and emotive: ‘Let Me Finish’. Photo: Susie Blatchford

Arts highlight
The appointment of Iain Grandage as Perth Festival artistic director for 2020-2023. Whilst I’m still sad that Wendy Martin’s time at the helm is coming to an end, I’m excited to see what direction Grandage will take!

Looking forward to…
Hearing the Silk Road Ensemble in the Perth Concert Hall. If you’re not familiar with them, I recommend you watch the documentary The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble (2015, Dir. Morgan Neville).

David Zampatti
Top shows
Folias Antiguas & Criolas: “From the Ancient World to the New World”, Jordi Savall with Hesperion XXI and Tembembe Ensamble Continuo: It is impossible to imagine a more exciting or exquisitely performed concert than this.  It was thrilling to listen to, and wonderful to watch.
The Tale of Tales, Clare Testoni: A small, brilliant gem of storytelling, and a breakout achievement for its deviser and performer, Clare Testoni. Her images have a magical three-dimensionality, and move with an almost cinematic quality. It’s an honest show, and a heartfelt one.
What Doesn’t Kill You (Blah Blah) Stronger by Tyler Jacob Jones and Robert Woods: Tyler Jacob Jones, as a writer of script and lyrics, and as a comic actor and singer, is the most prodigious talent in this town. His long-standing partnership with the composer Robert Woods and the versatile performer and director Erin Hutchinson has honed their skills to starry heights.

Arts highlight
The appointment of Iain Grandage as Perth Festival Director for the next four years. We’ve got much to thank our recent directors for, but Iain brings his virtuosity as composer and musician, and makes history as the first born and raised West Australian to fill the position. Exciting times ahead!

Arts lowlight
Obviously I can be accused of self-pity here, but the retreat of The West Australian from coverage of the arts is both a symptom of a much wider malaise and a cause for particular concern. Still, change is good. Platforms like Seesaw have the capacity to fill the void and energise and grow the audience.

Looking forward to…
It’s hard to look past the festivals right now:
Gatz: After the overwhelming experience of The Gabriels, who wouldn’t be looking forwad to another 8+ hour (with breaks for libations) American marathon.
Icarus: Christopher Samuel Carroll’s Paradise Lost was one of the marvels of the ’17 Fringe. This time he’s taking to ancient skies.
Our Town: I’m not sure that “looking forward” is exactly what I’m doing to Clare Watson’s take on Thornton Wilder’s classic American novel performed by a cast of professionals and “everyday Perth Citizens”. Including me…

Pictured top are Andrew Searle and Zoe Wozniak in “You do Ewe” by Unkempt Dance, performed by Co3 Australia. Photo: Stefan Gosatti.

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Our Sandman
Calendar, Immersive Experience, January 19, Performing arts

Immersive Experience: Our Sandman

8 – 19 January @ Cool Change Contemporary ·
Presented by Elsewhere/Rebecca ·

Our Sandman is an intimate, immersive and multi-sensorial sound work about our dreams and the presence of the Sandman in both our dream-driven and dream-deprived lives.

Audiences are invited to relax into their sleeping selves, close their eyes and listen to the stories of vivid dreamers and avid sleepers amongst new electronic music pieces presented in a nest of mattresses and softness. Join an exploration in experiencing dreams consciously whilst uncovering the quiet adventures that we go on during dream sleep.

Compositions, soundscapes, audio recordings and live vocals are augmented by EEG headgear (data collected from brainwaves) throughout the performance.

Writer, Performer and Composer: Rebecca Riggs-Bennett
Lighting Designer & Stage Manager: George Ashforth
Video Designer: Hannan Jones
Sound Designer: Niharika Senapati
Visual Dramaturge: Clare Testoni
EEG Programmer: Gabbi Fusco
Provocateur: Steve Bull
Producer: Noemie Huttner-Koros
Publicity: Kayla MacGillivray
Photographer: Tasha Tong Faye

The development and realisation of this work was supported by the Perth  Institute of Contemporary Arts’ Studio Program and developed and produced with the assistance of Crack Theatre Festival for the 2017 festival.

Please contact us if you have any accessibility questions about the event, and we will try to be as accommodating as possible.

We wish to acknowledge the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation, the traditional and rightful custodians of the land on which we operate. We recognise their strength and resilience and pay respect to their Elders past, present and future.

More info
E :

Pictured: Tasha Tong Faye

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Brent Harrison
August 18, Calendar, September 18, Visual arts

Visual Arts: September exhibitions at Cool Change Contemporary

31 Aug – 22 Sep @ Cool Change Contemporary ·
Presented by Cool Change Contemporary ·

Gallery 1: Algorithmic Chicanery – Lightspeed Spirituality by Jesse Bowling & Samuel Jackson (VIC)
Gallery 2: Dead Weight by Luisa Hansal (VIC)
Gallery 3: You Can’t See Rainbows Looking Down by Brent Harrison (WA)

Opening Night Friday 31 August 6-8pm.
Exhibitions continue 1-22 September. Wednesday-Sunday 11am-6pm

More info:

Brent Harrison, Whoa there cowboy!, 2018, Golden Gaytime, Dimensions vary Documentation by Tim Palman

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Cool Change Contemporary team
Features, News, Performing arts, Visual arts

A break in the weather

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?

Eric C, 'Wrapped Baggage', detail, 2018, Cyanotype on silk
Eric C will be exhibition a selection of textile works at Cool Change Contemporary this August. Pictured: Eric C, ‘Wrapped Baggage’, detail, 2018, Cyanotype on silk.

“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.”

"Plan" by Oliver Hull
‘Oliver Hull is giving Cool Change a gift of a series of weather measurement systems, both precise and poetic.’ Pictured: Oliver Hull, ‘Plan’, 2018, digital image.

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.”

Paul Sutherland_Down Time_2017_Video Still
Paul Sutherland’s show for Cool Change will look at technology, leisure time and social media. Paul Sutherland, ‘Down Time’, 2017, Video Still.

“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.”

Cool Change Contemporary launches April 3.

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:

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

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Paul Sutherland
August 18, Calendar, Visual arts

Visual Art: Cool Change Contemporary August Exhibitions

3-25 August @ Cool Change Contemporary ·
Presented by: Cool Change Contemporary ·

Cool Change Contemporary is proud to announce its inaugural exhibition program opening Friday 3 August, with three solo exhibitions and an artist in residence.

A new artist-run-initiative in the Perth CBD, Cool Change Contemporary is a multi-gallery venue located within the historic Bon Marché Arcade building on Barrack Street.

Join us for the Official Opening of Cool Change Contemporary on Friday 3 August at 6pm. Our first round of exhibitions features:
Gallery 1: I’MPRINT by Eric C (WA)
Gallery 2: Keeping Busy by Paul Sutherland (WA)
Gallery 3: The Gift (meanwhile those who compute the weather should breathe of it freely) by Oliver Hull (VIC)
Project Space: MOUTH by Laura Edmunds (UK) artist in residence 6-20 August

Exhibitions continue until 25 August | Open Wednesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm.

More info:

Paul Sutherland, Down Time, 2017, Video Still

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