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 Semaphore is a newsletter and publishing project about art fromWestern Australia | Semaphore is a collaborative project and practice | Semphore enters into a dialogue with art from its rooted location of Boorloo on Noongar Country |


All at once

12 July 2020
Some thoughts on re-opening by Melissa McGrath


Our galleries are open. We’re back to normal. Yes, it’s so good to be able to welcome people back into the building. There is hand sanitiser on the counter. The response has been fantastic, thank you. We received so many supportive messages while we were closed. There was great feedback on our online offerings. Everyone has been so excited to come back and have a look. Attendance has been really good. We weren’t sure how it was going to go. It seems like people are looking for things to do now that they are able to be out and about again.


We stood in that bit of AGWA where the staircase is, and the William Kentridge figures live (foyer? stairwell? concourse?). There were about 15 of us watching and listening as Barry McGuire welcomed us back together. We had a look around at all the shows that we hadn’t made the time to see before everything shut down. Our mate had some new work exhibited. We stayed in the gallery for longer than normal. Talking loudly. Like we owned the joint.


Reading articles. Scrolling through social media. Building awareness of events in real time. Researching parliamentary processes. Reading Hansard records. Drafting letters. Sending emails to elected members. Standing in a crowd. Listening to Elders. Yelling through a mask in unison with hundreds of strangers. Marching the streets of the CBD holding deconstructed moving boxes scrawled with slogans. Reflecting on motivations. Reorienting directions. Maintaining the pressure.


Finnish artist and writer Jaakko Pallasuvo wrote in the illustrated text Airplane Mode about the art world and about the loss of magic when things become infrastructure. How scale and inevitability replace choice and intention. When everything was moving so fast in those ordinary times, something solid felt good. To be welcomed inside from the storm, to rest your feet, joining peers and predecessors. But in these strange and unprecedented times those halls feel hollow, silent. Slowing down, the detail becomes clearer - all the marble pillars were just a good paint job.

As we are discussing art-world callout/ fallout, my friend calls a prominent institute an art mosquito. I stop our conversation to write down this burn to use in this text. But now that I’ve written it, it doesn’t feel the same. Isn’t culture just us all feeding off each other? How do we make sure everyone has enough to eat?

Note: Where did all those ‘Magic Happens’ bumper stickers go?


For the last four months my mind has wandered back to a comment made on the cusp of lockdown by academic Francis Russell at the launch of their book The Art of Laziness edited with artist David Attwood. It was in response to an audience question about the future of art labour. Francis spoke about the word ‘artist’ slipping from our vocabulary. If all members of a community were engaged in acts of culture-making to such a degree, that the designation of art labour as separate to other functions and activities would become redundant. All at once, every one of us, and none of us would be artists.


What I’m trying to write is that everything that has happened is still happening. And that feels like… kind of the worst?

The doors are open, we have places to go, and artworks to view. But how do we engage with the reframing of these programs within the bubble of geographical luck that is Western Australia? How does the financial support for living artists in The State Art Collection via the AGWA Foundation navigate issues of institutional exclusion? How do we bring the Black Lives Matter movement to the galleries of Fremantle Arts Centre as Revealed takes a physical form? How do we celebrate the achievements of our nation’s visual art graduates in PICA’s Hatched showcase as the cost of humanities tertiary education rises by 113% for the enrolling cohort of students?

Cool it Melissa, sometimes it’s ok to have a beer standing at the bar with your mates and look at some art.

Kaya. We acknowledge the Whadjuk People of Boorloo boodja who are the traditional owners of the land where Semaphore is made. We respect their culture, their custodianship, and their continuing contribution to the life of this city and this region. That includes recognising and respecting sovereignty while working in solidarity towards a treaty and supporting ongoing connection to country. That means linguistic rights, economic opportunity, and artistic endeavour. To their Elders, past, present and emerging, we say thanks.