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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 |


The Holy Grail

24 October 2020
A response by Danni McGrath to White Line Fever by Matt Aitken and Lyndon Blue

Next Wave Festival

I have two stories that demonstrate the fact that, while I pretend to know things about footy, I actually have no fucking clue. Both of which strangely revolve around the Geelong Cats.

It’s 2016 and I’m visiting Naarm/Melbourne for the Sticky Institute zine fair. Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo is supposed to be released today and Ben, Alex, Chantal and I have decided we’re going to meet up and listen to it in the car while driving to Geelong and back for the hell of it. Kanye ends up delaying the release by a few days in maybe-a-media-stunt, maybe-a-hint-of-erratic-behaviour-to-come, so we end up listening to his back catalogue instead. Ben says we’ll turn around at the cattery and the whole way there I’m thinking to myself ‘oh yeah, the cattery? I guess this is like the kennel zone in Canning Vale, a good place to turn around before you actually get into the busy part of town?’. Then we rock up to the football stadium, the Geelong Cats’ home ground and I whisper to Chantal ‘oh right, this is The Cattery, I spent the whole trip trying to work out what the fuck they meant’ and she’s like ‘don’t tell Ben, they’ll leave you here!’

It’s a few months back and I live in Naarm/Melbourne now. We’re in the middle of the first lockdown and Next Wave Festival has pivoted to online. The first round of Matt Aitken and Lyndon Blue’s occult-ish reimagining of the AFL, White Line Fever, is streaming via Zoom and I’ve woken up just before midday in time to catch it. Matt is set up on the boundary of a suburban footy oval somewhere in the northern suburbs of Boorloo/Perth, and Lyndon is broadcasting from a fully decked-out room of their share house about 15 minutes down Sydney Road from me. There’s probably about 30 people in this Zoom and most of them have their cameras on so I can see into their houses too. I’m making pancakes and I’m not used to the weird mediated intimacy of Zoom yet, so I leave the camera off. It’s on speaker view so the screen keeps flicking between Matt on the sunny oval somewhere in Nollamara or Mirrabooka and Lyndon’s footy-scarf-draped Brunswick bedroom. They’re leading us through this hectic football magick ritual, and we’re all called on to repeat the incantation ‘ABLETT KARDINYA’ which suddenly transports us into the living room, kitchen, bedroom or back yard of whoever is yelling loud enough to draw the attention of the Zoom audio sensors.

Say it out loud, ABLETT KARDINYA, it’s the White Line Fever abracadabra. I think it’s hilarious because you know, Gary Ablett is this mythical multi-generational figure in the AFL and Kardinya is a suburb south of the river in Boorloo/Perth where you would absolutely find a wide sunny footy oval like the one Matt’s on now, filled with kids playing Auskick on the weekend. I feel special, like I get a joke that not many people would understand, even the footy mad Victorians on this Zoom who wouldn’t have a clue where Kardinya is. Until a couple of weeks later when I realise that the Geelong Cats’ home ground, the aforementioned Cattery, is actually called Kardinia Park and of course that makes sense because both Gary Ablett Snr and Jnr played for the Cats, and in fact it was me who spectacularly did not get the joke.

Here are some things I definitely do know about footy:

    • Dad’s really into it. As a tiny child, the couch where he’s watching the Eagles game is neither the best place to have a midday nap, nor the best time to learn the rules of the game. This is because he’s gonna be fidgeting and whooping and jumping up when something goes really well or really badly which is most of the time, and not exactly conducive to either snoozing or sharing knowledge.

    • There’s nothing quite like learning how to do a drop punt on the run, especially when you get the bit where you raise your left arm for balance and think ‘wow I must look like one of those guys on the Weetbix footy cards’.

    • Meeting Ben Cousins at Mitre 10 when he’s a rookie and you’re like six years old is weirdly going to impress itself in your mind. Ten years later, when he falls into a very public downward spiral it’s going to feel strangely, personally, sad, like he’s your actual cousin or something.

    • Even though you still don’t fully understand all the rules or have much of an idea of who is playing anymore, there’s this register you can slip into whenever someone starts talking about footy.

The register looks like this: you’re talking with your mate/co-worker/dad/sister/uncle and the topic turns to the upcoming or just-passed Eagles game and you kinda drop your shoulders and your words become wider. Like the words have to stretch across the Nullabor that the Eagles traverse every second weekend - unlike those weak-as-piss Victorian teams. Dissing Victorians is a major feature of this register that, along with a measured sense of confidence in your limited understanding of the actual game and surrounding culture, will put you in good stead to navigate the exchange. I think it’s important to note here that adopting this register doesn’t mean ‘faking it’, it’s more like meeting half way. I didn’t understand all the references in White Line Fever, but the ones I did (Denis Paganism, lol) created a way in to the work and thus into the community that Matt and Lyndon have formed around it.

‘Community’ is a slippery term that I think can be misused albeit with good intentions. While it makes sense for a community to be defined by the characteristics its members share, this can slip into essentialism pretty quickly.

A concept of community that I vibe with more comes from Jean-Luc Nancy: that there is ‘no common being, no substance, no essence, no common identity, but that there is being in common’.1 This being is the verb form: the things we do in common, rather than the things we are.

I’m trying to locate where White Line Fever fits into the broader footy community (though perhaps there is not any one footy community) and I think the best way is in meme format:


Woke: The AFL reinforces all the worst aspects of capitalism, therefore I cannot engage with it.

Bespoke: While football culture contains many problematic aspects that need to be addressed, the diverse social bonds formed through this shared activity are immensely significant and should be valued and nurtured.

White Line Fever is firmly in the ‘bespoke’ category: critical of the meathead approach to footy, but not throwing the baby out with the Gatorade shower.

One of my favourite White Line Fever moments was an Instagram exchange back in September 2019, while the work was still in development. A few days before the West Coast Eagles vs Essendon elimination final @whitelinefever666 posted a photograph depicting an array of birds of prey accompanied by a caption in Latin. The official Eagles profile and an Essendon fan profile, @essendonfc20, were tagged in the post, to which the latter responded ‘why tf did you tag me’. @whitelinefever666 replied, again in Latin, which further incensed @essendonfc20 to pretty hilarious effect, which was ultimately multiplied by the fact that the Eagles went on to slaughter Essendon 116 to 61. The thinking fan’s troll.

Is it cruel to wind up normie footy fans in Latin? Maybe. But winding up the opposition is all part of the game. I think it also points to an aspect of community that can be uncomfortable to discuss; that the flip side of belonging is excluding. An accusation of exclusivity is generally considered damaging, something a welcoming community would want to avoid. But I don’t think it’s that black and white. Limiting membership to those who share the requisite ‘being in common’ can also be seen as a protective or generative act. Trolling in Latin could be viewed as a kind of steganography, a practice that artist and researcher Amy Suo Wu describes as ‘the art and science of embedding secret messages within openly accessible information in such a way that the presence of a secret message is hidden.’2 While steganography is perhaps more commonly associated with visual and tactile forms such as invisible inks and visual codes, Wu suggests that linguistic tactics also contribute to the shared language of a community and that ‘what these in-group, collectively developed codes share is the function of strengthening community bonds, while also excluding outsiders or shielding members from oppression.’3

To be a member of a community you need to share the language used, but you don’t necessarily have to be fully fluent. I’m studying Auslan and when we do receptive activities in class (like comprehension, but visual) our teacher encourages us to ‘catch’ parts of the sentences that we understand and build our comprehension from there, rather than trying to fully grasp every single sign. It’s the same when talking with someone about footy, or contemporary art. You might not understand every reference but if you catch on to the bits you do know, like hating on Eddie McGuire or describing the formal characteristics of an artwork, you can build from there. I can’t read Latin but its use in the Instagram post signified to me both a thematic link to occult literature and a puzzle to solve that would grant me access to the White Line Fever community if I could be bothered to copy the text into Google Translate.

White Line Fever takes the assertion that footy is ‘more than a game’, to reveal its spiritual and ritualistic aspects. White Australia likes to see itself as a secular society, despite the fact that this is clearly not the case: from the tens of thousands of years of ongoing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander spiritual connection to and custodianship of this land; to the existence of contemporary multicultural religious communities; and of course our current evangelical Christian Prime Minister. In the mainstream, footy is associated with stoic masculine rationality, not emotional feminine spirituality. But fuck, if footy isn’t actually one of the most emotional communal experiences we have, I don’t know what is. The catharsis of the grand final broadcast is something we don’t see in other aspects of public life. I don’t think the mainstream has worked out how to deal with the feeling of footy (or the feeling of being alive, for that matter). But I do think that White Line Fever’s use of occult-ish ritual and play goes some way towards providing a framework for understanding why we do the (footy) things we do. The project website is a trove of videos, writing and ephemera that bring footy rituals to the fore. The ‘Pagan Pigskin Luna Calendar’, a combination lunar calendar/2020 AFL fixture, shows how footy is as concerned with seasonal changes and portentous dates as any self respecting pagan (see: One Day in September). A video featuring footage of the 1996 Waverley Park blackout during a St Kilda vs Essendon game soundtracked by haunting strings, sees fans lighting fires and stealing goal posts — it is the goddamn witchiest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

Pointing out footy’s ritualistic turns calls its stoic masculine image into question. I think it goes the other way too - the mainstream significance of footy lends legitimacy to ritualistic practices when you realise they’re kinda the same thing. The White Line Fever version of footy is more playful, more crafty (in the creative and the witchy sense) and more queer than the meathead version of footy that I’ve felt alienated from, and I’d quite like to learn how to do a proper drop punt again.

White Line Fever by Matt Aitken and Lyndon Blue was commissioned for the Next Wave Festival 2020: A Government of Artists, scheduled to take place in Melbourne 15 - 31 May, 2020; but re-formed in response to health directives to an online broadcast and marketplace ASSEMBLE! 22 - 31 May 2020.

1 Gibson, K. 1999. “Community economies: economic politics outside the binary frame.” Paper presented at the Rethinking Economy Conference, ANU, August 1999. Community Economies Institute, https://www.communityeconomies.org/publications/conference-papers/community-economies-economic-politics-outside-binary-frame
Primary source: Nancy, J. L. “Of Being in Common.” In Miami Collective (ed.), Community at Loose Ends. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 1-12 (1991)

2 Wu, A. S. 2019. A Cookbook of Invisible Writing. Eindhoven: Onomatopee.

3 Ibid

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.