MAGNET goes online

MAGNET goes online

On the eve of the opening night of MAGNET Galleries’ latest photography exhibition, the Victorian government announced it was reintroducing stage 3 lockdown restrictions.

It wasn’t the first time the gallery’s hopes had been cruelly dashed by the pandemic - co-director Susanne Silver said although they were able to host the opening night of their last exhibition in March, only 12 people showed up as many were already making the decision to stay home.

But this time, MAGNET was prepared and was able to transfer the show - an exhibition of finalists from this year’s Mullins Australian Conceptual Photography Prize - to an online, virtual gallery.

“This is the first virtual gallery we’ve done, so there’s been a bit of a learning curve and time spent working out the nuts and bolts of how to use the program,” Susanne said.

The virtual exhibition, available free on MAGNET’s website, would allow viewers to tour a digital gallery space, with all the works arranged and framed as originally intended.

The exhibition, which runs online until August 7, showcases the year’s best Australian conceptual photography, with an awards night live-streamed from MAGNET on July 9.

MAGNET Galleries was founded six years ago, evolving from a commercial gallery run by Susanne and her partner Michael into a not-for-profit dedicated to building a community around photography in Australia.

“The mission is to provide an opportunity for photographers to show their work and for members of the public to have the opportunity to see good photography in all its various facets,” Susanne said.

As well as curating and showcasing exhibitions, before the pandemic MAGNET would also host seminars and competitions, and offered scanning and printing services to the public.

A specialty of the gallery, in fact, was the restoration and digitisation of older, archival films and plates - part of Susanne and Michael’s passion for what photographic archives could tell us about history.

“We want to develop an understanding among people of photography as not just an art form, but a form of communication and a form of historical record,” Susanne said.

The shift online would allow their community of creators and photography lovers to keep engaging with the gallery throughout the lockdown - but Susanne anticipated virtual galleries would be a permanent part of MAGNET’s future.

“It’s the way forward for us - even when we get to a stage where we can open the gallery doors, I can’t see us not using the virtual gallery as an adjunct to what we do,” she said.

“From here on, people are going to looking for entertainment and information in that virtual world.”

Susanne believed building a community, both digital and physical, that could outlast the lockdown was paramount to the gallery’s long-term success.

And that meant engaging with the community in the real world - Susanne and Michael had been curating a weekly window display of featured works “so the six people who walk by during the week have something to look at”.

With more virtual exhibitions expected in the coming weeks, Susanne said MAGNET was ready for whatever challenge the pandemic might throw at it next.

“We’re always full of ideas - and as a matter of fact having this time in lockdown actually gives us more space to develop our ideas,” she said.

“That’s always been our modus operandi: we’ll think of something and we’ll give it a shot.” •

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