Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
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By: Charlotte A Morgan (COPY)
Blogging the research and development of COPY, a Yorkshire based network and platform for critical/experimental/art writing, supported by the NAN Go and See Bursary scheme. http://www.copy-pages.org
# 1 [25 March 2011]
Critical Writing Collective aims to promote critical discussion around regional contemporary art and performance activity, create a platform for experimental art writing and support artists and writers through events, publications, projects, opportunities and an open network of contacts.
The collective came about after we met while taking part in a writing project in Berlin, organised by Open Dialogues. Being from Leeds and Sheffield, we noticed a lack of space for dialogue around activity in our respective and neighbouring cities and connections across the region.
Over six meetings we met with artists, writers, curators, educators and representatives of organisations and institutions, and used the this research to develop a course of action for the collective.Since this time we have established stronger connections, taken part in rlevant projects, innitiated our own projects and produced a pilot publication, and are now developing plans for the year ahead.
We'll be updating very soon with details of our travels!
Until then you might want to watch this video in which Charlotte talks about the collective with Axis.
# 2 [25 March 2011]
Part of our activity includes developing COPY, which aims to explore the boundaries of critical and experimental art writing through publishing submissions of writing as or around art practice, and page based works with a critical / textual element.
COPY was launched at The Plaza Principle, an exhibition that took place within the partially vacant 1980s Leeds Shopping Plaza scheduled for demolition. In response to this context, the first edition of COPY was based around notions of the understudy or stand in - the examined, inquired or performed; the temporary, theoretical or illusory. You can see documentation of COPY at The Plaza Principle here...http://criticalwritingcollective.wordpress.com/projects/copy/
We intend to use our bursary to meet other groups working in the fields of self publishing and explore writing as art practice, as well as organisations that provide a platform for reviews and critical texts online. Some of the discussion will need to be practical - we need to conduct more research into the print and design options that would best suit us as well as better understand efficient editing, commissioning and administrative processes.
# 3 [27 March 2011]
A very productive sunday meeting! We have refined our planned activity for the next 18 months, subject to some tidying up. We have also ideantified some points uregntly in need of research, which will be helped by the a-n bursary. Projects cover our three main aims:
Network / Platform / Dialogue.
More details to follow...
# 4 [2 June 2011]
CM: Back from a great and really useful weekend in London of planned and chance meetings, as well as having the chance to view and discuss shows and events.
Here's a brief round up of the people we met, things we visited and some of the issues that were raised in our discussions, more details to follow!
David Berridge (verysmallkitchen)
Andy Abbott (Black Dogs)
Rosemary Shirley (Interface)
Metropotamia, Hilary Crisp
Fred Sandback, (& bookshop), Whitechapel
The British Library
Tamar Guimarães at Gasworks
Young London, V22
Cally Spooner, The Calder Bookshop
Freedom Press Bookshop
Simon & Tom Bloor at South London Gallery
Flat Time House
art writing/performance writing/writing practice/linguistics/narrative/self publishing/DIY/role of the critic/zeitgeist debates/mainstream art press/writing online/writing architecture/selling/distribution/representation/collaboration/editorial control/authorship/authority/structures/platforms/flowers/experimentation/research in practice/pets/jobs/pubs.
# 5 [8 June 2011]
JL: I’m already feeling the benefit of the trip, sitting on the train reading through notes and website pages I printed off on current projects and activities of those we will meet. I also have my copy of The Perverse Library by Craig Dworkin – as I have barely had chance to turn its pages and sink into the catalogue of books listed their since the launch at The Perverse Library Exhibition at Shandy Hall supported by In A Word.
Time to keep up to speed with the small but industrious collectives, writers and publishers involved in art writing is now quite a task. Since 2008 activity seems to have grown, Antepress similar to Critical Writing Collective was founded in 2008 and ‘AND Publishing’, was devised in 2009.
How art writing projects are funded and managed and how texts are commissioned are of interest to us this weekend, but also what direction the work of these individuals, organisations and collectives is taking in 2011, we are equally interested in exploring.
My own personal mission is also to get writing again. Having taken something of an un-planned sabbatical from writing my own texts, I’m hoping this weekend of meetings and seeing work will help to kick start my own writing practice for the summer. There will definitely be lots to find inspiration in, just leafing through these papers on the train, the enthusiasm and diverse practices surrounding what we have come to call ‘art writing’ is clear.
# 6 [8 June 2011]
JL: Meeting with David Berridge
Our paths have crossed with David on different occasions in the past couple of years. He was a fellow writer with me and Charlotte for the publication RITE, I personally took part in his Art Writing – Field Station research in Leeds, and also more recently David contributed his text ‘Dog Man Seeing Double’ to the first edition of COPY by the Collective. Despite all of that, this is was actually the first opportunity we have had to meet in person to discuss practices and projects together, so our first meeting in London was a very welcome and very overdue one, in a café on Brick Lane.
David updated us on his recent trip to Dublin for ART CRITICISM NOW including the interesting mix of attendees and lines of discussion arising at the event hosted by The Lab. How criticism exists within a particular size and shape of artistic community was raised, and David commented on the similarities with what he had seen in Yorkshire. We also spoke about the clear differences in practices drawn together at the event, from the reviewer who insisted upon 'assessment, description and judgment' in every text, to new projects like Billion and Paper Visual Art Journal which were also represented. Because of this variety of practices, inevitably some discussion arose around the tension surrounding how an artists own writing practice can sit (or if it should) as or with criticism/critique and the shifting/morphing of roles between artist/writer as well as the types and breadth of writing generated, in online blogs and hardcopy print from both ‘critics’ as well as artists themselves.
These discussions are ongoing and very much still on the agenda for all those who find themselves connected to the words and worlds of both ‘art’ and ‘writing’. This discussion reminded both myself and Charlotte of a similar debate which arose from the Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin festival project, where we first met as writers back in 2008. David’s recent blog gives a further run down of events in Dublin and some of the things we talked to him about here.
We also talked to David about the upcoming VerySmallKitchen summer school which is planned to take place at the Totalkunst Gallery in Edinburgh 7-10 August. We discussed how the project came about, and how the title ‘I am not a poet’ and poetry as a genre filtrates this school, where the concern is “minimalist poetry, documentary poetics, poets theatre, and boundaries of experimental poetics and art practice.”
David also shared with us some other projects of interest, including a letter that he had been sent by Neil Chapman, as part of Muleskind, which included a photograph, which he has been asked to write in response to. There was also mention of the programme Dirty Literature presented by Electra, using the late night openings of the National Portrait Gallery.
Lots to muse on, and many points of reference and further research to take with us.
# 7 [14 June 2011]
CM:While visiting the Whitechapel Gallery to view Fred Sandback we took some time to browse the bookshop, luckily we were restrained in terms of purchase as we could have spent up. By pure chance we bumped into Leeds artist Andy Abbott and found ourselves with lots to talk about, so resolved to do this properly over grilled food and a few beers back down Brick Lane.
Being based in Yorkshire and having worked on many related projects and being members of many inter-relating collectives and networks in the region, we reflected on the nature of this peer network and the role of criticality within it. Various initiatives exist – writers' blogs, forums, groups – aim to instigate critical dialogue around activity in Leeds more so than anywhere else in the region, with varied levels of success.
What distinguishes the aims of CWC is both extended coverage of the whole region, and our openness to writers as a collective rather than an attempt to cover this activity ourselves. Talking about other forums in the region, we've often considered the problems we may face in recruiting more writers, maintaining editorial quality control and maintaining regular content (the latter concern is something that originally took us away from a regular content format – away from providing an online publishing platform or monthly publication). We recognise the strength of the regional community and the ways in which it allows it's members to create opportunities for each other, but also how this often it develops a strong DIY or artist-led ethic. We are operating across the board – covering institutional activity to artist-led or collective projects as well as acting as one ourselves, which raises issues around the role of criticality/criticism in these networks (and the distinction between the two – see JJ Charlesworth's recent article in Art Monthly Issue 346, Criticism v Critique.) Will our writing validate the artists by giving them exposure, playing a commercial role, or create unwelcome debate around works in a network built upon intersecting personal/professional relationships and friendships?
Talking with Andy, we also came to think about the role of the various universities that to some extent shape the ethics and practice coming from the regions art graduates, and therefore the various pockets of activity and groups that comprise the complex local network. We talked at length about graduate schemes, local prizes and the various strategic or critical choices artists make in terms of the direction of their career. As I am involved in an alternative education project I often find myself questioning ways in which debates around art education might intersect with the collective, and how the collective also acts as a support network and research project as well as a publishing platform.
A decision we are currently faced with has the potential to define in part our ethos and aims – to sell or to distribute free of charge. Originally we planned to distribute our lightweight publications in places where free magazines and flyers/brochures are picked up as well as art/gallery bookshops. We hoped this would encourage a wider readership and one not specific to art, since the discussions some issues will cover will be relevant to a wide readership. However, the cost of doing this may be prohibitive and we are reluctant to opt ton include advertising. Would a small fee put off a reader or actually add value? Would this though limit the potential audience to 'stockists'? These are thingd Andy offered invaluable advice with, drawing from his experience producing various multiples with Black Dogs including the Black Dogs Almanac.
Together we spent the afternoon visiting Metropotamia, Tim Ivison and Julia Tcharfas at Hilary Crisp, the Freedom Bookshop and The Work of the Spirit (Parade), Tamar Guimarães at Gasworks – I thought this show was great (not the best example of critical writing!)
# 8 [20 June 2011]
JL: We met with Lynn Harris, one of the two directors of AND Publishing on the final day of our research trip in the British Library. AND Publishing is a print on demand artists’ book publishers, who also offer a self publishing facility, alongside their extended activity of workshops, talks and partnerships.
They have been based in
the Byam Shaw Library, which sits in the Byam Shaw School of Art, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts since its threatened closure by the University in October 2010. AND publishing have taken up residency for the past academic year, running the library with student volunteers 3 days a week and keeping it functioning as an artist–led resource. Lynn spoke of the difficulties in holding a residency in a
university facility under threat of closure, and the unknown future of the library, as well as the huge loss it would be to the artists who are resident in over 100 studios on site, for which Byam Shaw is their main library.
Aside from these areas of concern, AND Publishing have been busy running The Piracy Project, an international publishing and exhibition project with Andrea Francke. There is an ongoing call for contributions for writers to get involved in the project, as well as a series of lectures from Speakers including James Bridle, Eleanor Vonne Brown, Daniel McClean, Maria Fusco, Bobbie Johnson and Dr. Prodromos Tsiavos. We spoke to Lynn about these speakers and others involved in the project so far, and how theirs practices and research overlaps and intersects with the interests of AND and of CWC.
The AND print-on-demand platform, where you can publish, display and sell a publication online is called AND Public. AND offer a variety of printing processes (including Risograph, loose sheet with bindings, laser, booklets and extensive paper choices as well as design support) and are sensitive to the complex and often specific needs of artists bookworks, and art writing practice which makes them an
appealing publishing option for many writers, and indeed for CWC in the future. Lynn showed us some great examples of previous works printed, which are now included in their online and physical library/shop. AND Public also offers an ISBN service, and distribution of any publication to a bespoke readership (offline and on). It is the bespoke readership vs the wider non-arts audience and the free vs paid for print publication debate which we returned to discussing with Lynn, as her knowledge on the complications and costs of design, print and distribution of conceptually driven artists books is vast.
This meeting cast out even more avenues for future research (in terms of printing options, but also individual researchers and writers to look into), and also opened up the possibilities of self-publishing and dissemination as legitimate options for future Critical Writing Collective publications and texts. We will continue to be in touch
with AND Publishing, and hope to attend a lecture or workshop at some point in the future, and if possible, the Byam Shaw Library itself.
# 9 [29 June 2011]
CM: On the Saturday eveningof our stay in London we met with Tamarin Norwood, Claire Nichols and Patrick Coyle who form part of Antepress, who describe themselves as an imprint platform and who's work we had encountered through Art on the Underground and the MA Art Writing pages of the Goldsmiths website. Antepress are all graduates of the first cohort of the course, and shared their experiences of making and defining the course with staff in a collaborative and at times fractious process, and the sense of unity that resulted from that.
The MA Art Writing course is interesting to me on a personal level in terms of future study options, but I had questions regarding how limiting the focus on writing might be. The group explained how in fact Art Writing can be perceived and investigated in an expanded sense, which fits with our approach to the seemingly new discipline with CWC – we take an experimental approach to defining the term through the combination of works we include in COPY. This also reassured me that the course allows for an expanded practice. However, though they fought to keep the studio space they were initially given and which was temporarily taken away, the current students in fact have to work without a studio. This poses interesting questions as to how the subject is taught and practised within the institution, and therefore the types of practice which come to define and redefine the subject as these students graduate and extend their practice with the local and national visibility.
We found it interesting to talk about a sense of ownership the group might have of the term 'art writing', and how the recent formation of the course may have formalised the term. Having met course leader Maria Fusco at the Writing Encounters Symposium in 2009, we became aware of the term but began to use it more through close contact with a network of artists/performers/writers in the north within which practices of art writing/critical writing/performance writing/experimental writing are explored, diverging and intersecting at various points. There is a network of related yet very distinct set of practices and concerns in Yorkshire which we are lucky to be part of, and through which we have defined what we understand to be art writing in a wide sense and an acceptance that the terms art/critical/performance/experimental at times all fail as a representation, yet this seems to encourage further discussion and experimentation. We like to loosely define art writing as writing as practice in the field of contemporary visual art and performance, though are aware that sometimes too much fluidity can result in a lack of critical integrity or coherence, so maintain an awareness of this when devising projects and editing COPY.
A real strength of the way Antepress works is the way in which they support each other's individual practices whilst leaving the structure of their collaboration open, so it can shift and work best for each member at any time. We had arranged to meet Antepress in The Cut at the Young Vic, which was convenient for us to attend the Cally Spooner's Indirect Language at The Calder Bookshop (we eventually realised they were probably going too). Patrick, who's work I had encountered through his involvement with The Woodmill, was performing as part of Cally's work, so we all went together to watch which was a great end to the meeting. We really felt a connection with Antepress which we would like to foster; we left the meeting feeling really excited by everyone's enthusiasm and the supportive attitude Antepress offered, we all definitely had a lot to say and hope to continue the dialogue.
# 10 [9 August 2011]
A belated post from our trip to Birmingham in July. CWC is keeping us busy!
CM: Arriving at Birmingham, I changed immediately to a train for Bournville to visit the International Project Space, which was showing Through Symbolic Worlds with Banu Cennetoğlu, Emily Roysdon, Stephen Willats. Countersituation, a weekly single sheet publication by An Endless Supply was also on display, and Collapsing in Parts, Cally Spooner's eight month project was about to begin. Unfortunately much of the audio-visual work as part of Through Symbolic Worlds was turned off, but I was interested to see the space and read parts of Countersituation before meeting with Robin Kirkham and Harry Blackett of An Endless Supply later in the day. I also had a great interest in visiting Bournville for it's renowned detail in planning and the consideration it displays for the well-being of the Cadbury's workforce.
Through Countersituation An Endless Supply publish weekly texts and essays from invited writers. We were particularly interested to see how the single sheet format worked as something we had considered, on a larger scale for COPY. They have also set up a challenging structure in publishing weekly, which demands connection with a large number of writers with time to write at short notice or existing relevant works. Timescale and turnaround is something we considered in detail when planning CWC activity, and arrived at the conclusion of producing COPY only alongside particular, partnerships, themes or projects.
At Eastside Projects I was offered a much welcomed cup of tea and discussed our project with Katy Woods, as well as the wider scene in Birmingham. Eastside Projects was showing Narrative Show, build around a complex narrative structure which creates a rhythm as the exhibition wvolves, understanding the gallery as a 'flow of spatial, cumulative and experiential narratives'. This is a concept I am really interested in and found very relevant to CWC activity, in thinking about how our ideas around writing within practice may come to take form in an expanded sense; unfortunately my experience of the show was limited to a single (and very short) view.
Robin Kirkham of An Endless Supply showed me the way to their studio where we mat Harry Blackett. We talked about how our projects came about, how they are funded and our plans for taking them forward or changing course. An Endless Supply was started as a publication which strengthened the local art community gin giving local artists exposure and access to each others practice. The publication was entirely self funded after acquiring a Risograph printer. The funding of our CWC has been a key point of discussion for us; we accept as many young practitioners do that we will contribute money and time to the project, yet on order to form a more sustainable model we need initial support from funders and other organisations. We also want to pay our writers, which we feel is the best way to support emerging and established practitioners. However, the standard of contribution to An Endless Supply was very high without funding, which demonstrated the impact of the level of community interest in and endorsement of the publication.
Another issue we face, which we have discussed with various other people, is price; we have almost confirmed that we will charge a small fee to begin with, which may add value and benefit the reception of the publication. AES charge a fee which worked well for them.
Editorial process has also been a key concern of ours; whether to invite guest editors, maintain full editorial control or have an open policy – whether or not we have the necessary experience to 'judge' others work. We found through the pilot edition of COPY, that in actual fact we had a clear idea of the quality and style of work we were interested in, so the lack of confidence mainly arises in the communication around acceptance, which we will develop on time.
AES told me about the Happy Hypocrite event they hosted at Eastside Projects which involved short readings from a number of artists and writers. The format sounded challenging yet pushed many people to confront elements of their practice in a new way, Robin and Harry's perspective on the event as a whole was useful. An Endless Supply were a great motivated and interesting group to meet and we hope to maintain contact with them and invite them into our process in future.
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