Supporting the exhibition Portfolio NW (the Bluecoat, Friday 26 July – Sunday 15 Sept 2013), this blog features new critical writing from North West based writers, artists and curators.

Bringing together eight North West-based artists, Portfolio NW celebrates creative talent in the region and features new works specially commissioned by the Bluecoat.

Featuring the work of artists: Rebecca Chesney, Tadhg Devlin, Dave Evans, 0point3recurring (David Henckel, Dan Wilkinson & Leon Hardman), Hannah Wooll and Kai-Oi Jay Yung.


In the last event of the Portfolio NW programme, The Double Negative host a panel discussion on arts writing:

Writing in the Arts

Saturday 14 September 2-3pm

The Bluecoat, School Lane, Liverpool, L1 3BX

Free event, all welcome.

Who should get to write about art & what should it look like?

Artists from the Bluecoat’s current exhibuition, Portfolio NW, join freelance writers and journalists for a fast-paced discussion on arts writing, the importance and challenges of developing a critical voice, the relationship between artist and writer, and what arts writing looks like now. Hosted by The Double Negative online arts magazine in the main exhibition gallery space.

// Panel Guests

David Henckel
Artist with collaborative project 0point3recurring, and ediotr/founder at Preston based art and culture blog The Two Hats.

Dave Evans
Sculpture, sound and printmaking artist; Director of The Royal Standard Gallery & Studios.

Sara-Jayne Parsons
The Bluecoat’s Exhibitions Curator.

Jack Welsh
Artist and writer commissioned for this exhibition to create literary contributions, including an Artists Talking project blog featuring new critical writing from North West based writers, artists and curators.


Darren Murphy
Writer and artist, considering the attempt to create a critical framework around the exhibition.

Linda Pittwood
Exhibition coordinator and arts writer, considering ‘The Importance of Doing Something and Discussing Everything: critical writing in Liverpool’

Panel Hosts
Laura Robertson and Mike Pinnington, editors/co-founders of The Double Negative online arts magazine.


The following two posts to the Portfolio NW blog have been written by Dr Katrin Joost. In her text, Dr Joost discusses the challenges of developing the arts infrastructure in Carlisle:

Portfolio NW is not only an interesting exhibition, but very much a valuable venture. This blog is a short reflection on the importance of such schemes, not only supporting the arts, but also furthering audience development. In this light, I will share some thoughts reflecting on the arts and the importance of audience development in Carlisle.

We all know and have read much about the problematic economical situation resulting in austerity measures affecting the arts. Times are difficult for artists and audiences everywhere. However, it could be argued that in a region like Cumbria with a large proportion of rural areas there is a less established culture of supporting and appreciating contemporary and challenging art.

Institutional support is limited – Carlisle is one of the few British cities, (perhaps the only?) without a publicly funded contemporary art gallery. The local museum Tullie House recently became a trust fund and cut staff, resulting in the loss of their contemporary exhibitions officer.

There is also, perhaps, a tendency in Britain, and more so in Carlisle, to view the arts as a luxury only a small section of the population is interested in. Of course, not everybody likes all art. [1] However, similarly not everybody is interested in sports. Sport too could be considered a luxury, yet, Carlisle manages to maintain comprehensive sporting facilities encompassing a football stadium, rugby ground, numerous tennis courts, a running track and swimming pool, etc.

So clearly there seems to be a perception that there is no audience for the arts in Carlisle. The independent cinema was closed several years ago, leaving only one small multiplex cinema, showing a limited selection of 3D blockbusters and animations. Yet, the alternative cinema club, which shows a small selection of art films once a week in Tullie House, is practically always sold out.

This understanding of the arts as an elitist interest which bypasses the majority of people is a common misperception. Frank Zappa [2] noted that more people visit art galleries and museums than football and baseball events combined. More recently (2006) the British museums report by the LSE states that “over 42 million visit… major museums and art galleries [each year]…more than the attendance at the Premier League plus the whole of the rest of league football. … 43% of the population visited a museum or art gallery at least once a year.” [3]

[1] And there is, of course, an ongoing debate about what falls under the umbrella of contemporary art I do not want to get into here.

[2] Donn Menn, The Mother of All Interviews Part 1 from A Definitive Tribute to Frank Zappa (Best of Guitar Players 1994), available at

[3] available at


I would argue that a healthy range of different arts facilities are vital for a thriving city; as evidenced in Gateshead (Baltic and Sage), MIMA in Middlesborough, Walsall Contemporary Art Gallery and the multi million pound development currently underway in Birmingham of a ‘Cultural Quarter’; not to mention Tate Modern. All these institutions become focal points allowing smaller artist led initiatives to develop and enrich the city.

There is a range of such small arts projects in the region. Carlisle has more of a piecemeal arts provision with a number of small projects, some remaining (c-arts, West Wall, Free Range Artists) others coming and going (Bank Gallery, Mill Gallery). More recent developments are the Crown Gallery and the Galley Gallery.

I am currently developing a new network – phire (Photography in Research & Education) promoting photography practice and critical thought. After organising the conference Visualising the Rural, bringing together artists and academics to rethink the meaning and depiction of rurality, I became acutely aware of the invisibility of artists’ networks and related events. The infrastructure for information distribution about arts events is very poor and phire will hopefully help to address this need in view of photography events. The second Carlisle Photography Festival (beginning to draw in national and international artists) has been more visible within the city and the council has taken notice and expressed the intent to support such events developing Carlisle into a city of festivals.

Hopefully, there is more of a will to consider the arts not as a drain on resources, but as a vital element in the life of Carlisle. The long-term institutional remit of the Bluecoat “to nurture both creative individuals and audiences … [and] for local groups of artists to share their work” is precisely what is needed in Carlisle along with a nationally (if not internationally) important venue. Whether the city rises to the challenge and the optimistic ventures of the Crown Gallery, phire and the Carlisle Photography Festival will survive long enough to shape the city remains to be seen.

Dr Katrin Joost is a Lecturer at The University of Cumbria teaching undergraduate and foundation degree modules across the arts faculty.


For the next guest post in the Portfolio NW artists talking blog, Curator Richard Parry gives his perspective on critical writing and blogging in the North West:

Having recently relocated to the North West from London I was flattered but also a little surprised to be asked to contribute a text reflecting my thoughts on critical writing in the region. The truth was that this was unfamiliar terrain: I didn’t know any writers in the area and consequently nor did I feel ideally placed to offer such an insight. Furthermore as I began to consider the task in more depth I realised that the very idea of regional writing was hitherto something of an anathema. Until that point, I had not thought about critical writing as tethered to place. Furthermore, as I began to ruminate on this question the more I began to feel that writing was about individuals and how they connected with discourses taking place amidst a larger, borderless ether of readership.

With these thoughts still coursing through my cranium I was invited along to a meeting hosted by The Double Negative, and with additional presentations by Corridor 8 and Creative Tourist. I began to see how the internet provided a bind by which individuals might be part of a writing community (or perhaps set of communities), and how the geography of the region was an important agent in forming those writing fraternities.

In London, one often got the sense of different artistic interest groups being heterogeneous – art people go to art openings, design people go to design openings, film people go to film premieres (one imagines this is what happens in film anyway) and so on. I’m painting this with a broad brush, but you get the idea. It’s a big city where nobody has much time for anything other than what they’re working on, except on rare occasions or the happenchance of personal friendships. What I encountered at The Double Negative was a core of writers with ranging specialisms, operating across the creative industries (to slip into governmental parlance). What I began to appreciate is how the geography of the region presents ideal conditions for the proliferation of the blogger.

The North West, with its cluster of interconnected metropolises, is perfect for the internet scribe. Despite the fact that the cities of the region are relatively close together, there are still fair distances in between. Individuals are never far away from a sizeable number of other individuals, but just far enough to make it a journey. The web offers the possibility to collapse those distances. It’s also cheap (if not free) and open to anyone with the will to write and access to a PC.

So how would I characterise writing in the North West right now? The truth is that I am excited to watch this space, and to continue to learn more about it. I get the impression that we are at a moment of expansion as more and more individuals are starting to commit pen to paper, (or rather fingers to keyboard) amidst the freedom offered by the ‘net. It feels that what once might have been explored in a zine is now an online zine.

A blog is a great place to learn a craft, to discover and nurture a voice – especially during an economic downturn. The key question will be to what extent the writing and production contributes to a wider critical discourse that is more international now than at any previous moment.

Richard Parry is the Curator at Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool.


This is the final post from the Islington Mill Art Academy collaborative text, concluding with a response from Jared Szpakowski:

Rachel Goodyear, 23 August 2013 15:47 –

Looking through Jared’s blog – I begin to think of the collection of polaroids taken by filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (collected into a book, ‘Instant Light’) which evoke poetic beauty and heaving melancholy through the quietest contemplations. In a time when life’s pace moves quickly and we can be assured our memories are digitally stored, it is easily forgotten to take the time to muse over the details in our surroundings, especially within the mundane. Jared’s daily contemplations are a reminder that these ordinary details can spark a poetic curiosity. By keeping his daily offerings ambiguous, I find Jared’s blog stirs this curiosity, often through the simplest and poignant means. I too enjoyed the random click selection and felt as though I was wandering through a room of many conversations – overhearing fragments and making up the rest. It also makes me consider images that we can all immediately relate to whether you come to this blog as a stranger or otherwise. I am struck by the recurrence of hospital corridors and chairs. Again, Jared gives little away, and repeatedly considers the possibilities within a familiar motif that touches everyone’s life at some point from birth to death. A filmic photograph of a corridor reflected in a mirror evokes memory and premonition. We discussed in the crit that a lot of art is autobiographical but with a vast scale of how much or little personal background the artist gives away. For me, Jared’s blog seems like a peek into someone’s private world, but it also a tease….an invitation into a personal moment ‘I must conquer my fears, I must conquer my fears’ cut off with an abrupt ‘and so on’.

Sara Nesteruk, 23 August 2013 23:06 –

The blog struck me as private, but also aware of its privacy. It is well designed, clear, beautiful, visually open.

I began to think of the archives of artists such as Stanley Kubrick and Andy Warhol. The collections of material but also the care given to the documentation process itself. Warhol’s archives all stored in identical cardboard boxes look like a piece of his artwork, although seem to have been largely private until his death. Work in progress and also a finished article at the same time.

Jared Szpakowski, 24 August 2013 00:37 –

This is, to my knowledge, the first time my page has been critically examined and having people’s experiences of it articulated for me to consider has been extremely interesting. Surprisingly for me I think a lot of the comments echo my own encounter and emotional relationship with two particular Polish photographers blogs I used to follow during the formulation of my first blog. Their pages regularly documented places that would be considered mundane but to me were overwhelmingly beautiful due to their almost subconscious Soviet undertones. I only have a very primitive understanding of the Polish language so I was essentially a stranger looking in but very soon I felt I was fluent in my understanding of their motives for documenting these places. I try hard to maintain a balance between distance and intimacy but enjoy it when the extremes of the two sit side by side in an almost bipolar opposite and am somewhat reassured that this hasn’t been too bewildering or off putting, unless of course I’m wrong and my P45 awaits me at our next meeting.

Islington Mill Art Academy website: