With the Launch of CANNED Magazine Issue 3Collaboration, Exchange and Collective Action (May, 2012), I’ve had a lot to think about in regards to the role of art as a locus for exchange, conversation and, occasionally, political action. Working on the magazine – in terms of negotiating with writers, artists and galleries – and through our real-life events (artist talks and A NewBridge Enquiry) has been an exciting conversant process with ideas and perspectives exchanged, challenged and constantly developed. I’m looking forward to pushing these dialogues further both through the collaborations we invite in the pages of CANNED but also through establishing more of those real-life events and opportunities for artists and writers, advancing the dialogue between the North East (and the NewBridge Project) and other cities and scenes, further afield, from Bristol to Berlin and many others…

This week I was fortunate enough to visit Leeds and meet the organisers of both The Woolgather Art Prize and Jon Wakeman from East Street Arts at the Patrick Studios. What was profoundly striking about these meetings was the huge enthusiasm and altruistic spirit of all the individuals involved in these organisations. Woolgather (John Slemensek, Annie Nelson and Chris Woodward) are a boisterous, bright-eyed group of artists who met during their time studying Fine Art at Leeds Met and established the group as an artist’s collective, working together to realise larger, more ambitious projects and initiatives. In its second year the Woolgather Art prize has extended its remit from representing a purely Leeds-based group of artists to one of national scope. Exhibited in the The Loft, an empty city centre venue of vaulting ceilings connected by Victorian staircases, the show includes a huge variety of works from Mike Ballard’s psychedelic, auto-destructive record playersecreted away in a kitchen of industrial proportions to Topical Jungle’s Working Progress (Expansion Scheme) – an organic ‘ideas bank’ for potential new art works and collaborations. The works on display all show a refreshing level of dedication and accomplishment from emerging artists and from the organisers who’ve taken the model of the art prize as both a means to support and promote emerging talent but also, perhaps, as a subtle critique on the notion of ‘value’ and particularly the hierarchy of competitive ‘value’ eschewed to art by its various institutions and commentators.

Whilst I left my meeting with Woolgather feeling enthusiastic and with a renewed vigour for working with others, this was tempered somewhat by the amount and extent of exceptionally bad art I also came across during my stay… Whilst I won’t illustrate my vitriol with names or venues, I’m sure it’s enough to mention that if I see another Karla Black imitation hanging sculpture of plastic bags or am asked to read another 32 page publication in order to qualify a vacuous show of throwaway, reappropriated ideas and materials (which takes all of 5 minutes to generously observe and disseminate), I’m going to cancel my subscription to Frieze, make a pyre of my sketchbooks and take up extreme golf. I find it exhausting as a viewer and an artist whose given up her art-making time in order to write about other people’s art to be assailed by so many unconsidered and/or histrionic gestures. Perhaps I’m a bit jaded because my own artistic practice has been subsumed by writing but, nonetheless, I think there’s a serious issue here about how viewers and writers are used by an artist or organisation… as happy consumers… As I wandered around the galleries and art spaces of Leeds I found myself, on several occasions, cursing the whole establishment and questioning the fundamental necessity and validity of art at all… I wonder if the only way I can be honest in my critiques is to stop accepting commissions and only write about what I think is good art? …Hopefully these feelings will be quelled with the next great show I see but, for the time being at least, I’m just going to watch Herzog films, feed the goslings in the park and read about ship building until either ‘absence makes my heart grow fonder’ or I build this schooner in time for my round-the-world yachting adventure…