The Benefits of Seclusion

The Banff Centre and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design connection: both institutions rely on the perceived benefits of social and geographical seclusion to induce fits of artistic inspiration. With the wider arts community far on the outside of these institutions, they can only operate inwardly, forming strong mixed communities of participants, which may be reaching close to some sort of an understanding and practice of inter-disciplinarity (although I attended NSCAD, I have yet to confirm these activities in the Banff Centre). On another note, moving to Halifax to attend university was actually a large step towards cultural expansion and exposure for me personally – people who move to Halifax from larger cities and communities have a tendency to hang around in Halifax after they graduate NSCAD due to the intoxicating community of cubby hole galleries in people’s hallways and rogue restaurants in other people’s living rooms.

Recent research into the NSCAD conceptual art heydays in the late 1960s into the 1970s unearthed some explanations as to why it could have ever happened in the small city of Halifax. Garry Neill Kennedy offered his opinion upon arriving in Halifax as the first president of the College in 1967 when he decided that there wasn’t much of anything else going on in the city at the time: no distinctive art movements and no public institutions displaying historical or contemporary art from local or international artists. There were essentially no barriers to break down and the city was ripe for the introduction of anything creative and experimental. Being a Nova Scotian and an art historian who has researched the healthy development of abstract art in Halifax in the 1950s and 60s, I know that the region was not an artistic wasteland. All the same, I agree that it was deserving of and receptive to some cultural infusion. Upon his instatement Kennedy hired a new crop of teachers, mostly from the United States and began inviting artists from the great New York conceptual art scene including the likes of Lawrence Weiner, Dan Graham, Lucy Lippard, Douglas Huebler, and Joseph Beuys (on the more European scope) and many more. These artists gave lectures, hung about the hallways (according to Kennedy in his account in the book Conceptual Art: The NSCAD Connection 1967-1973, Beuys “became the unanticipated and personable star. His accessibility and friendly demeanour were made more surprising and engaging given the stern, removed, and shamanistic figure that he had projected in the art press. The students loved him. And he hugged everyone!”), contributed instructions for students to realize in David Askevold’s Projects Class, worked with master printers in the Lithography Workshop and with Seth Siegelaub on publications out of the NSCAD Press.

Colours are probably more brilliant in person. http://rangermikedesigns.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/postcard_banff.jpg

Banff has a similar history as far as a strong and steady movement of artists coming and going, contributing, networking and leaving work and legacies in their wakes. Although I am moving from the largest city in Canada this time, opposed to a small town, the art community is still strong, and most likely no more insular than the current Toronto scene that seems to get smaller by the week.


Blog Cross-Over

Taken from Gaping Void Blog; a cartoon drawn by Hugh McLeod in response to a blog post at Global Neighbourhoods Blog; with a subsequent response at All Things Distributed. Blog networking Power.

In line with my discussions about the state of art blog criticism, I would like to use my own differing experiences of writing for myself on Art in Practice and through my recent contributions to XBLOG.

Although I do not believe that either my own blog nor the XPACE Blog would be classified as criticism in the sense that I would hope art criticism to be within - it's certainly a different experience to write for one's self than for a gallery's blog. In my own circumstances, the public aspect of my writing seems all the more distant, while my contributions to XPACE must incorporate a consideration for the audience I am writing for; although potentially quite similar to my own, it's definitely a criteria. I also consider within this audience, the affiliation of the gallery and its artists within the larger community - with institutional partnership, they work directly with artists, their work and that subsequent exchange and promotion - if I am to talk about artists, their association in any part to XPACE must be considered - moving back to Terrance Dick's admittance of not wanting to bump into anyone who he may have spoken ill about in his Akimblog and otherwise - I am not only representing my own reputation, but that of an institution in addition to my own character when I'm writing for XPACE.

There are no parametres when writing content for XPACE, there is a consensus on what is considered criticism within the context of the institution as well as a concept of audience. Contributors are expected to somehow fit within that context. Individuality and content is preserved and encouraged - which is interesting, because I have the option of free reign and content on my own blog, why do I chose to contribute material through an institution - regardless of how free of editorial intervention it may be? For credentials of course; holding associations with an organization means that you and your work are set to qualifying standards. Other important considerations could include access to a broader audience, and the opportunity for furthered public discussion on your topics and ideas? Would it be the same comparison in the print publishing world either through the community of DIY zine culture or through a long-running magazine publication? Maybe it's better to pursue both options - a good example being Leah Sandals' blog Un-edit my Heart where she offers herself the opportunity to relax from the conditioning of print journalism.

Publishing in print seems like the Holy Grail in writing accomplishments, especially for someone like me who is just beginning to break into this territory - but honestly, there's a lot more work and certainly more compromises involved, if only in the beginning stages - a good writer does not require much editing, or the writers are already accomplished to a level where no one would care to intervene in the writing style or content (I'm sure this changes drastically from magazine to magazine and among editors, but all the same). It's easier and more reflexive to publish online and to assert free reign over content and opinions, accepting spelling and grammatical errors as facts of life. There's a rush at hopping on the bandwagon, but only when it runs along a parallel road that may suit as a compliment.


The State of Blog Criticism – In Encouragement of Chair-Throwing

Img.: http://www.badonka-donk.com/images/chair.jpg

I entered into the art blog realm essentially uninformed about what was at stake; approaching the project as a form of personal expression and as an archival tool for tracking my job search and meetings with individuals in the Toronto arts community. Although the focus of the blog’s content has mostly been a review and reflection of the structure of the Toronto gallery and contemporary art system, I have inevitably found some events and exhibitions interesting within this context and perhaps have occasionally ventured into the realm of ‘art criticism’.

So what does ‘art criticism’ mean within the ever-expanding and delirious arena of online self-publishing? Most likely not much beyond itself as blogs seem to stand as reflections of individuals’ personal opinions in an age when anyone who has access to a computer can have a public voice about anything and everything. Within the Toronto art community, being small and narrow as it is, I was never under the impression that I had free reign over what I would be ‘publishing’ as I understand that maybe whoever I wrote about would also read the text concerning them, under the assumption that an artist I mention may soon read my post, dealers, curators, other writers etc. In no way knowing how often this happens, or whether it happens at all, I have still always kept in mind that whoever I write about is also someone I could bump into in a bar or along the street and would be interested in talking about what was written. For me, the blog is an invitation for discussion.

With physical printed text – reviews and criticism – the opinions are perhaps more concrete, more serious and permanent, and critics maybe more concerned about the tone and the expression of opinions with a desire to remain within an understanding of respectability and inoffence. Blogs are different. They can accidentally offend because of a more relaxed level of concern on the part of the writer, or they can be inaccurately researched, without copy editing or peer reviews…..and have the possibility of being posted after the writer’s had a few drinks. These qualities are what make the blog-world absolutely unique and excitingly problematic; two great qualities that shouldn’t be exploited. One must always remember that the online world is a form of the public sphere of course.

Due to the responsive and slap-dash format of writing and posting that blogs offer, they can fall easy prey to improperly or incompletely developed thoughts, feelings and opinions. One must understand these possibilities and use them to one’s advantage, or else the content can easily just be passed off as bad-criticism. The content does not match the same expectations for print materials. Looking at a (kind of) recent Toronto Akimblog entry by Terrance Dick’ (14 October 2009), there was a response to Dick’s statement about the role of the critic. In Dick’s opinion, he considers art critics to be responsible for pointing only towards good art, as he expressed a sense of personal guilt upon publishing (online or in print) any ‘less than favourable’ comments. He also said that he found himself afraid of running into artists he had spoken ill of (to any degree) along the streets of Toronto. This one reader’s response to the presence of bad criticism (or lack of presence) was taken through an opinion expressed through Gary Michael Dault, that there is simply “not enough room for negative reviews.”

If you attend five exhibitions in the next week (which you should do if you haven’t already), relect upon them all together, and you can weed out all the bad stuff pretty quickly. Maybe one show was mildly interesting, but nothing to write home (or online) about. So, what’s the responsibility of art critics to discuss all exhibitions, both bad and good? Again, our opinionated Akimblog responder said “As an example you [Dick] write about 3 or 4 shows, and are forced to not write about the 200 hundred others happening in the city. I understand[:] promote the good forget the garbage.” So, as a writer and publisher, there’s no constructive use to pointing out the faults and failures of the art community perhaps. Really, who would it benefit? Maybe it would put some fire under the butts of artists to make better work? Maybe ‘any publicity is good publicity? What about artists who make work that is intentionally bad? It will all end up in a swirl or opinions – the opinion of everyone who has access to a computer and beyond.

Looking to another recent example on the Voice on Canadian Art blog by Andrea Carsen where, in the 6 November 2009 post, she posed the question whether her blog should be more critical. This ran in tandem with her review of the current Redbull 381 Project’s exhibition Sitting Pretty: The Enduring Role of Portraiture in Contemporary Art . She panned it, or at least expressed dislike for the works in the show. She got a pointed response by curators Nicolas Brown and Julia Lum, who indicated some further details about the works that they thought Carsen had incorrectly or hastily overlooked and misinterpreted. So this is either some good old art drama or it’s an indication of the problems of art-blog-criticism being called out for all the problems it so easily plays with : inattention to detail, hurried and subjectively responsive content (researched or not) and some sort of understanding that the blog lies somewhere between public and private (typed from the comfort of bed and a cup of tea – where I usually write, then posted for the whole internet world to see and judge and potentially respond).

I’m fully encouraging of screaming arguments over art, taking from the spirit of the Futurists and Abstract Expressionists – getting drunk and getting into fights about what’s at stake in the art world– there’s simply not enough of that nowadays. Although two recent events of note made attempts to reinvigorate this spirit: The Toronto Alliance of Art Critics event entitled BRING-IT, MAKE FACE MOTHAFUCKAS! (Double Double Land, Dec. 2) which was supposedly a raging debate about art criticism in Toronto which featured David Balzer, Otino Corsano, Rosemary Heather, Charlene K. Lau, Leah Sandals and Murray Whyte, and Lawrence Weschler: What’s the New Line? (Cinecycle, Dec. 3) event which included rousing audience and participant attempts at re-positioning and re-evaluating current Toronto artists’ practices.

So, in the spirit: If you don’t like what I’ve said, this is a public blog and I want people to talk about the issues it discusses and play within this tricky public-private divide...although I certainly don’t encourage people to hurl any chairs in my direction next time I see them.