In Uncategorized on June 4, 2011 at 12:19 am

Sarah Browne, Second Burial at Le Blanc, 2011, ticker-tape countdown clock with live currency feed

Last week’s trip to Dublin for ART CRITICISM NOW was a chance to find out about a whole host of art writing projects in the city and beyond, running the spectrum from critical writing projects to art-language initiatives of diverse kinds. This post offers a run through of those projects, continuing an exploration of where one becomes the other, or how a practice might involve/ combine/move between these different possibilities of practice.

At the criticism end of the spectrum is +BILLION- , which began as a one person blog by James Merrigan, currently has a call for writers, and published its own summary of the Art Criticism Now event within a few hours of it finishing. Like the other writing on the site it’s a cogent, focused, informed critique, intelligently aware, as the archive on its site is named, that JUDGMENT CALLS.

In the panel discussion at Art Criticism Now one of +BILLIONS- main concerns was how the size and nature of the Dublin art scene makes criticism difficult. I tried to relate this to the concern in my talk with how writing creates and comes out of artistic communities, as well as my recent experience of a range of art writing related artists and projects in Yorkshire (for example: Open Dialogues, The Wild Pansy Press, Information as Material, Not Yet There, Critical Writing Collective, Millpond…)

William Kentridge Office Love, tapestry, 2001

On the same panel, Cristín Leach of the Sunday Times recalled being told at an opening:  “I don’t know how you dare to show your face in here.”  She recalled how, as a starting out journalist, a newspaper editor had told her not to write catalogue essays if she wanted to write for the newspaper, and how it still felt important to hold to that distinction. It was a position useful to consider alongside what can seem the art world’s default position of an embedded writing practice that sees no problems moving wherever opportunities (and payment) allow.

BILLION was responding to Jason Oakley of  VAN (The Visual Artists’ News Sheet), who had outlined a soon to be launched review supplement to the publication which explicitly briefed writers to evaluate  shows under discussion. It’s interesting that within such contexts straight, traditional reviewing becomes the only appropriate form of writing. Whilst I value such an approach as one among a number of possibilities, I am not sure it has the value as either discourse, PR and/or intellectual capital that it is often ascribed, or that expanded writing practices don’t offer more possibilities for an organisation like Visual Artists’ Ireland to fulfill its broader remit of support and advocacy on behalf of professional visual artists.

As in the UK, my sense was that the potentials of an exploratory criticism is more evident in grass roots initiatives, like BILLION and paper visual art journal. These tend to be unfunded DIY initiatives, which might  give them a limited life cycle, but opens up distinct possibilities as long as the writing and editing of such publications can be juggled with all the other jobs and activities their organisers and contributors are likely to be engaged in.

Edited by Niamh Dunphy, Paper Visual Art Journal’s tagline reveals its difference in emphasis from +BILLION-, self-describing itself as “an online publication for contemporary art. Paper recognises the vacuum of critique and dialogue that exists for the emerging artist or artist group, between graduate and established art practice. The emphasis, at outset, is to address this.”

Critical articles are published alongside listings,  artist profiles (perhaps best described as showcases), and Insight, a new series of texts on artist run spaces.  The project is seems one where different functions of criticism, information,  and gallery are all “embedded together” (it made me think again of John Kelsey’s writing/ art/ gallerist role combinations) and it will be interesting to see how this mixture unfolds. At ART CRITICISM NOW, Dunphy spoke of a hands on editorial approach, wanting to ensure writers said what they wanted to say rather than what they thought they should say.

Allotrope, Issue 1, 2011

Encountering all these projects, made me wonder what the equivalents were in London – a scene that, chatting in the bar afterwards, we decided was best described as “nebulous”. Most of the London projects I could think about as having an equivalent energy and dynamism to +BILLION- or paper visual art journal were artist led magazines like Art Licks, spaces for artists writing about their own work,  print spaces for practice itself rather than locations for critique and review, experimental or otherwise.

The day was also a chance to pick up a copy of the broadsheet format Enclave Review, produced in Cork, edited by Fergal Gaynor and Ed Krčma and whose current issue very much places local exhibitions in an international (and often big-name) context (Issue 3 has pieces on Beuys/ Broodthaers/ Zaha Hadid/ Nancy Spero).  Like other publications here, ER seems very much to be finding a space for in depth essays on contemporary art and thinking through how that is reflected in decisions about print and online distribution (in their case, a freely distributed broadside is followed up by online PDF’s once the free print copies are no longer available).

Moving along the problematic but useful creative critical spectrum  I find Allotrope with its themed inaugural issue on Lies. Allotrope is produced through the University of Ulster, edited by Emma Dwan O’Reilly and Keith Winter, and, at least in my and several other cases, was distributed in the lift on the way up to Art Criticism Now. It takes the format of a single folded sheet which contains image-text contributions from 21 writers and artists including Amanda Coogan, Daniel Jewesbury and Douglas Park.

There is no web site for Allotrope, but a second edition on lists  (each issue is produced in a limited, numbered edition) will be published alongside University of Ulster Festival of Art & Design, Belfast, Ireland, 4 – 19th June 2011. As the images above show, it’s a lively magazine, whose single sheet format, unfolded and turned around again and again to be read, deliberately somewhat unwieldy and initially disorientating, reflects the tangled deception of its theme as it impacts on authorial voice and language.  To find out more email

The two days were also a chance to catch up on the projects of Jennie Guy, with whom I collaborated on one of Reading Ensemble projects in January, and the events curator, Fiona Fullam, also responsible for the Art/Writing/Talks series in Dublin, Carrick-on-Shannon, and Bristol last fall, and which will shortly be appearing as a print publication.

Jennie Guy, Reading Ensemble II, 2011. Video Still, courtesy Russell Hart

In the galleries of Dublin there were several relationships of writing and exhibition to explore.  At Project Arts Centre, Sarah Browne’s Second Burial at Le Blanc, includes a pile of free newspapers, entitled “On Hoarding, Accumulating and Gifting: A visual essay in preparation for a film by Sarah Browne.”

Each page of the newspaper contains a photo in a sandwich of English and French language text that describes the situation in Le Blanc, a French town that has revitalised its economy by being a place where it is still possible to exchange french francs. Browne’s newspaper moves out from Le Blanc through a wider frame of quotations, notes and images on economics, globalization and the (gift) economy.

If the text is a preparation for the film, it is also catalogue, explication, handout and document. Without it there is something more surreal about the 16mm film projection of the shopkeepers procession, carefully carrying the ticker tape machine (which is also in the gallery, positioned where I might have expected the projector to be) through the town.

The show is most satisfying, however, once newspaper and film can infect each other with their different modes, combining into a parable as much, of course, about Ireland as France, the present future as the past present.

Two final projects exploring the relationshiop of writing and exhibition: tHREE THOUSAND AND NINE, is a book of short fiction alongside an exhibition by Brian Duggan, which itself has as a starting point E.M.Forster’s novella The Machine Stop.  The book feature stories by Daniel Boland, Pauline O’Hare and Niamh MacAlister, an image sequence by Duggan, and an afterword by Francis McKee, whose suggestive beginnings I could imagine being productively adapted for a future ART CRITICISM NOW:

Any unreliable history needs to duck and dive between parallel dimensions, combining improbabilities in a story that connives with its unscrupulous author. A decent account of science fiction in Ireland needs such deviance. Throwing academic propriety to the wind, imagine for a moment that the beginnings of this story could be seen as a film script. (75)


Finally, looking at The Author of Unusual Papers exhibition in the LAB, I noticed the text which Susan Thomson had placed on the handout for the show, and on a wall as one entered the exhibition, where it could also be listened to on several sets of headphones.

I was intrigued by the text and its multiple functions, as both a piece of critical writing, a fiction, a curatorial statement, and a script for this exhibition developed by Susan with Claire Behan, Diana Caramaschi, Monica Flynn (who maintains the contemporary art-writing blog Nelly’s Room) and Colleen Lambe. The complete text, with a short essay by Susan on and around its workings, is forthcoming on VerySmallKitchen.

  1. Thanks for this summary David, and also for your contribution to the Art Writing event. I was in the audience, and found the seminar to be refreshing: Irish criticism need not be doomed after all!
    I just learned of this exhibition in Belfast, which may be of interest. (The 2nd edition of Allotrope will be launched on the opening night).

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