Posts Tagged ‘the lab’


In Uncategorized on June 5, 2011 at 9:54 am

Diana Caramaschi, 30 Days, Video animation, 5:50 mins.

VERYSMALLKITCHEN writes: Susan Thomson’s THE AUTHOR OF UNUSUAL PAPERS is a wall text that opens an exhibition of the same title at Dublin’s The LAB (27 May- 25 June 2011). A row of headphones extend an invitation to hear the text read aloud.

The text also appears on the handout/ brochure for the show, which also includes work from Claire Behan, Diana Caramaschi, Monica Flynn, and Colleen Lambe. This informs me that “following several months discussions amongst the artists a body of work emerged in response to this text.”

Several projects and texts on VerySmallKitchen have explored the relationship of writing and exhibition. I was interested in how this text seemed to function variously as proposal, fiction, catalogue essay, and art work. I wondered how it would function in the further context of this blog.

THE AUTHOR OF UNUSUAL PAPERS is reprinted below, followed by a short essay from Susan in response to an email from VerySmallKitchen 31/05/11 asking how she understood the functions of such a text.

Diana Caramaschi, 30 Days, grid, mixed media on paper, 224 x 160cm

Monia Flynn, Astrological Chart for 26th May, 2011, vinyl graphic, 2.5m (accompanied by live event on 24th June)

The Author of Unusual Papers

Am I the author of this text, and if not, who is? I have examined the text for evidence of my usual themes, subjects, preoccupations, sentence length, adjective use etc. I have found many key words that correspond to articles I have written in the past.  Desire, the self, blank, return of the repressed, art, Glasgow, time, lovers and many more. It seems that I may be the author of this text.

While it is perhaps a more unusual text written by me, I think that I have written it. No, more than that, I feel sure that I have written it. Then, there is the fact that it is a self-reflexive text, a text about identity, that it is a text searching for an author, and that makes me even more convinced of my own authorship. The author is in question, a kind of detective story unleashed, and forensic linguistics is the detective’s tool digging up clues, the lists of similar nouns, like echoes, a stylistic marker of my work, the self-referential, the endless mirrors, mise en abime. Forensic linguistics allows me to dig into what I think is my own writing in order to see more clearly: was it really me who wrote this? Why was it written? What are the clues and what do they point to?

Stylometry makes me cry. What if I am not the author? My sentence lengths are variable, the algorithm learns my style. There is a characterization of which papers are most and least typical for a given author; when I am most myself in my writing and when I am least. And which if either is better? Or when I am most consistently myself at any rate. The text is reduced to a bag of words. I will make it as consistent with myself as possible, in the future. Death, desire, sex, food, text. Why can I write nothing new, nothing inconsistent, nothing that a piece of software would pass over, not merely as an unusual paper for me, but instead a text that is so different that it would simply fail to recognise it as emanating from me. It must be by someone else. But why do I desire this at all? Better surely to accept the prison of my own limitations, of my personality, my style, whatever that is. It’s predicting my words…

WORD                PROB
AUTHOR            0.1965
MIRRORS          0.234
RECOGNISE     0.13
PRISON              0.02

PROB            AUTHOR
0.45               SUSAN THOMSON
0.23               DIANA CARAMASCHI
0.1                  COLLEEN LAMBE
0.3                  MONICA FLYNN

Is this an overlapping text, one in which the authors bleed into one another, or co-author? The first trope consists entirely of French words. There was an apparent peaking of French words in the mid-1990’s. The more red a word, the more likely it is to have been generated by me, the more blue by someone else, the nameless author.
The resulting author model was shown to extract significant hidden information about the author, from the set of abstracts, including all the unusual papers for specific authors. And so we may conclude with a question, is it always the same old story or is there the possibility of an author writing a text that cannot be detected as her own.

Susan Thomson, The Author of Unusual Papers; The Lost Word, installation text, books, copies of manuscripts

Post Script

The text is now a post-script I suppose. It has become audio, in a play version of itself, and is now on the blogosphere, post-play.

It has mutated and spawned versions of itself, mimicry in the text in the windows, things I never wrote but it looks like I wrote them.[1]

The text is now in multiple places; the springboard-text for the show, in the handout, on the wall, through the earphones, on the blog; it seems to be reproducing itself at an alarming rate. The text is in transit. Who knows where it will go next? And still the author has not been found, ascertained.

There is a Sherlock Holmes story, ‘The Adventure of the Reigate Squires’, where the case involves handwriting analysis. A torn piece of paper is found in the murdered man’s hand. Finally, Sherlock deduces that it was father and son who had alternately written each word of the note. Copies of Arthur Conan Doyle’s letters to Roger Casement appear in the show, as well as a copy of Casement’s Black Diaries.[2]

The Black (overtly homosexual) Diaries and White (day to day censored) Diaries is the Reigate story’s historical opposite in that it was believed the diaries were by two separate authors but handwriting analysis subsequently proved both to be authored by him. Conan Doyle and Casement step up to the task, spilling ink for one another, and they sit now in a museum, the ink dried up and their tears lying in the manuscript room.

Our childhood portraits hang in the gallery, painted or drawn from childhood photos after the fact. [3] We all become Dorians living on in youth in the gallery as our adult selves wander the streets. The artists pull facts, words, signs, insights from the text and knowledge they have about my life into their own work. They psychoanalyse and try and reveal through metaphor what lies between the lines. They convert the words into visuals, apply semiological analysis. [4]

Then they add their own personalities, their own thoughts, lives, analyses. They explore archetypes, they animate a month of unusual papers, an unusual paper for every day.[5]

The text on the wall is pinned beside the audio version; with the audio came voice, the freedom to walk around the gallery; with the text, the pleasure of reading. Many seemed to return to their childhoods and opted for both at once. Like learning a new language, in a language booth.

I know who the author is, yes; but the author, invisible, unnameable, has just left the building, escaping, minutes before the show opens, the scene of the crime.


[1]Author Claire Behan and anonymous.
[2]Author Susan Thomson.
[3]Author Monica Flynn.
[4]Author Colleen Lambe.
[5]Author Diana Caramaschi.

More about Susan’s work is here.


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.

EVENT: ART CRITICISM NOW at The LAB, Dublin 26th May

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2011 at 9:50 am

Ciara Scanlan, The Product Service Company, The LAB, 2011


I’ve been working on a talk for the LAB Dublin’s Art Criticism Now event this Thursday. Its been a chance to think through the Lab’s own programme of commissioned writing; the broader debates and publications in the field, and the issues that have arisen in my own practice. 

I’ve also been trying to think through the implications of the various writing collectives that have informed my work of the last few years, such as Open Dialogues and Critical Writing Collective, who have recently embarked on their own research project in the field, and more broadly how to think through art criticism as part of artist-led culture rather than as the preserve of Frieze, Art Monthly, and certain supposedly hegemonic provincialities of the art market.  

A consideration of critical writing projects that orientate around a thematic or organisational identity – such as Emma Cocker’s Not Yet There or Lisa Robertson’s Office for Soft Architecture – have also been part of my project. I’ve also found the following statement by Nathalie Stephens as generative to the conditions and paradoxes of criticism as I am trying to unfold them:

my own need to very aggressively resist, or think through, what an essay is or might be and to find my own way to a text that isn’t one, that isn’t one that’s compliant with a particular form, right? That doesn’t interest me. I understand these forms viscerally. They’ve been inculcated right? But I don’t want that. So in a sense, the thing that’s internalized, the sense of having to be kicked out again, even though we can sort of agree that there’s no outside, but somehow there’s that tearing or rending that has to happen – or breach out of which might emerge this thing. That is this particular text.

SOURCE: Kate Eichorn and Heather Milne eds. Prismatic Publics: Innovative Canadian Women’s Poetry and Poetics (Coach House Books, 2009), 64-5.

 under construction 1


Ciara Scanlan, The Product Service Company, The LAB, 2011



I’ll post more info here after the event, and there will also be a book from the Lab including critical writings around their exhibition programme of the last few years.

For the moment, I offer below a brief constellation of recently read texts which have opened up possibilities and situations, wondering, as James Elkins does in the O’Brien/ Khonsary anthology, at what point we stop talking about “art criticism” and start talking about something else altogether.

from Manual of Marginal Places (2011). Images Sophie Mellor and Simon Poulter



 Emma Cocker and Sophie Mellor, Manual of Marginal Places (Close and Remote, 2011).

Tom Holert, Distributed Agency, Design’s Potentiality  (Civic City Cahier 3, Bedford Press, 2011).

John Kelsey, Rich Texts: Selected Writings for Art (Sternberg Press, 2010).

Chris Kraus, Where Art Belongs (Semoiotexte, 2011)

Emily Jacir and Susan Buck-Morss, 100 notes/100 Thoughts, no.4 (Documenta/ Hantje Cantz).

Melanie O’Brien & Jeff Khonsary,  Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism (Fillip, 2010).

Jane Rendell, Site-Writing: The Architecture of Art Criticism  (I.B.Tauris, 2010).

Nathaniël (Nathalie Stephens), Absence Where As (Claude Cahun and the Unopened Book)  (Nightboat Books, 2009).

Here is the LAB’s description of the event: 

The LAB Gallery will host an event to explore, tease out and expose the current thinking around art criticism. Looking specifically at the contexts, language and forms of writing about art, reviews, as well as criticism itself, it seeks to clarify and elucidate how and whether criticism translates art works and what is lost or gained in this process. It would consider what elements critique makes visible, as well as asking how it might achieve this. What are the subtleties between review, descriptive text and criticism and how do the presentation and context (wall panels, book, newspaper, pamphlet, catalogue, online essay, etc.) of this kind of writing affect its nature and purpose.

London based writer David Berridge will give the keynote address for this seminar, which also explores what constitutes criticism, looking at alternative elements such as performance, interview, and exhibition. This is followed by an interview between critic and curator Caoimhin Mac Giolla Leith and performance artist Amanda Coogan, considering the merits of having work critiqued as well as the dangers of being reductive. Following this is a panel discussion chaired by Fiona Fullam, with panellists Niamh Dunphy of Paper Visual Art Journal, Cristín Leach of The Sunday Times, James Merrigan of +BILLION- and Jason Oakley from Visual Artists Ireland and VAN. This panel discussion aims to extend the thoughts, ideas and concepts put forward by the other speakers and look specifically at the current state of art criticism in Ireland today.

This event hopes to respond to the current debate around art criticism, its nature and purpose, as well as the function of the critic, which has been considered and probed so extensively of late in journals and online. While the critique of criticism has itself a long history, still there are questions and issues which recur and which merit further discussion and investigation. Art Criticism Now aims to contribute to that continuing conversation.

To book contact Sheena Barrett at