Write Makes Right
A conversation between Darren Caffrey and Jim Ricks
DC: It seems then that the end of Circa, which you cited to have had such an overall impact in this notably small world, did in fact spawn various projects and tools by which to reapply critique, a form that had been arguably blunted by its ties to past traditions and order. It would no doubt be the wish of those at Circa, as much so as any who have followed in their footsteps, that whatever comes next be best for the subject. In this realm, artists and art are the fruit and the flower, and means require only new applications to reignite the hopeful and the willing.
A response from James Merrigan
13 January 2013
This is great Darren and Jim! A patient, reflective, honest, and thorough analysis of your opinions of art writing ‘efforts’ in Ireland today. I am emphasising ‘efforts’ intentionally, and will explain in due course.
With regard to +BILLION- Journal: I never knew what I was getting into 2 years ago. The blog was developed through impulse. What that impulse was I cannot honestly say. It was a compulsion: I set up the website in one night and started reviewing immediately. It was perhaps a selfish endeavor, but aren’t we all? I was following the examples of Shower of Kunst and Dear Nadia, but I wanted the journal to be more consistent, and the only way I thought consistency of attitude and reflection could be achieved was through one voice. I never took into account the evolution of an idea however, and how that would manifest in the future. The negative aspect of this approach, which I have learnt through experience, is everything is read explicitly as self-promotion. Although self-promotion is part and parcel of the upward trajectory of any artist’s career, this is usually done implicitly. At first I saw the reviews as disposable, were one review would lead to another without any reflective gap. It was relentless. But I spent an inordinate amount of time on each artist’s work that I reviewed, mainly figuring out their intention and fusing some sort of dialogue with their ideas, and of course mine. I never thought of it as a blog. It was serious. I took the artist’s work that I reviewed seriously. But I also benefited greatly from involving myself with the artists’ interests, which gave me an even greater appreciation and insight into what artists do to make their work. What I did know from the start was +BILLION- would corrupt the way I was seen as an artist, and in time would corrupt my art practice, which it finally did at The Lab, which you refer to above. All in all, it was an experiment.
I emphasise ‘effort’ because +BILLION-was not pre-packaged. I had no experience as an editor. I was only finding my feet as a writer. I didn’t discuss the idea with anyone else. In essence, it was a private diary, made public, and in some ways a creative playground where I could test out different ways of writing and judge the tone of its reception. In this regard it is my view that all online and printed publications that have been developed, and are ‘developing’ post-Circa Magazine, have been ‘efforts’ to test the waters as to what an art publication could be online and in-print in Ireland today.
I can’t discuss Fugitive Papers in detail here as I am one of two editors involved in its development (Michaele Cutaya), but what I will say is, that it is funded through the Irish Arts Council Project Award, and has been developed through public and private discussions, which influence the content and design of the finished printed publication. At this point in time I think it is premature – in a constructive way – to critique a printed publication that is only 3 issues old, especially if you consider the contexts in which it is being developed. The issue of the so-called crisis of art-writing and criticism that takes central stage in the first two issues of Fugitive Papers was brought to the table at the initial public and private discussions, which is not surprising in this era of ‘testing the waters’ and finding our critical feet after Circa.
The fact is, the end of Circa left a giant gapping crater, not just a vacuum. There would have been something to work with if we had a razed landscape to start with, where pop-up online and printed publications could start afresh. As young artists, writers, curators, we literally had to start again from a position of ignorance and financial compromise when it came to the development of art criticism and writing outlets. There was a sense that everything had been lost through 30 odd years of Circa; or that knowledge and experience was ignored, or not shared. However the attitude toward Circa‘s demise says a lot, from the collective “good-riddance” to “We don’t want another Circa,” which I think is wholly unfair.
The influx of often temporary, and it would seem a segregated and competitive population of various online and in-print art writing outlets, is exciting and disheartening all at once. What we would all benefit from is the sharing of resources, whether that is simple dos and don’ts, or just an honest appraisal from all interested parties of what is being developed currently. Jim and Darren’s analysis is fine here as a starting point but it’s quite a reductive sample.
I think it is good that there are different voices out there and I welcome critical voices that are individual and who set a tone or contrast to their peers. My experience has been an extreme case of artist/writer corruption. But personally, I wouldn’t change anything that I have tested over the last 2 years. I think we all have to test the waters now and again, how boring a world would it be without contradiction and experimentation, and nothing to complain about from the biased and subjective opinion of the art public.
It would be great to hear from the rest of the publications who are referred to it this dialogue???
Editor’s note (21/2/13): Please see Adrian Duncan’s recently published essay Compassion in Art Criticism in Paper Visual Art Journal here.