The Visual Artists' News Sheet – November December 2023 - Special Issue

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Further information on

06 October 2023 – 28 January 2024

Hugh Lane Gallery Charlemont House, Parnell Square North Dublin, D01 F2X9, Ireland

The Visual Artists’ News Sheet


Issue 6: November – December 2023

A Visual Artists Ireland Publication


The Visual Artists’ News Sheet November – December 2023 On The Cover

Shilpa Gupta, Words Come From Ears, 2018, Motion flapboard, 15-minute loop, 43 x 244 x 13 cm; photograph by Par Fredin, courtesy of the artist, Uppsala Art Museum, and the Henry Moore Institute.




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Editorial. VAN Guest Editor Orit Gat introduces this special issue on art and literature. On Magic and Dullness. Laura McLean-Ferris considers the transformative power of writing to conjure iridescent realities. When Writers Socialise. Megan Nolan offers insights into New York’s literary and socialite scenes. Stupidities. Brian Dillon outlines his approach when engaging with artists and their work. Until the Penny Drops. Wendy Erskine discusses writing, process, and makes an argument for polyphony. Making Prosinečki. Adrian Duncan discusses his short story and subsequent film which premiered earlier this year.

Writing & Art Practice

Writing in Art School. Frank Wasser chronicles the standardisation of academic writing within art college education. On Close Scrutiny, Ritual and Reverence. Isobel Harbison interviews Sara Baume about her the evolution of her writing practice.


Roundtable on Publishing. Orit Gat interviews several editors about the Irish publishing landscape.


Chromatology. Mónica de la Torre assembles extracts of writing on colour in response to Donald Judd’s multicoloured works. The Day After Tragedy, Lunch Beneath Whistlejacket. Aea Varfis-van Warmelo.


Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay-Terk, La Prose du Trans sibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France (Paris: Éditions des hommes nouveaux, 1913) ‘Human Is’ at Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin. Nour Mobarak, ‘Dafne Phono’ at Municipal Theatre of Piraeus, Greece. ‘Blaise Cendrars (1887–1961): Poetry Is Everything’ at The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. ‘The Weight of Words’ at The Henry Moore Institute.

Extended Essay

Eddie Murphy Walks into a Gallery. Orlando Whitfield on how no one understands the art world. Art of Relations. Quinn Latimer considers filmmaker, writer, and theorist, Trinh T. Minh-ha’s latest artist book, The Twofold Commitment, Primary Information, 2023.

Artist Project

Ages. Steve Bishop presents found photographs from an ongoing series. Score for Unlanguaging. Orit Gat introduces the work of Jesse Chun. The pagination of moments lost and found. Steven Emmanuel considers an old drawing that sits on his sideboard.


The Monument. Juliet Jacques presents a short story about a memorial to the victims of austerity.


In the Gutter. Chris Fite-Wassilak considers the successes and failures of comics in the gallery space.

Page 21 Principal Funders

International Memberships

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The Visual Artists’ News Sheet: Editor: Joanne Laws Production/Design: Thomas Pool News/Opportunities: Thomas Pool, Mary McGrath Proofreading: Paul Dunne Visual Artists Ireland: CEO/Director: Noel Kelly Office Manager: Grazyna Rzanek Advocacy & Advice: Elke Westen Advocacy & Advice NI: Brian Kielt Membership & Projects: Mary McGrath Services Design & Delivery: Emer Ferran News Provision: Thomas Pool Publications: Joanne Laws Accounts: Grazyna Rzanek Board of Directors: Michael Corrigan (Chair), Michael Fitzpatrick, Richard Forrest, Paul Moore, Mary-Ruth Walsh, Cliodhna Ní Anluain (Secretary), Ben Readman, Gaby Smyth, Gina O’Kelly, Maeve Jennings, Deirdre O’Mahony. Republic of Ireland Office Visual Artists Ireland First Floor 2 Curved Street Temple Bar, Dublin 2 T: +353 (0)1 672 9488 E: W: Northern Ireland Office Visual Artists Ireland 109 Royal Avenue Belfast BT1 1FF T: +44 (0)28 958 70361 E: W: Safe to Create Safe to Create is a Dignity at Work programme looking to impact change on the culture and practices of the Arts and Creative sectors. If you or someone you know is facing bullying or harrasment please visit

Yvonne McGuinness

21.10.2023 14.01.2024

Butler Gallery

Evans’ Home, John’s Quay Kilkenny, R95 YX3F

Photo: Micheal Kelly


Mahmoud Mokhtar, Nahdat Misr (Egypt Awakened/ Egypt Renaissance), 1928, Sculpture. Photo: Creative Commons.


Clár Deich mBliana na gCuimhneachán 2012–2023

Saorchead Isteach Tabhair Cuairt ar

This exhibition features works by Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Isabel Nolan, Matt Smith, Ciara O’Connor, Cecilia Danell, Mainie Jellett design by Ceadogán rugs, Dorothy Cross, Michelle Malone, Jennifer Trouton, Anne Kiely and Mary Palmer.

Crawford Art Gallery Emmett Place, Cork

Opening Hours Monday–Saturday 10.00am–5.00pm Thursday until 8.00pm Sundays and Bank Holidays 11.00 am–4.00pm

Geraldine O’Reilly, Mary O’Donnell & Na Cailleacha: Heroines 25 November – 24 December 2023 Introduced by poet Mary O’Donnell, 12 noon Saturday 25th

Rachel Parry, Kelp Cailleach (with reference to Paula Rego’s ‘Angel’), 2023. Na Cailleacha is a collective comprising Helen Comerford, Barbara Freema, Patricia Hurl, Catherine Marshall, Carole Nelson, Rachel Parry, Therry Rudin & Gerda Teljeur.


The Fishery at the Bridge, Killorglin, Kerry V93 A2TY 00353 (0)87 604 7559 Heroines VAN ad.indd 1

18/10/2023 15:08


Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023




On Magic and Dullness





I found myself leaving more comments in the margins of the documents than I usually do. I highlighted ideas I loved, turns of phrases I admired, and forms of relation I appreciated. When Chris Fite-Wassilak wrote how, as a comics reader, it made sense to him to read the exhibition system “as an expanded form of comics: art (in whatever form) as the image; titles, wall texts, press releases, criticism as the speech bubbles and captions,” I commented in the side, “this is a gorgeous idea.” When Laura McLean-Ferris described herself as someone who can “find the world to be so amplified and charged by language, both as a writer and a reader,” in the margin I said, “I think this will stay with me for a long time.” Jes Fernie opened her review of Nour Mobarak’s exhibition about the first opera, Dafne, saying that the morning after seeing the work, she woke to a “ghostly choir.” I recognised in this how our experience of art seeps into life – and how special it is to notice (I typed simply “LOVE IT”). This echoes how novelist Sara Baume, in her interview with Isobel Harbison, said: “Art was where I went to make sense of the world and to find meaning, in the absence of religion perhaps, and it’s fair to say I still do, though my life is less lonely.” I copied and pasted those words to a sticky note on my computer, thinking, I need to come back to this. I have produced a lot of notes on the theme of this special issue of VAN, about the intersection of art and literature. I wrote emails to potential contributors, explaining the breadth of the issue and the origins of my ideas. I took notes for a possible introduction on my phone on the tube, or while describing this issue to friends at the pub. I’ve already written so many words over the past few months working on this issue, and yet, when it came to this introduction, all I wanted to write about was working with others. Because before I was a writer or an editor, I was a reader. Reading inspired my interest in how we experience the world, and how we look to art and culture to tell us something about our lives. The relationships of art and literature is a subject I have personally been engaging with for a long time as a way of exploring how my own work as an art critic informs the way I explore other forms of writing. But this theme was particularly inspired by the growth of the literary scene in Ireland, the amount of Irish fiction I’ve been reading, and my appreciation of the work of many Irish art and literary publications. One of my first ideas for this issue was to organise a roundtable with these publications, to ask them about the work they have been doing and hope to do. My methodology when editing this issue was to ask

contributors to reflect on the relationship of art and writing from their own perspective – that is, to let their practice inspire their contributions. And so, the columns at the front of the issue are all short personal essays about the manifold ways in which a writing practice is formed. The feature articles touch on subjects including the writing requirements in art schools, the representation of art in film, and a filmmaker’s new book. In addition, there are artist projects that show how artists relate to language and research, two poems about art and looking, and a short story about an artist who creates a monument to the victims of austerity. The reviews have become my favourite part of this issue, as they are all about exhibitions that relate in some way to literature, opera, science fiction, poetry, or historically important writers. Reading these reviews felt like a proof of concept in a way: a combination of art and writing, production and reflection, a meeting. One of the things I noted while working on this issue was how certain themes kept appearing across different texts. For example, art school and students appear at least three times; Brian Dillon writes on stupidity, while Orlando Whitfield about misunderstanding. Where Jes Fernie describes Nour Mobarak’s installation as producing a “lilting cacophony of polyphonic sound”, Wendy Erskine is using polyphony as a theme for the Dublin Art Book Fair 2023, thereby holding space for simultaneous and sometimes competing perspectives. Both Laura McLean-Ferris and Quinn Latimer describe the idea of sometimes being more interested in reading about a movie than actually watching it. I love this because it feels related to this special issue and how it highlights that through reading about and looking at art, we see how our way of being in the world is not only defined by language – it is often enhanced by it. Orit Gat is a writer and art critic living in London.

by César Aira, a writer is offered the chance to trade his skills for magical powers. If he agrees, he will be able to perform the most powerful spells imaginable but will be forbidden from ever writing another word. The writer is stunned and excited by this proposal, particularly when the magician offering him this opportunity proves his abilities by turning a sugar cube into gold in front of him. Infinite riches beckon. But he is surprised to find that everyone else in his life – his publisher, his writer friends – could not be more bored by the prospect of the deal. They find it utterly dull and are in no doubt he should turn the offer down. Indeed, it turns out that they can all already do magic, as they demonstrate for the writer one by one. A friend turns an ordinary pencil into a Montblanc Boehme pen with a platinum nib, and then all but rolls his eyes. It turns out that magic is banal. Admittedly, Magic could do anything: move objects, transform them, make them appear or disappear, but always on the condition that it remained itself, the same old Magic condemned to go on reusing its stale old power… Magic, underneath its tinsel, was a mechanism like any other.1 Literature, on the other hand, is respected by every one of them, who urge the protagonist to stick with his writing. By not laying claim to anything real beyond the words, writing, they say, creates ‘true realities’ that are ‘airy, light, protean, iridescent’. The ability to do so represents a precious rarity. They are talking, I suppose, about poiesis – the making of forms, the bringing forth of something that did not previously exist – in this case with the material of language: the particular, transformative magic of which writers are capable. The word shares an obvious root with poetry. These conversations are written in a comic register, but they also tug at and appeal to me as someone who can find the world to be so amplified and charged by language, both as a writer and a reader. ‘Magic’, in the world of the novel, seems to be something akin to a grim cross between physics and money, solutions-based formulas often aimed at turning things into more expensive versions of themselves. Writing glimmers with a different, albeit modest, potential. I, too, would like to be richer, and I also spend time wondering whether I should trade writing for something that would pay better. But it’s true that these ‘airy, light, protean, iridescent’ realities, whether attempted through my own writing, or more often, experienced reading works by others, are deeply important to me, and that the transmutation of multisensory experiences into new forms via language offers a strange and genuine high. It’s not that I don’t feel the world or experience artworks with great

intensity in the first instance, but more that this intensity does not always have a form that I can properly apprehend without working it through words. In all honesty, there are times that I am more thrilled by a piece of writing about something like a movie, than by the experience of watching it. I can be so moved at the detailed analysis of a landscape painting that I need to stop reading and walk around for a moment. Here’s T.J. Clark talking about a painting of a field by Camille Pissarro that has very dull light: So the true intensity of the new painting, Pissarro proposes, will inhere in its showing us what, after all, of beauty – of emphasis, of the suddenness of things seen – is there in the dullness, not ‘punctuating’ it, not coming out of it. This is Pissarro’s painting’s triumph: the complete steadiness of its hold on a single plain state of the light; the subduing of every separate entity to that state; and the peculiar beauty of that submission.2 Spellbindingly insightful. The dullness of the painting is made fresh. It contains time, it contains qualities of life. Clark’s careful and exuberant attention to the painting, to the sense of ongoingness that he sees in that dull light, allows him to conjure Pissarro’s worldview from it, opening a portal for us to enter it momentarily. Dullness can be magical, and magic can be dull. This kind of redistribution of meaning is a minor form of radicality, and there remains something full of potential in it. I imagine that potential as a substance, in the form given to it by the poet Lisa Robertson, a pliable connective tissue that can reorganise the world with language. It unites and separates things, she writes: “an imperceptible membrane, stretchy, spangled, gauzelike, of total vitality… A crystalline gel. An alphabet.”3 Laura McLean-Ferris is a writer and curator based in Turin, Italy. @lmcleanferris

1 César Aira, The Famous Magician (New York: New Directions, 2022).

2 T.J. Clark, ‘Strange Apprentice’, London Review of Books, Vol. 42, No. 19, 8 October 2020.

3 Lisa Robertson, The Baudelaire Fractal (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2020) pp 93–94.

Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023



When Writers Socialise




IN FEBRUARY THIS year, in New York,

IN THE SPRING of 2007, just a few years

recently single and highly manic, I was asked to ‘host’ the inaugural edition of a new club night on Avenue A called We Take Manhattan that my friends Charlie and Allyson were running. “What does hosting mean?” I asked Charlie. “You have no responsibilities except your name is on the poster and you have a guestlist for friends and some free drinks,” he told me. I still did not have a grasp on what my function was, but it made me feel important in a city where I still had excitingly little context for those around me, and I also thought it would be a cute way to meet men. I ended up taking a first date, a guy I met on Tinder, Daniel, who did not become a love interest but who did become my best friend in the city. I met him at a bar called The Library first, feeling gauche and insane, ordering shots and chaining his Marlboro Reds in my cupcake-like cocktail dress. I struggled to explain to him what hosting the event meant or why I had been asked to do it, but we were having a good time and ambled over to find out together. At the venue, I felt energised but ancient, repeatedly blinded by the nightclub photographers I thought I had left behind in my earliest twenties. I tried to relax into the frivolity and be the good-time girl I was there to be, maybe a good-time woman, given I was 32 years old, but a small insistent part of me kept thinking: What am I doing here, doing on a poster for a party full of beautiful kids? I’m a writer. Of course, writers can be socialites, though this feels only true in New York. In New York, writers have more potential to be main characters. The grand façade of that city means that there are younger, better-looking, better-dressed writers than in any other place I have lived. The dilettante-as-artist is insistently, insidiously present, and much better concealed in New York. Young rich people, who by historical right should be carelessly raging with the monarchical flippancy of Paris Hilton in her prime, are doing monotone readings of their dating app exchanges, teenage diaries and short stories about Ozempic. There are trust fund babies all over, of course, but in New York they effortlessly assimilate into familiar Downtown aesthetics in a way that was so alien to me that I was often profoundly shocked to learn that a certain person had never paid their own rent and another I took to be a rich kid was working 60 hours a week in multiple restaurants. My nose was not yet keen, remains unschooled. What happens when a writer becomes embroiled in partying? I don’t mean merely drinking heavily with one’s friends but being sincerely embedded in A Scene. The literary brat pack led by Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis were this surely, but

Bright Lights, Big City (Simon & Schuster, 1985) and Less Than Zero (Vintage Books, 1984), which were real documents of specific partying and scenes, were published before tabloids were rummaging around their bins to find gossip, before they were famous. Can any good come out of being truly knit into the fabric of these glamorous, ephemeral convergences before you’ve made it for yourself ? Last year a writer called Mike Crumplar began a project on Substack documenting the nebulous, played-out scene attached to a certain Downtown post-political-correctness demographic associated with the area of Chinatown known winkingly as Dimes Square. This is a scene which is notable for the almost total lack of actual culture it has produced. The chattering circus around the nothing being produced has become the real show, hundreds or maybe thousands of excitable twenty and thirty-somethings pretending not to be scoping out Clandestino, the bar at the heart of it, for one another when they arrive for their 1am martinis. What do writers risk, when we lose ourselves in a scene? Crumplar documented some of the profligate vulgarity but became so genuinely involved that he was included in a list of hot young things Air Mail magazine ran called ‘The Downtown Set’, celebrated at a restaurant called The Odeon with bowls of cigarettes you were reminded by signage not to smoke inside the building. Lately, he released a statement disavowing this over-involvement and saying that the original anti-fascist ideals he had set out to promote and use to critique the scene had been subsumed by his interpersonal dramas, the draw to be close to the people he had intended only to observe. He was taking a break, he said, to consider how his writing could move on from this unclean association he had allowed to override his writerly remove. When you look into the nightclub photographer, he also looks into you. Megan Nolan is a novelist and journalist from County Waterford. Her latest book, Ordinary Human Failings, was published this year by Jonathan Cape.

after I’d started writing about art, I travelled to Paris to interview Sophie Calle, whose exhibition ‘Take Care of Yourself ’ would soon occupy the French Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Calle had long been a hero of mine, though at first on grounds of very slim acquaintance with her work. As a graduate student, I had bought an English edition of Suite vénitienne so that I could read an accompanying essay by her teacher Jean Baudrillard – and then been transfixed by Calle’s devious project of stalking, photographing and writing. A decade later, more than a little anxious, I made my way to her home and studio in a former steel factory in Malakoff, a suburb southwest of Paris. As Calle answered the door, I spotted over her shoulder a tiger, the first of several taxidermized animals with which she shared the space, and beside it, her (living) cat Souris (which means mouse). What did I imagine I would ask this person? When visiting an artist in her studio, whether on assignment from a magazine or to research a catalogue essay, I never know what questions I need to or ought to put. The problem is the same when I know a good deal about the artist and the art as it is when I have spent only days or just hours getting to know the work. Of course I frequently arrive with questions or topics noted down. But they immediately seem like the wrong ones; they will not survive contact with a real and present artist or with the work as it lives in the studio: vividly unfinished and subject to desires and intentions, not just critical notions floated later. I do not stay silent in front of the artist and the work; I don’t (I think) become tongue-tied and inarticulate. But I can feel myself slowing down, getting stupider by the minute. The questions emerge, except tentatively, revealing over many tortured minutes their (that is, my) shocking banality. What is this one made of ? What’s the date of that piece? And the show opens when? Useful information, yes – but are we going to remain at this level? Has the writer no more curious or critical urge to know and understand and judge? Certain artists fill the void and rescue the encounter. There are at least two Irish artists whose clarity and verve in describing their work will outflank, or has already predicted, anything I can muster. And the English sculptor who achieves the same but also tells me carefully what everything is made of. The Canadian painter whose dance with language will always be wittier and more profound than mine. The filmmaker to whom I need put only one question and he will speak for hours. I half recall a passage from Janet Malcolm about the inarticulacy or irrelevance of what artists say about their own work – a curious lapse that feels like it might undo everything else the great essayist wrote. Joan Didion, famously said: “My only

advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests.” I am not sure that vacancy of mind is a comparable advantage in a critic or art writer: there is rarely the same urge to wrongfoot the artist with one’s cannily deployed naivety, getting them to reveal something they would rather not about the work or their situation in the art world. My idiocy has no second degree. It consists I suppose of a lingering feeling that, lacking an education in art or art history, I don’t belong here and will miss or misunderstand many subtleties. And also with a sense that language, my language, will fail to meet, or massively overshoot, the thing itself; if we are in luck, this is both a stage on the way to writing, and its terminal state. Finally, there is a simple debilitating inability to speak – can you still call it shyness when you are 54 years old? Meanwhile I am in the studio, for example with Calle, who tells me about the origin and structure of Take Care of Yourself. (A real breakup letter, or rather email, contained this inadequate and insulting signoff; Calle asked 107 women to use their various personal and professional skills to interpret the text.) The more she speaks, the less able I am to formulate an intelligent question. My recording of our conversation (if that is what it was) was fortunately lost years ago, but shameful details remain in the mind. My asking her straight out if she thought confession was a good thing in art. Who, me? My efforts to buy time by pretending to drink from my empty coffee cup. And our parting, when with a light reference to her bad memory Calle said that if we should meet again, in Venice or at some opening, she would have forgotten all about me. (We have not in fact met since.) I will not remember you – it’s one of the strangest things a person has ever said to me. But it made perfect sense, because in a way I had not been there. Brian Dillon is an Irish writer based in London. His books include Affinities: On Art and Fascination (New York Review of Books, 2023), Suppose a Sentence (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2020), Essayism (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017) and In the Dark Room: A Journey in Memory (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2005).


Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023


Until the Penny Drops

Making Prosinečki



THE ANALOGY I use most frequently to

THE PROJECT BEGAN one Sunday after-

describe how I work relates to the penny falls at the amusement arcade. Insert coin after coin, watch the jagged descent, and hope that some random kinetic configuration will precipitate a cascade of metal down the chute. I suppose I’m hoping, when I write, that some concatenation of disparate elements might generate, or inspire, a clatter of possibility. But, putting aside arcade games, I could call on other art forms to help describe what’s happening. In my type of short story, I run multiple time dimensions, so trying to move across these temporal lines in a cohesive manner is like a DJ trying to do a good mix, with an imperceptible movement from one track into the next. Or let’s think of something else: I’ve sat at an ikebana demonstration and marvelled at how the principles of line, colour and mass involved in Japanese flower arrangement are in many ways similar to composing a short story. My way of working is to write a long first draft – maybe 20,000 words for a 6,000word story. Most likely, I don’t quite know what I am doing during that initial stage. When I read it, something I thought was central is actually peripheral, or vice versa. Much of what I have I don’t need or have to refine. So perhaps it’s a little like a filmmaker looking at the rushes. Maybe my process, if that’s what you want to call it, is like a series of paintings, moving from the figurative towards abstraction because although I do deal most of the time with concrete existence, I’m aiming for some complex idea to be conveyed through a brief line of seemingly innocuous dialogue. But perhaps all of this is simply unnecessary conceptualisation and elevation of something that is at heart incredibly common. That’s how we communicate. We all tell stories. We convert our lives, it could be said, into a series of them. Beyond fiction, I’ve written about plenty of other things: bodybuilding, skin, motherhood, tan, music films, Bulgaria, fakes, legs. I’ve done other things, hosted radio shows, interviewed people, recorded voiceovers for documentaries. I would always do a project, whatever it might be, if it seems interesting and I like the people involved. I’ve written introductions for books and occasionally I am a reviewer, where I tend to caveat what I write with phrases such a “it seems to me” or “I think” – not because I am particularly tentative in my critical judgment but because I find it embarrassing when personal views masquerade as fact, when there is not at least some little recognition of the existence of other perspectives. “The strongest story of the collection.” What, you mean the one that little ol’ you just happens to like best? I’ve also written, in various ways, about visual art: essays, reviews, articles, contributions to catalogues. And it gets in, anyway,

to so much else, on an anecdotal level. A piece of writing on being a mum focuses on how my teenage son liked an exhibition because in the darkness he was able to bang on a window and get chased a few times into the gloom by a gallery assistant. Very annoying for the worker concerned, but the reason why my son remembered the show. Just generally, I’m interested in people’s responses to art, often as much as art itself. I can be more moved by YouTube comments on pop videos than poetry. One time, when I wrote about an Elisabeth Frink public sculpture, it made sense to intercut my own comment with a number of other perspectives, namely those of people who saw this work on a daily or weekly basis, those for whom it was truly environmental art. I knew that their observations might be more interesting than my own. The responses were diverse. Some thought the two large male figures, hung on the side of a bank in Belfast, were a commentary on The Famine. Or the First World War. They were to do with Heaney’s bog people. They were friendly, terrifying, trapped, sleeping, harbingers of doom, and reassuringly familiar. They were post-punk. They were characters from a children’s book. And so, when it came to putting together an anthology of writing about art, I knew I would be interested in looking at the various ways of seeing, or not seeing, what’s in our own homes. And why, when I was deciding on a theme for the Dublin Art Book Fair, I went for the polyphonic and texts which contain simultaneous and sometimes competing perspectives. But here, hold on. If I present, as I have tried to do here, such an argument of contingencies, we should therefore be suspicious of all totalising positions and interpretations. And so please accept that the opposite of what I say can also be true – and that at times, I don’t care about anyone’s view other than my own. Wendy Erskine’s two collections of short stories are published by The Stinging Fly Press. The anthology she edited, well I just kind of like it, about art in the home and the home as art, is published by PVA Books. Wendy is guest curator of Dublin Art Book Fair 2023, which runs at TBG+S from 7 to 17 December.

noon during the summer of 2016. I’d been reading a lot of Thomas Bernhard in the preceding months and had come to admire his long and at times vicious rants about Viennese society or certain passages of classical music. Once I began to see the humour in these diatribes, I realised how much Bernhard must have enjoyed writing them. He’d trained as a classical pianist so these detailed views on music must have come easily. I found myself thinking: What would be the subject matter of my Bernhardian rant? Art? Engineering? Literature? Then it struck me that I’ve either been playing or following football (soccer) for over thirty years. Why not write about that? That Sunday afternoon I wrote in two sittings (one outside a cafe, the other outside a bar) a first draft of a short story called ‘Prosinečki’. Over 3000 words, it is told in the first person present tense, and takes place in the middle of a football field in an old stadium in northern England during a break in play where an unnamed English footballer, near retirement, reflects on his career, his injuries, moments of triumph, defeat, the meaning of beauty, aesthetics and how these things are bound to humiliation on the field of play. He sees his idol, the great Croatian ex-footballer Robert Prosinečki, as a sort of moral compass for his thoughts. It was one of those pieces of writing that came easily and within a month I had a draft. I sent it to two literary journals I’d been published in before, one of which turned it down because of the subject matter, the other didn’t reply. Apart from her novels, Sally Rooney has written a few short stories about football. My favourite is ‘Robbie Brady’s astonishing late goal takes its place in our personal histories’, published in the New Statesman in 2017. Soon after I first read this, I saw Rooney was taking over for a year as guest editor of The Stinging Fly, so I submitted ‘Prosinečki’. She got in touch a few weeks later and we worked on it for a month or so – she is a brilliant editor – and the story appeared in the Summer 2018 issue. Then, as is often the case with a published work, you sort of forget about it. The following year, I ended up doing several literary events with writer Wendy Erskine. Her (astonishing) debut collection of short stories Sweet Home (Stinging Fly Press, 2018) was published a few months before my debut novel Love Notes from a German Building Site (Lilliput Press, 2019). I saw what a brilliant reader of her own work she is, so I was more than pleased when she chose to read ‘Prosinečki’ for The Stinging Fly Podcast in mid-2019. On hearing that episode, a filmmaker friend suggested I go in for Arts Council funding to make a short film from this material, and by the end of 2019 I’d applied successfully for funding and was in the throes of preparing a trip

to England to develop a visual style for the film and to make audio recordings at lower-league football stadia. By the end of January, I had hundreds of photos and a whole suite of audio recordings from League One football grounds around England. In May of that year, and in the middle of the first Covid-19 lockdown, I began editing the film. I was listening obsessively to Burial’s 2007 album Untrue, in which many of the sound elements are sampled from computer games or reworked vocals from other preexisting sources. In the constraints of lockdown I found myself adopting the same attitude in trying to make this film. The primary elements by then were this suite of sound recordings from English football grounds and about three minutes of archival footage of Prosinečki playing for Red Star Belgrade in a quarter-final of the 1990 European Cup. The key moment of this editing process came early when I placed Wendy’s voice narrating the story over the degraded and slowed-down TV footage of Prosinečki playing football. It doesn’t quite make sense, but it just seemed to work. I then began taking samples of early 1990s techno music and reworking these snatches of sound as sounds from a football match – a ball being booted, a whistle being blown, a surge in the crowd. Slowly, while mixing these elements, a sort of audio grammar for the film materialised. I reckoned if the sound aspect of the film has a strict grammar and good stability, then it can free up the visual aspect a little more. Once I realised this, the film, after over a year of editing and reediting, began to come together. Prosinečki (20:30 mins) had its world premiere at International Film Festival Rotterdam earlier this year and was also shown at Karlovy Vary IFF, 2023. Duncan’s latest novel The Geometer Lobachevsky was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize and the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, 2023. He is an editor with PVA Books.

Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023

Writing & Art Practice



lecture at a university in London, where I lead a critical studies and studio practice research module, I am already prepared for concerned emails from my new students. The module, developed to aid students in pinpointing research questions and methodologies tailored to their artistic research and practice, mandates various submissions, including a fairly formidable 4000 word research essay. This module stands as the primary written endeavour; there is no voluminous dissertation looming in the background, only this weighty challenge. As I write the introduction to this article, the cascade of emails begins – each a plea, a protest, a grappling with the essay requirements. It’s halfway through the first day of term. One student deems it ‘impossible’ to pen thoughts about art. Another, more rebellious, insists on the refusal to incorporate writing into their artistic practice in a very compellingly written email. Another asks me if I will be teaching them how to write academic essays. The subject line of one email reads, “How do I write an essay?” Writing as an act, as a material, as a requirement within the contexts of many art schools across the UK and Ireland is often a conflated and contested subject among students and staff alike. The writing dimension within fine art courses, commonly labelled as critical studies, visual culture or critical cultures, consistently sparks a tension point amidst the ever-evolving, expansive experimental pedagogies that underscore much of fine art studio practice in art schools. The examination prerequisites for this writing component frequently clash with the immersive and critical teachings unfolding within the studio. Whether you’re a student who integrates writing seamlessly into your practice (often coined as art writing in recent decades) or a student engaging in experimental writing processes, the intrigue deepens. Art writing names an approach within contemporary culture that, in wanting new potentials, embraces writing as a problematisation of the object of art, its dissemination, and forms of exhibition.1 However, writing as a material is an intricate and expansive idea; it does not necessitate a static position. Consider the notion that fonts carry ideological weight; imagine this article, for instance, clad in the whimsical attire of Comic Sans. Wouldn’t you read it differently? The students’ struggle often emerges as they grapple with the task of melding their studio research into the rigid framework mandated by university regulations for the writing component. There are arguably exceptions to this, and it is worth pointing out that increasingly there are flexibilities around these types of regulations. For example, the dissertation briefs of NCAD stipulate that “departures from these guidelines must be discussed and agreed with the thesis tutor.”

Frank Wasser, In Factotum, 2023, still from ‘Loading Bay’, commissioned by the National Sculpture Factory; image © and courtesy of the artist.

Structurally, the obligatory writing strand on fine art courses often constitutes 20 percent of the student’s overall mark. This takes the form of essays and a final written dissertation wildly ranging from 8000 to 15000 words, depending on the institution. The word count on the BA in Fine Art at NCAD is currently 8000–10000 words. Students must follow strict regulations when writing, for example, typewritten on one side only of A4 paper, margin at binding edge not less than 40 mm and other margins not less than 20 mm, both for type and diagrams/images, apostrophes used sparingly, specific fonts etc. All of this begs the question, why? The emergence of the inaugural report from the National Advisory Council on Art Education in Britain (1960), famously dubbed the ‘Coldstream Report’, stands as a tangible moment of upheaval in the history of British art education, with implications on structures of art education in Ireland and the rest of Europe. The report signified a transition from an educational paradigm grounded in disciplined exploration of techniques and crafts to one anchored in conceptual thought and design. Arguably, it is its implementation that still sustains and determines much of the conflations around writing in the art school today. Implemented by Margaret Thatcher, when she served as education secretary (1970-74), the Coldstream Report recommended that courses should be con-

ceptualised as a ‘liberal education in art.’ It outlined four primary areas of specialisation – fine art, graphic design, three-dimensional design and textiles/fashion – and advocated for experimentation with various media and materials in the early stages of the diploma course, what we might call today a foundation year. Most notably, the study of art history was deemed essential by the report and should constitute around 15 percent of the total course, including complementary studies, as part of the examination for the diploma. The rationale of this structural change was that it would equip students with skills that they could use in the workplace outside of any art context, arguably preparing the students for work in fields unrelated to art making. At the time, many artists and educators questioned the report’s implementation.2 The revelation that the shape of art education today is in fact a Thatcherite structure may come as a surprise to the reader, but it is one that must be met with further scrutiny. As art schools now attempt to continue to decolonise their syllabi, it is worth considering the political systems that underline the structures of the art school. In his text ‘Abolish the Writing Strand in Art Departments’,3 artist and educator Joseph Noonan-Ganley states: “It seems clear to me that the structural separation between writing and studio work in art education should be abolished. Bring the writing work in house. Allow the idiosyncratic reading

that is already being done to be identified, supported and taught with the same spirit of self-directed learning that is crucial in contemporary art pedagogy.” This is not a statement against writing in the art school; rather it is a call out to readdress a clearly flawed component within art school education, to fix a historical discrepancy. With a shift in structure could come an imperative to artists who teach to convey the plurality of what it might mean to write. The space of writing happens on and off page and various places in between. Frank Wasser is an Irish artist, writer and educator based in London who teaches at London Metropolitan University and Goldsmiths, University of London.

1 From 11 Statements Around Art Writing (2011),

co-authored by Maria Fusco, Yve Lomax, Michael Newman and Adrian Rifkin, as part of the syllabus for the MFA art writing programme at Goldsmiths, University of London. The programme no longer exists as it was ‘absorbed’ into the MFA programme at Goldsmiths. 2 Most notably, Stuart Brisley, ‘Concerning the Coldstream Report – The Existing Art Educational System’ (1968). See 3 Joseph Noonan-Ganley, ‘Abolish the Writing Strand in Art Departments’ commissioned by the Sandberg Instituut, edited by Rosa te Velde and Michelle Kasprzak. See


Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023

Writing & Art Practice


Isobel Harbison: You went to art school at IADT Dún Laoghaire and later studied creative writing at Trinity College Dublin. What did you take away from those different learning environments? Sara Baume: My master’s in creative writing felt very brief in comparison to my years in IADT. I remember some fascinating classmates, such as the poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin, and some brilliant guest lecturers, such as the late Dermot Healy, but art college was much more memorable and formative. There, I also had brilliant tutors, such as Paul Gregg and Mark Joyce. I was shy and never had much of a social life; I used to spend hours alone in the studio or the library. I think of them as really happy years but recently I had a conversation with an old friend who laughed at this version of events and told me I was always miserable in college! After graduating, I spent nine months doing a studentship in the Douglas Hyde Gallery under the direction of John Hutchinson, and that turned out to be the most formative experience of all. It broke down many of my established ideas about the art world and derailed my conventional ambitions. IH: How so? Was it the exhibitions Hutchinson curated? His approach to working with artists? His record of publishing? SB: All of the above, really. I particularly loved the exhibition programme for Gallery 2, the small space adjacent to the main gallery. There was an exhibition of Japanese tea bowls while I was working there, for example, and another of Asafo flags of the Fante (or Fanti people) of the Ghanaian west coast. I would not have encountered a lot of ethnographic objects up to that point, and certainly not had cause to think about them in the context of contemporary art. It really built on my education while also, to a certain extent, dismantling it. It steered me towards thinking and writing as well as making. John had a very intuitive way of programming that doesn’t seem to happen anymore, not in publicly funded spaces anyway, but to be fair I don’t have much opportunity to visit galleries nowadays. IH: Your first novel spill, simmer, falter, wither (Tramp Press, 2015) is incredibly compelling, with a tension that permeates throughout. How did you develop writing long form fiction? Was it difficult to get into the character of the male protagonist, and how or where did he begin? SB: The first place I was published was actually right here, in The VAN. While I was working in the Douglas Hyde Gallery, I started to write pieces of art criticism and then at a certain point made the leap into fiction, beginning with short stories and then finally starting my first novel. While it is ostensibly autobiographical – the narrator is a version of me; the dog is my dog – it also takes imaginative leaps that I wouldn’t dare take now. I have not re-read it since it was published but I suspect it would seem overwritten to me now, an example of the bravery of the naive!

story is interwoven with short descriptions of a selection of artworks, many of which are performances or material residues of everyday activities, of ‘workaday despair’, with melancholic tendencies often offset by a gentle humour. Can you talk about how you gathered those artworks, and what you wanted from them for the reader? SB: My second novel was a semi-fictional account of a period after leaving art school when I felt particularly lost and directionless. Art was where I went to make sense of the world and to find meaning, in the absence of religion perhaps, and it’s fair to say I still do, though my life is less lonely. I never went looking for examples to fill space in the novel; I challenged myself to remember works naturally and in fact there were many more in the first draft that got cut later on. I guess I wanted readers to see how these works are often about the most mundane experiences but that they contain so much solace. During art school I was predominantly interested in art since about 1960 – dematerialised works like the Richard Long of the title, which is curious because now I am much more interested in craftwork, folk art, and materials. IH: You are inventive with structure. The first novel is structured by season, the second through photographs of dead (not killed) animals found in sequence by the narrator. In Seven Steeples (Tramp Press, 2022), months loop and return over seven years, and in your non-fiction book, handiwork (Tramp Press, 2020), writing is sectioned by photos of your carved birds. Does structure come before the writing? Are there other writers whose structures interest you? SB: I wouldn’t say that the structure of a book comes first, but it does come early. I don’t have a very mystical approach; I like to know what the end of a book will be so that I don’t veer too far off course along the way. Handiwork was influenced by the series of books that Hutchinson published at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, many of which had simple, white covers with a strong central image and big gaps between passages. I was also borrowing from a literary phenomenon that I heard someone at some point refer to as ‘space literature’ and the term stuck in my head. These books are driven by patterns of thought and loose associations, like Maggie Nelson’s Bluets (Wave Books, 2009), Han Kang’s The White Book (난다, 2016) and Kate Zambreno’s Book of Mutter (Semiotext(e), 2017), to name but a few.

IH: I am curious as to why you wouldn’t take these imaginative leaps now. I found them utterly convincing. What’s the hesitancy? SB: At certain points in the novel, I was trying really hard to invent a story and that approach to writing is of no interest to me anymore, nor is it one of my strengths.

IH: Autonomy and isolation are themes that permeate your work through figures of outsiders, but also through sense of joy in the quiet observations of rural life. Can you talk about that as a choice, also perhaps your choice of living in a rural location? SB: I grew up in a rural place, so it never felt like a choice to me so much as a natural return. I lived in Dublin through college and until 2011 when my partner and I couldn’t afford the rent anymore, so we moved down to the south coast; we both just desperately wanted to live close to the sea. I’ve never been adventurous; instead, I am interested in close scrutiny, ritual and reverence, and I’m drawn to artists who circle around that same landscape for prolonged periods of their life, if not their whole life, and make art of out this devotion, like Nan Shepherd and the Cairngorms, or Wendell Berry and rural Kentucky.

IH: In A Line Made By Walking (Tramp Press, 2017), the main character is an art school graduate who experiences a period of depression in rural Ireland. The

IH: There’s an abundance of great writers in Ireland now. How are you supported in this endeavour, and what could change, if necessary, to improve it?

SB: All of my books have been published by the same independent Irish press, Tramp Press, and I’ve always felt very supported by them and by Literature Ireland as well as the community that has arisen here in recent years around literary journals and magazines. Still, it’s very hard to make a living off the kind of books I write, and it would be great to see some form of basic income rolled out to every artist of proven reputation in the coming years, though I am not optimistic. Unfortunately, I was not selected for the pilot scheme. IH: What are you working on now? SB: Earlier this year my friend, the painter Mollie Douthit, asked me to write a text for her forthcoming exhibition. I’ve written such texts before, but never for a close friend whose life and work I am intimately acquainted with and as soon as I started writing, I was overwhelmed by the amount of material that came easily to mind. I don’t paint and, in spite of my art school background, never really have, and so perhaps this is why it holds such mystery and fascination for me. So, I guess it’s fair to say I’m writing some kind of a book about painting, friendship, place, anxiety, spirituality, existential despair… and dogs. Isobel Harbison is an art historian and critic who teaches at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Sara Baume is a writer and artist based in West Cork. @saraofthebaumes

Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023

Writing & Art Practice

Richard Long, A Line Made By Walking, 1967, photograph, gelatin silver print on paper and graphite on board, Tate Collection P07149; image from Tate, © Richard Long, courtesy of IVARO.



Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023


The Stinging Fly, Issue 48, Volume Two, front cover, artwork: Pat Curran, Home, 2020, oil on PVC; image courtesy of the artist and The Stinging Fly.

Tolka, Issue Six, front cover, artwork: Patricia Hurl, The Company Wife (detail), 1986, oil on canvas, IMMA Collection; photograph by Denis Mortell Photography, courtesy of the artist, IMMA, and Tolka.

Orit Gat: My first question has to do with beginnings. If you founded the magazine you edit, can you talk a bit about the context, the time, and your motivations for starting a magazine? If you joined later, can you tell us about that?


Susan Tomaselli: I founded gorse in 2014 maybe not as an intervention but certainly as an interruption to an Irish model that championed formally traditional short story writers or met expectations of what an ‘Irish literature’ journal should be. I was interested – and still am – in embracing and acknowledging, and even repurposing, an avant-garde tradition, which didn’t entirely skip Ireland but didn’t really get a look in here. I deliberately wanted gorse to take a wider view of literature, and whatever that might mean and might bring to the journal. Our strapline is ‘art in words,’ so I wanted the journal to not only publish experimental writing, but to collaborate and to consider artists in different fields. Nathan O’Donnell: I didn’t start Paper Visual Art (PVA) myself; it was founded in 2009 by Niamh Dunphy. Adrian Duncan was involved from early on too, and I joined in 2014. Niamh had moved to Berlin, because she started working as an editor for Sternberg Press, and I think there was a bit of a question about how the journal would continue; how it would stay connected to the Irish art world. I knew Niamh a little bit – we were neighbours actually, walking our dogs around Stoneybatter – but we hadn’t worked together. It was another mutual friend, Marysia Wieckiewicz-Carroll, who suggested she and I might come on board as Ireland-based editors. It was just serendipity in a way. I was working in a cafe in Stoneybatter next to The Joinery, which was a brilliant artist-led gallery with studios, and we all got to know each other through that. And

Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023

then we started working together and it all just coalesced. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made, I think. Lisa McInerney: The Stinging Fly was founded in 1998, so we’re 25 years old this year. I joined around 2017. Declan [Meade], who is the founding editor and the publisher at The Stinging Fly, and our current editor-at-large, Tom Morris, decided to expand the team to include contributing editors: writers that they had worked with closely and whose editorial style might align with theirs. The role involved reading submissions more than actual editing at that point. I was asked to guest-edit the special Galway issue celebrating the city’s designation as a European Capital of Culture in 2020. I was then appointed Lead Editor for our special All New Writers issue, in which we published writers whom we hadn’t previously worked with, and then I interviewed for, and was appointed to, the position of editor. I’m currently working on my second official issue, which is actually my fourth issue! I think any writer in Ireland working over the last 20 to 25 years would have considered The Stinging Fly as a place you’d like to see your work published. I knew what The Stinging Fly was all about when I started writing seriously myself. I knew that this was a great magazine, and it was where I wanted my short fiction to be published. When you’re beginning as a writer, it’s often the case that you’re very nervous about the world you’re stepping into and the people inhabiting it, and whether you’re even doing the right thing. I found at The Stinging Fly a team that was really welcoming and who in that welcome affirmed my decision to be a writer – it was a very writer-centric, writer-focused group, so obviously I wanted to be part of that. Gwen Burlington: I started Mirror Lamp Press (MLP) because I was kind of frustrated as a writer, especially when it came to being edited, and I wanted to demystify that process for myself. That was one of the motivations in the very beginning. Orit: Are we all writers? Liam Harrison: I belong more to the “I’ve written an essay one time” category. Gwen: My background is art criticism. I felt that, when writing art reviews, it ends up perpetuating the art world, as opposed to your own voice as a writer. I would get edits back that I wouldn’t really understand, or wouldn’t really grow or learn from, and I was just getting quite frustrated by it. Most editors seem to be originally writers, and I’m curious to see how you can get into that from a different route. With MLP, we wanted to create a space where writers were edited with care and rigour. Something more discursive. We aim our edits not to be “No, you have to change this” but more like a conversation. And that’s what we’ve been doing, to varying degrees of success. Liam: I love that idea of care plus rigour and combining both. Sometimes there is just care and no rigour to the process, or sometimes edits can feel rigorous and there’s no care. You need both. None of us Tolka founders are writers. I come from an academic background, and I worked in

Roundtable book distribution in Dublin before that. I didn’t learn loads about publishing there; it’s not where I learned to be an editor, but I did become very familiar with literary magazines in Ireland. And it’s where I met Seán [Hayes]. Seán has gone on to do great things in publishing. Catherine [Hearn] has a background in fundraising and now works for the Women’s Council of Ireland, and I have an English Literature PhD in twenty-first century responses to modernism and teach creative writing. Obviously, there’s lots of editing that comes down to experience, but with enough rigour and care, you can wing it to an extent too. We had a few clear ideas from the start with Tolka – it was going to be nonfiction, open to experimental writing, promote new writers as well as writers we love, and we stumbled upon the phrase ‘formally promiscuous’, which started as a joke, and ran with it. Those were the foundations. Orit: Did you have any role models when you started out? Liam: The Stinging Fly, gorse, and The Dublin Review, for sure. And then The White Review in the UK and some American magazines as well, like n+1. Nonfiction had been quietly celebrated for a long time in Ireland before Tolka got going. A kind of essayism, as Brian Dillon calls it, had been fermenting. I actually wanted to sneak some fiction in, and we published one great story by Dearbhaile Houston in the first issue, but Seán and Catherine persuaded me that we needed a ‘USP’ and told me what that meant… [it means Unique Selling Point]. All the other journals in Ireland definitely helped – it felt like we were joining a great movement. How did you guys find that, Gwen? Gwen: I think at the time, in terms of art criticism, it was coming from a place where there was a real paucity of places to publish – that’s certainly changed now. So, I found I was often publishing with UK publications, and I wanted to create that space, or more of a space for that in Ireland. Ironically, we don’t publish much art criticism in MLP; it just hasn’t worked out that way. Neither I nor Eoghan McIntyre, who I co-edit with, have literary backgrounds; we both trained as artists and both had an interest in writing about art or in writing within a visual arts landscape. We apply for visual arts funding – it’s not literature funding. For us it feels more dynamic and could be a bit more experimental in form, in terms of audio and video formats. What we actually modelled MLP on, was closer to Five Dials, which is published by Hamish Hamilton [an imprint of Penguin Books] as a free PDF. It felt very playful and unfixed; sometimes it was long, sometimes it was short, sometimes it had lots of different types of writing in it. We wanted to be dynamic and responsive in that way. When we were originally setting up MLP, I was reading a book by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009). I was interested in words and that’s when I decided we would have a structure of subject, object, verb, word, so the issues are linguistically structured. You respond to a subject, or you respond to a word, and I wanted to angle it so that we were paying more attention to the linguistic environment that we were

inhabiting, particularly in the art world. Nathan: I actually did my PhD on a particularly eccentric early-twentieth century art magazine editor, Wyndham Lewis. He edited BLAST from 1914 to 1915, which is still a startlingly brilliant publication, a concentration of avant-garde energy. I wouldn’t hold Lewis up as a role model or anything – he was awful, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, all of that – but there was something astonishing about how he worked with and thought about publishing, in relation to class and ideology. So, I suppose that cued me up for thinking about the politics of publishing. Later I learned from contemporary artists, and from activist publishing too, how publishing can be a tool, and the freedom it affords. So that’s there for me in the background. This probably sounds a bit naive or credulous, but I do think there’s something liberating about publishing. You can collaborate and develop ideas and then just get it all out in the world. Susan: As we already had some well-established and much respected literary journals, I had to hit the ground running with gorse. I spent some time in the National Library of Ireland looking at some mid-century journals, The Bell being one of them. But also what was being produced elsewhere. Maria and Eugene Jolas’s Transition journal was a huge influence, both in style and content. And The White Review, a natural continuation of that Left Bank ideology. Thinking of the space of the page, and how you’re going to fill that interior space, I borrowed the inside layout from a CIA-funded arts journal called Perspectives, that had amazing covers by Paul Rand and Alvin Lustig, but had to adapt it to fit the form of a B-format book. Orit: I’d like to ask about editorial priorities. What leads you, when thinking about what you do? What are the values of your publication? Lisa McInerney: Sometimes I see this anxiety from writers about what they should write or what kind of writer they should be to get published in The Stinging Fly. Our answer is always similar: we don’t know. What you write has to be the thing that only you could have written. It has to be the thing that excites you, because what excites you will come across in your work, and that will be exciting for us to read. Obviously, we are interested in spectacular writing. That’s what we want. We want original and innovative and exciting work. We also have a commitment to social justice. That’s part of our strategy; it’s part of who we are. The values of art in general – exploration and expansiveness and generosity and humanity – are the values we want to reflect in the stories, the essays, the poetry, and the novel extracts that we publish. I’m excited about the fact that The Stinging Fly publishes a lot of new writers. Our whole thing is ‘new writers, new writing’, and we are definitely committed to finding and working with and developing new voices. I think that the reason Irish writing is in such a strong place, and this is probably true for all facets of culture in Ireland, is because generally we tend to be supportive of each other. I know this is a blanket statement, but here in Ireland we tend to be very good at helping out the generation after us, or


helping to open doors or keep them open, or not pulling the ladder up after us. One really practical way for me to do that is to be an editor, to work with writers and to help them get ready for publication and to get their work out there. The Stinging Fly has been growing in international presence in recent years as well, and it’s great to be able to publish new international voices. For example, in the last issue we had a story by a writer from Lesotho, which is a writing culture we hadn’t published from before. In the coming issue we have a story by a Ugandan writer, another new writing culture for us. When I talk about values, that relates to a sense of humanity and generosity; the idea that you make the world feel – I won’t say smaller, but more connected in some tiny way. You have a shared space that’s made more compassionate, I suppose, through the sharing of work, the sharing of writing and the telling of stories. So, yeah, that very lofty tale of intent. Nathan: PVA has its roots in the contemporary art world, so what we do always reflects that. We try to cover a range of art practices too, through reviews or by commissioning artists, or working with artists as editors. We have been publishing books for several years now, too. We started by inviting artists to edit books based on their practices, which has been a really rich process, seeing where an artist’s practice can lead a book. We’ve worked with artists like Emma Wolf-Haugh, Dennis McNulty, Fergus Feehily, or last year with writer Wendy Erskine. We have also started publishing other books, an essay collection on animals, and a forthcoming collection on music. So, we are interested in this intersection between art and writing and always thinking about different ways to explore it. Susan: I think that Stéphane Mallarmé’s idea of limit – and of space beyond limit, and the space defined by limit – is one that I’m continuously thinking about. Constraints and how to navigate them. Transgress them. Gorse is not necessarily interested in conventional forms of writing, rather the idea, or style, or tone. And when you enlarge the definition of ‘literature’ – ignore traditional modes of writing – interesting things start to happen, and ‘literature’ can take unusual forms. We’re all for allowing space to explore not only form but process too. Gwen: At MLP, we are trying to create a space for writers to breathe. A space that isn’t caught up in the schedule of exhibitions. We want to give a really long editing process, to give time – obviously that hasn’t always worked, but still, that’s the aim – a space where we are sensitive with writers going forward. In terms of what we publish, the forms are always different in our issues. We kind of just go with that. We’ve done a mixture of open calls and commissions. Originally, it was mainly commissioning and then we did one open call. I remember listening to one of the audio launches of The Stinging Fly and one of the editors read out the submissions numbers and it was insanely high, maybe over a thousand? Lisa: It is about 3000 submissions for each issue, across all the categories that we do. In the last one we got about 1500 stories.


Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023


Gwen: We go back and forth about this. We think we should we do open calls, or some form of submissions, but it’s just so time consuming. You get such a mixed bag. The last open call we did got traction on Twitter and then we received a lot of international submissions. We are funded by the Arts Council of Ireland and didn’t even know if we could publish these. I wonder, though, if this happens at your magazines – because we pitch ourselves as an Irish art and literary journal, a lot of people submit or pitch topics that are Irish, such as Irish mythology or fairy circles. I always wonder, is that because we say that we’re Irish? It doesn’t seem to be the same in the UK. We wondered if it had something to do with lockdown and people being at home, but it still comes up quite a lot. I’ve been thinking about it recently as almost like a fetishisation of Ireland, to the point where we were afraid we’d be pigeonholed and people would think this is the only type of writing we publish, that we have no international perspective at all. But it’s just what people seem to want to write about. Lisa: The last couple of years we’ve done a special call-out for cover art for The Stinging Fly. For the last one, we stipulated: “Please don’t send us something based around the fact that we’re an Irish literary journal. Just send us your work, in your style, reflecting your interests.” Because for the first call-out, we were getting lots of images of shamrocks and books. Which is not what we wanted at all. Liam: During lockdown, Tolka received a lot of Irish pieces, especially related to travel. A lot of people, when they couldn’t leave their homes, thought about travel. And the result was something like: “I’m sure this Irish magazine is really going to want to hear about my one trip to Dublin.” But there is a diaspora element to this as well. Obviously, there are lots of interesting questions to explore here, but I don’t believe in the idea of a monocultural, national literature, or a magazine that only wants to publish things about the place they are based in. We get queries about this as well, even though it’s in our submission guidelines that we accept and encourage international submissions. This goes back to Gwen commenting on the Arts Council. We promote and support Irish writing while also being an international magazine too. We published a piece by Mark O’Connell about the cultural and national legacy of James Joyce, which touches on some of these issues more eloquently than I can. Orit: What are the challenges of making a magazine? How do you support it? Does it feel sustainable? And then, what does it mean to try and promote Irish literature while also being global? And why is that important? Liam: The basis of Tolka’s funding is supporting local artists. The Arts Council supports us to support designers, writers, and artists in Ireland. But on the other hand, barring people based on their nationality, in terms of what we publish, seems wrong, and you want to put writers and cultures in conversation with each other. There are some exceptions though. Lisa, you recently did a fully Irish issue, right?

Fergus Feehily (Ed.), You & i are Earth, 2021, front and back covers; image courtesy of Fergus Feehily and Paper Visual Art Journal.

Lisa: Yes, it was dedicated to new writers. They had to be either Irish, or writers who called Ireland their home. So, there was room for people who had immigrated to Ireland as well. It wasn’t like: “show us your passport.” Liam: There’s also the workload to consider. You’ve got this amount of time carved out to, say, read submissions alongside other jobs and responsibilities, so sometimes setting parameters helps. In terms of the nuts and bolts of the funding: Tolka first applied for an Arts Council Literature Project Award and the magazine was originally meant to be a finite project. We didn’t really expect to get the funding, but we got support from other magazines which really helped, and then lots of wonderful writers sent us work for Issue One – like Brian Dillon, Jessica Traynor, Rob Doyle, and Doireann Ní Ghríofa. Then we’ve applied for bursary funding for the following three years. We’ve been able to increase the fees for contributors every year. We paid €150 per contributor the first year, €300 second year, €500 the third year, and we’ll keep paying writers more if we can. It’s great to be able pay a decent rate, and the Arts Council funding allows and absolutely encourages that. Lisa: It is interesting how when you’re working with a body like that, there are certain stipulations that can be positive. You need to be able to say that you are paying people a certain amount, you need to be able to prove that you are interested in, you know, implementing an EDI [equality, diversity and inclusivity] policy, conditions which provide a really good structure in terms of moving forward as a sustainable entity. Speaking as an editor of a literary magazine and also speaking as a writer, the

work that the Arts Council does in Ireland just cannot be underestimated. As a writer, to be able to apply for funding just to write a novel, just to fund some time and space in which to create art, is quite spectacular. Nathan: It’s definitely a challenge to keep a magazine going. I think it’s always been this way, for small magazines anyway. But yes, currently it’s particularly difficult. Print costs in particular are crazy. We are lucky – I mean PVA specifically but also the field of small magazine publishing in Ireland – to have support from the Arts Council. Subsidy is what keeps this ecosystem alive. But there is no coasting. You have to work at it. I don’t know that any small magazine can be sustainable really. I think of making magazines as an experimental, provisional process. You’re working with new writers, creating test beds, trying things out. There’s risk all the time. That’s why we do it, I think, or it’s why I do it at least, but I don’t think you can really call it ‘sustainable’… Gwen: We basically started with an Arts Council application. It’s been a bumpy road since but it’s what made it possible in the beginning and determines what we can do. Every time we reapply, we reassess what’s worked and what hasn’t, what we can do this time round. The time that we can dedicate to it is also a big deciding factor. Orit: Can we talk about scale? What is your distribution and circulation, and who do you think of as your readers? Nathan: PVA have always had a core relationship to artists and the art world. That’s where the journal sits. The magazine is stocked at art bookshops and book fairs in Ireland. And our artist-edited books would

have an international reach too. So that is an important readership for us. But our scale has really expanded in the last year or so; we have been publishing books that are sitting in literary contexts, in bookshops, at literary festivals. So that has been a bit of a transition. It’s another world, with its own conventions and rules, which has been interesting to learn about. At the moment, we are trying to balance these two worlds, the two audiences, and maybe to bring some literary readers to art – and to Irish art in particular – as well. Susan: Gorse probably works to the smallest scale at the table here – 300 per print run – but that doesn’t impact on our reach. We make small print runs intentionally. Print may seem a little fetishistic, archaic, but given the impermanence of the internet, it offers a sense of permanence. It’s also an opportunity to be super analogue, to produce elegant publications, because of course print journals and periodicals aren’t supposed to be kept. Much like those original Penguin paperbacks, they’re designed to be disposable, and our intention was to make something people might want to hold on to. It’s a tried-and-tested form of offline curation, if you like. Plus, as it turns out, print can be greener. Gorse 10 was a limited edition, a mixed-media ‘book-ina-box’, featuring specially commissioned contemporary responses to ‘the readymade’ in literature from writers, poets, artists and translators based across Europe and North America. Thirteen separate contributions were presented in a range of media. I’m laughing now when I think of New Order’s Blue Monday (1983) and how it nearly broke Factory Records, because this nearly did. But for gorse 15, we’ll be going larger with a guest editor.

Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023

Liam: We print around 800 copies of Tolka per issue. We don’t always sell out. We are stocked in many Irish bookshops who have been super supportive, all around the country, and then I also take copies to English bookshops. There are some very supportive English bookshops, but it’s different in Ireland, where support for magazines is engrained in the cultural vocabulary. Not to veer into cliché territory, but the communal aspect that Lisa has touched on, that people are just up for supporting new things and new ventures, is very prominent in Ireland. It’s quite hard to gauge readership. I know The Stinging Fly do great data analysis in terms of who is submitting to the magazine, and I can imagine some of those questions extend to who is reading and buying it. In terms of Tolka readership and subscribers, we try to publish quite playful ‘promiscuous’ nonfiction – spanning essays, biographical writing, and formal experiments – so hopefully we pick up a lot of readers there, as well as people interested in life writing, and, of course, Fitzcarraldo Editions hipsters. We’re publishing a translation from E.M. Cioran’s Cahiers, translated by Patrick James Errington, in our new issue, which is an extract from a future Fitzcarraldo publication. Basically, if you’ve read Annie Ernaux and you want to read more innovative life writing, come read some Tolka! Or if you’ve written some, submit to us! Lisa: The Stinging Fly print run is about 2000 copies per issue. Sometimes we do a second run. In terms of our readers, I would like to think it’s people with an interest in the short story, the essay, and the state of writing in Ireland – people who want to support the scene. We also have quite a few subscribers overseas, in the US and UK, in particular. I’m pretty sure that we don’t have any subscribers in Uganda, so the contributors’ copy that will go out to the Ugandan writer we’re publishing this year will likely be the first print copy to reach Uganda. Finally, we’re getting into the East African market! Gwen: Being fully online, MLP’s reach is kind of like a mailing list. We’re a much younger publication with about 500 subscribers. Our readership is very much a contemporary art audience. I’ve learned to be accepting that art isn’t for everyone. That said, being digital, we are free to download and thus are widely accessible. If what we publish makes someone go to an exhibition or consider something differently, then I consider it a success. When I was in college, I wanted to read all of the art magazines, but I could never afford to subscribe to them. I wanted MLP to be readily available to a younger audience who couldn’t afford to buy art journals. Every time Eoghan and I discussed making a physical manifestation of what we’re trying to do, we crunched the numbers, and the printing cost didn’t seem worth it. The vast majority of our funding goes directly to the artists, writers, and designers we work with, and at the moment, we prefer to keep doing that rather than trying to make a print issue. Liam: We were having a chat the other day at Tolka about the opposite; we started as a print-only journal and have recently thought more about digital, partly for the reasoning you touch on, Gwen, in terms of readership and being able to share writ-

Roundtable ing as quickly and widely as possible. Our website is not the same as the print journal. It doesn’t have the same level of finesse as an artistic object. But we have published some great new writing exclusively on our website recently – there’s a piece by Joanna Pidcock and her literary doppelganger Joanna Pocock, and a great interview with Noreen Masud by Doreen Cunningham. I see the advantage of sharing work digitally, but in terms of finding our audience, I hope people go to the bookshop and pick up a physical copy of Tolka, or subscribe, but we’ve got to reach readers in other ways too. It always comes down to resources, though, doesn’t it? You can’t do everything perfectly. Lisa: Everything comes down to these real practical limitations of available resources. At The Stinging Fly, we do also publish things specifically for our online platform. Subscribers can access the archive and read anything, but for people who are unable to subscribe, there will always be new work on the website to read, whether it’s reviews or essays on craft or new short stories. This is a great thing to be able to do and, again, not everybody has the chance to do it. But it’s great to have that kind of point of access for people who are maybe starting out, or maybe students who can’t add a journal subscription to their budget, or who can’t subscribe for whatever reason. I hope it shows that we are there, and that we are accessible and that we are open and welcoming. Hopefully, this provides the kind of first point of access for building a relationship with a new reader. Gwen Burlington is a founding editor, with Eoghan McIntyre, of the free quarterly magazine, Mirror Lamp Press (MLP).

Liam Harrison is a founding editor of the non-fiction literary journal, Tolka.

Lisa McInerney is editor of The Stinging Fly, a magazine and imprint with a particular interest in promoting the short story.

Nathan O’Donnell is editor of Paper Visual Art (PVA) which publishes journals, books, and online texts focusing on visual art, contemporary culture, and literature.

Susan Tomaselli is founder and editor of gorse, a print journal published in Dublin, featuring longform narrative essays, original fiction, poetry, and interviews.

Top: Paper Visual Art Journal, Volume 14, Autumn 2022; cover image courtesy of PVA. Bottom: Mirror Lamp Press, Issue 8, artwork by Cillian Finnerty; cover image courtesy of Mirror Lamp Press.



Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023


Chromatology MÓNICA DE LA TORRE ASSEMBLES EXTRACTS OF WRITING ON COLOUR IN RESPONSE TO DONALD JUDD’S WORKS. “Words to describe colors are scarce.” Donald Judd makes this assertion in the essay ‘Some Aspects of Color in General and Red and Black in Particular’, in which he discusses his wielding of color and space in the series of painting/object hybrids, commonly known as ‘The Multicolored Works’ that he began in 1984. He goes on to describe colours as acid, clear, sharp, dark, stained, soft, full, dull, and so on, yet the truth of his claim is evinced by the obduracy of the colours he uses in these works. These are colours that stop you in your tracks by the undecodable semiotics of their combinations, neither ‘harmonious’ nor ‘inharmonious in reaction’; by their radical equality and self-sufficiency; by their refusal to evoke anything other than themselves. He goes on to write, “No immediate feeling can be attributed to color… Its existence as it is the main fact and not what it might mean, which may be nothing.” How to articulate the exuberance of the sensations it evokes presented in the works’ various rhythmical arrangements? Words fall short in comparison. Asked to respond to an exhibition of these works at the Pulitzer Foundation of the Arts in St. Louis in 2013, all I could do was to write through them, allowing myself to receive their instruction. This often is my approach to ekphrasis. Rather than putting words into an artwork’s figurative mouth, I experiment with translating process and the handling of materials into a verbal medium. Judd’s palette came from the RAL colour chart, a system regulating industry standards; originally, he figured out combinations by collaging printed colour samples. That inspired me to collage printed matter for my poems. To each of the colours in Judd’s works, I intuitively associated particular writers, selecting passages of theirs that in one way or another evoked colour’s vibrant effects on the retina. Quotes oscillated in length from 30 to 60 to 90 words, following the measurements of the steel aluminium units screwed together in Judd’s works. The rest I assembled much like he did: combining my blocks of sourced text in accordance with the sequences in ‘The Multicolored Works’. Keys accompany the following examples. Donald Judd, Untitled, 1984 (84-84), Main Gallery, HHW Private Foundation, Vienna; photograph by Florian Holzherr, courtesy of the Pulitzer Art Foundation, © 2023 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / IVARO, Dublin.

(85-11) systematize confusion and thereby contribute to discrediting the world of reality. I like the rule that corrects the emotion. what’s most real is the illusions I create. my memory is. as if the sea should part, and show a further sea—and that—a further—and the three but a presumption be—of periods of seas—unvisited of shores—themselves. water makes many beds for those averse to sleep—its awful chamber open stands—its curtains blandly sweep—abhorrent is the rest in undulating rooms whose amplitude no end invades—red and black represent life, a supernatural and excessive life: the eye’s black frame renders the glance penetrating, giving it the decisive appearance of a window open upon the infinite; and the range that sets fire to the cheek-bone goes to increase the brightness of the pupil and adds to a beautiful woman’s face the mysterious passion of a priestess. makeup doesn’t have the need to hide itself or to shrink from being suspected; on the contrary, let it display itself, at least it does so with frankness and honesty. a shining indication of yellow consists in there having been more of the same color than could have been expected when all four were bought. this necessarily spread into nothing. bananas—I got lusting palate—I always eat them—I feel whoozy! I don’t hanker after billy boys—but I am entitled to be deeply shocked. a dozen cocktails—please—automatonguts, rotating appetite—upbear against insensate systems systematical mechanism’s selferecting—annihilating cutchew immortality’s timeless digestive phallic act’s vacuity! cultivating primeval sense’s instinctive caution: “keep smiling!” act—go on—industry uninvestigated! systematize confusion and thereby contribute to discrediting the world of reality. I like the rule that corrects the emotion. what’s most real is the illusions I create. my memory is a color film, technically superior to commercial films. I prefer black-and-white film: it’s more severe and suits my taste for analysis. it’s also different from this reserve stock of images. an artistic theory will function for the artistic product in the very same way as the artistic product itself functions as advertising for the order under which it is produced. (side view) makeup doesn’t have the need to hide itself; it will function as advertising for the order under which it is produced. let it display itself, at least it does so with frankness and honesty. black-and-white film: it’s severe and suits my taste for analysis. let it display this reserve stock of images. Donald Judd, Untitled, 1989 (89-96), Entrance Gallery, Collection of John and Sally Van Doren; photograph by Florian Holzherr, courtesy of the Pulitzer Art Foundation, © 2023 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / IVARO, Dublin.

KEY: 30 60 90 traffic black (Broodthaers) / turquoise blue (Dickinson) / black red (Baudelaire) saffron yellow (Stein) / sulfur yellow (Von Freytag-Loringhoven) / traffic black (Broodthaers)

Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023



(85-14) one day I am thinking of a color: orange. I write a line about orange. pretty soon it is a whole page of words, not lines. then another page. there… systematize confusion and thereby contribute to discrediting the world of reality. I like the rule that corrects the emotion. what’s most real is the illusions I create. my memory is. the tulips are too excitable, it is winter here. look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in. as the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands. a shining indication of yellow consists in there having been more of the same color than could have been expected when all four were bought. this necessarily spread into nothing. (side view) one day I am thinking of a color: orange. I write a line about orange. the tulips are too excitable, it is winter here. look how white everything is, how pretty soon it is a whole page of words, not lines. then another page. there… quiet, how snowed-in. as the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands. one day I am thinking of a color: orange. I write a line about orange. the tulips are too excitable, it is winter here. look how white everything is, how. (opposite side view) systematize confusion and thereby contribute to discrediting the world of reality. I like the rule a shining indication of yellow consists in there having been more of the same color that corrects the emotion. what’s most real is the illusions I create. my memory is than could have been expected when all four were bought. this necessarily spread into nothing. systematize confusion and thereby contribute to discrediting the world of reality. I like the rule a shining indication of yellow consists in there having been more of the same color. KEY: 30 30 traffic orange (O’Hara) / traffic black (Broodthaers) pure white (Plath) / saffron yellow (Stein) (85-19) red and black represent life, a supernatural and excessive life: the eye’s black frame renders the glance penetrating, giving it the decisive appearance of a window open upon the infinite; and moan in the flames of your hidden equator for it is just that a man not look for his pleasure in the forest of blood of the following morning. in burr side out sights hearing disks blinking face blindly passing car’ slights of sound stinging lies beside in the glass something never seen again a face among the wheels. water makes many beds for those averse to sleep—its awful chamber open stands—its curtains blandly sweep—abhorrent is the rest in undulating rooms whose amplitude no end invades— (side view) red and black represent life, a supernatural and excessive life: the eye’s black frame renders in burr side out sights hearing disks blinking face blindly passing car’ slights of sound the glance penetrating, giving it the decisive appearance of a window open upon the infinite; stinging lies beside in the glass something never seen again a face among the wheels. red and black represent life, a supernatural and excessive life: the eye’s black frame renders in burr side out sights hearing disks blinking face blindly passing car’ slights of sound. (opposite side view) and moan in the flames of your hidden equator for it is just that a water makes many beds for those averse to sleep—its awful chamber open stands—its man not look for his pleasure in the forest of blood of the following morning. curtains blandly sweep—abhorrent is the rest in undulating rooms whose amplitude no end invades— moan in the flames of your hidden equator for it is just that a man makes many beds for those averse to sleep—its awful chamber open stands—its curtains. KEY: 30 30 black red (Baudelaire) / blood orange (Lorca) black blue (Pritchard) / turquoise blue (Dickinson) Mónica de la Torre is a poet and essayist whose most recent book is Repetition Nineteen (Nightboat Books, 2020).

Donald Judd, Main Gallery; photograph by Florian Holzherr, courtesy of the Pulitzer Art Foundation, © 2023 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / IVARO, Dublin.


Charles Baudelaire, ‘In Praise of Cosmetics’, in Jonathan Mayne (trans. and ed.), The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays (New York: Phaidon, 1965). Marcel Broodthaers, ‘My Memory Is a Film in Color’ and ‘View’ in Gloria Moure (ed.) Marcel Broodthaers: Collected Writings (Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafa, 2012). Emily Dickinson, poems 720, ‘As if the Sea should part’ and 898, ‘An Hour is a Sea’ in R.W. Franklin (ed.) The Poems of Emily Dickinson (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1999). Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, ‘A dozen cocktails – please’ and ‘Constitution’ in Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelazo (eds.) Body Sweats: The Uncensored Writings of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011). Federico García Lorca, ‘Ode to Walt Whitman,’ After Lorca (1957) in Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian (eds.) My Vocabulary Did This To Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008). Marianne Stockebrand (ed.), Donald Judd: The Multicolored Works (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014). Frank O’Hara, ‘Why I Am Not a Painter’ in Donald Allen (ed.), The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara (New York: Random House, 1974). Sylvia Plath, ‘Tulips’, in Ariel (New York: Harper & Row, 1966). N.H. Pritchard, ‘Subscan’ in The Matrix: Poems 1960–1970 (New York: Doubleday, 1970). Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons: The Corrected Centennial Edition (San Francisco: City Lights, 2014).



Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023

The Day After Tragedy, Lunch Beneath Whistlejacket AEA VARFIS-VAN WARMELO

gesturing up to him, showing &: 1/ (sliding back to my start, pinging full-throttle & throated, thinking of crying for no reason, being / &, being — measuring seconds in the thumb flicked / mane / blown back, thinking yes all at once and for what reason? / worrying when the being of all things is guaranteed even when they aren’t anymore, yes, so what of loss, so what —— secularising myself, devoting myself, looking out & in,) 2/ saying names when I’m describing the light —— knowing the technique, imagining the hand, organising context like it is telling a story, which it is, telling it well, bringing the horse to double life 3/ talking of texture and glistening, anatomising (remembering descriptions of injury / feeling them prickle across — remembering like looking & looking like I cannot stop // trying /- failing, some kind of —— gouging) letting us imagine Stubbs as divine &, dispelling the myth, secularising ourselves, devoting ourselves to re/looking, distracting ourselves (not thinking of myself ) 4/ (thinking of what is to come, seeing it clearly) 5/ saying emotional states are a kind of landscape, you see, in some philosophies / (later describing the feelings as a series of images: the fall, the strike, the flash, the cry, the shadow it left on the ground) —— (resisting, yielding, cusping the threshold,) (admitting the second life of visual memory, letting it in, facing both ends at once:) (starting and ending, seeing and remembering, imagining and being:) (facing them both, provoking one) 6/ pointing to the hooves, defining the two shadows, saying he is grounded by them, evidencing the contact / disproving the canvas, proving the realm, / the double life, the perfect figure, in empty space, the nothing but —— 7/ (seeing the black shadow of a levade in my sleep, where I cannot help but see — feeling / the visual plane conspire against me, seeing the faces again /& again through eyes open shut,/ lingering, sickening, staring) turning away, releasing his gaze & thinking of him lowering, all hooves touching all earth — casting four shadows Aea Varfis-van Warmelo is a British-Greek writer and poet based in London. Her work has appeared in various journals and her debut pamphlet, Intellectual Property, was published by Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art.

The Visual Artists' News Sheet


Edition 70: November – December 2023

Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay-Terk, La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France (Paris: Éditions des hommes nouveaux, 1913), section 3, gift of Dr Gail Levin, 2021; image courtesy of The Morgan Library & Museum.


Visual Artists' News Sheet | November – December 2023

‘Human Is’ Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin 19 March – 23 July 2023

Joachim Bandau, Schwarzes ruhendes Schlauchmonstrum, 1972; Diane Severin Nguyen, For me, years, 2023, Reunification Palace, 2023, and From Cynic to Saint, 2023; photograph by Frank Sperling, courtesy of the artists, Neues Museum Nuremberg and Schinkel Pavillon.

LESTER IS THE absent protagonist of Philip K. Dick’s

1955 short story, ‘Human Is’. An abusive husband, he leaves for a research trip on a distant planet to study toxins and returns a caring and attentive partner to Jill. It transpires that an alien has seized Lester’s body. Jill decides to keep the impersonator, whose notion of human relationships was learned through heavy consumption of 1950s romance novels, the type of cheap paperbacks written by frustrated American women newly relegated to the kitchen after the relative emancipation afforded them by the Second World War. I expected the exhibition ‘Human Is’ at the Schinkel Pavillon, which borrows Dick’s title, to be an exploration of scientist-husbands’ toxic masculinity, or a call to abandon marriage for interspecies sexual experimentation. Instead, the show presents 19 artists whose work probes humanity, the exhibition text reads, “as a contestable and reversible category.” Mike Kelley’s mixed-media sculpture, Kandor 5 (2007) dominates the first room. It looks like what it refers to, a glowing futuristic rock city, shrunk to a fraction of its original size and captured beneath a large bell jar. The ‘Kandor’ series is named after the capital of Krypton, a fictional planet tragically destroyed, leaving Superman stranded on Earth. In an adjacent alcove, Sidsel Meineche Hansen’s CGI animation, SECOND SEX WAR ZONE (2016) shows the virtual character EVA v3.0 having extremely uninteresting penetrative sex. In both works, alienation is figured by a nonhuman element. Like Hansen, Ian Cheng’s Emissary Sunsets The Self (2017) is focused on simulated sensation and algorithmic encounter. Cheng’s animation employs a video

game engine to render a world set several millennia in the future. Its virtual environment is governed by a bored artificial intelligence named MotherAI that is trying to die by destabilising the game-world’s ecosystem. Both CGI realms are saturated by a latent nihilism absent from Dick’s science fiction. Joachim Bandau’s fiberglass and polyester resin sculptures, which surround the giant screen on which MotherAI performs her radical mutations in code, do not lighten the mood. Wasserwerfer (1974) and Schwarzes ruhendes Schlauchmonstrum (1972) are the despondently grotesque offspring of the postwar human drive to automation and medical prosthetics. Formally juxtaposed to these, the two artworks that come closest to Dick’s thesis are Sandra Mujinga’s Love Language (2) and (3) (2023). Made of aluminium and steel, these sculptures resemble armor for elephant trunks, an impression confirmed by Mujinga’s source material, which includes physiognomic strategies animals develop to make themselves imperceptible to predators. The figures pay homage to another foundational author of the sci-fi genre, Octavia Butler, whose trilogy Lilith’s Brood explores the existence of beings genetically manufactured to combine alien Onkali genetic material with that of humans to eliminate some of humanity’s more destructive characteristics. ‘Human Is’ gives form to a deep insecurity about the status of humans today, but it pivots more on humans’ vulnerability to technological and organic difference rather than any productive sense of mutability. Further, the science fiction underpinning the project is based on literature produced in relation to the Cold War. Today’s science fiction poses the problem of the human

quite differently, with many in the field now imagining ‘humanity’ as a political category to which certain rights pertain rather than an essential form of consciousness. Arkady Martine’s masterful A Memory Called Empire (2019) revolves around a small colony that secretly breeds highly evolved human-machine hybrid beings to resist normative hegemony represented by empire. In N. K. Jemisin’s The City We Became (2020), superhuman avatars for New York’s five boroughs are locked in an existential struggle with evil developers for the soul of the city. Ann Leckie’s multi-book series centres on the moral awakening of an artificial-intelligence-cum-space-warship named Ancillary Justice and tells the story of her revolt against the inhumanity of her human emperor in defence of a diverse understanding of sentience. In other words: sci-fi’s main anxiety at present is the human capacity to relegate life beyond the scope of its responsibility, not the inverse. This preoccupation reflects the rise of the far right and its pervasive and psychotic denial of human entanglement with everything else in the universe. Hansen’s VR sex dolls, Mike Kelley’s monuments to Superman’s loss, and Mujinga’s metallic defence mechanisms may correspond to yesterday’s fiction, but they do little to reflect on the fortress that is being erected around conservative definitions of humanity today. Natasha Marie Llorens is an independent curator and writer based in Stockholm, where she is professor of art and theory at the Royal Institute of Art.

Visual Artists' News Sheet | November – December 2023


Top Left: WangShui, Fundamental Attribution Error, 2023, LED mesh, AI-generated video; photograph by Frank Sperling, courtesy of the artist and High Art, Paris; Middle Left: ‘Human Is’, installation view, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin; photograph by Frank Sperling, courtesy of the artists and Schinkel Pavillon; Bottom Left: ‘Human Is’, installation view, Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin; photograph by Frank Sperling, courtesy of the artists and Schinkel Pavillon; Top Right: Mike Kelley, Kandor 5, 2007, mixed media on illuminated base with video and sound; photograph by Frank Sperling, courtesy of Sammlung Ringier, Zurich, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023; Bottom Right: Ivana Bašić, Belay My Light, the Ground Is Gone, 2018, wax, pink alabaster, blown glass, breath, dust, weight, oil paint, pressure, stainless steel; photograph by Frank Sperling, courtesy of the artist.


Visual Artists' News Sheet | November – December 2023

Nour Mobarak, ‘Dafne Phono’ Municipal Theatre of Piraeus, Greece 20 July –16 September 2023 THE MORNING AFTER I saw Nour Mobarak’s interspe-

cies performance installation, Dafne Phono, I woke to a ghostly choir of dissonant angels. In that hazy space between sleep and wakefulness, I listened, head frozen on my pillow, beguiled, bemused, slightly concerned (is this real?) as a swell of voices glanced around my body. The experience of listening, seeing, moving through the sculptures, soundscapes and provocations of Dafne Phono is an all-encompassing, dreamy, unhinged experience with long-lingering after-effects. It is hugely complex, madly ambitious, and impossible to detail in a short review, but here are some bones to frame the conversation. We are in a municipal theatre in the Greek port of Piraeus, a neo-classical interior with plush red velvet seats and tiers of gold-crested balconies. The stage is set with a tableau of sculptures that take the form of truncated columns, an enormous prism and clam shell, a skeletal spine, and a snaky, luminous green, amoeba-like form. Human voices, bird song, music and other sounds emanate from the sculptures, linked – we presume – to a screen that provides a scripted translation of the narrative. These bodies speak, sing and chime over each other, creating a lilting cacophony of polyphonic sound. Mobarak has taken the world’s first opera, Dafne, composed and written in 1598 by Ottavio Rinuccini and Jacopo Peri, and translated each of the four main characters’ lines into fantastically distinct and distinctive languages. In search of the widest possible palette of human vocal sounds, her forensic research led her to some of the most phonetically complex languages still in existence. Each voice speaks or sings the myth of Daphne and Apollo, as told by Ovid in Metamorphosis, in which Daphne’s polite but firm rebuke to Apollo’s advances (“Other than my arrow, I do not want any companion; farewell.”) are met with the threat of rape. She morphs into a laurel tree to escape his will and remains forever trapped in this new form, while Apollo sits in her shade playing love songs on a lyre, with all the tone-deaf commitment of a romantic aggressor. Mobarak extends this metaphor of the silencing of Daphne to the eradication of thousands of languages, animals, insects, and plant species that has taken place over the last century under the sway of global capitalism and the machinery of extraction. The sculptures assume the language of nature in their live, rhizomatic form: Mobarak spent two years growing the mycelium (a network of fungal threads) from which they are made. Collaborating with a mushroom farm on Evia, an island near the Greek mainland, she spawned, dried, petrified and sculpted these strange hybrid shapes, making things that defy our entrenched view that animate things must at some point become inanimate. It is a rhizomatic story in which artforms (music, art, poetry, literature), timeframes, and entirely divergent approaches to life, culture, modes of communication and thought are mobilised to investigate a rich spectrum of subjects including violence, translation, destruction, power dynamics, regrowth, and repetition. Things are broken down into their constituent parts – language into morphemes and phonemes, music into sound and noise, biological life into cellular matter, sculpture into its raw elements – and refashioned, ready to be made afresh. All this promiscuous intertwining of elements and disciplines is steeped in Mobarak’s life trajectory. She did seven years of classical voice training as a teenager; her great-great grandmother was an Ottoman court pianist; her mother was a Lebanese radio DJ and TV personality; and her father speaks four languages. Her sound work, Father Fugue (2019), is an achingly tender exploration of his long-term neurological condition which dictates that he can only sustain a line of thought for 30 seconds. She studied literature and media, is a costume designer, performance and voice artist, actor, poet, and musician. Through these multi-channelled

Both Images: Installation view, Nour Mobarak, Dafne Phono, Municipal Theatre of Piraeus, 2023; photographs by Stathis Mamalakis, courtesy of the artist and Municipal Theatre of Piraeus.

forms of communication and modes of play, Mobarak examines embodied and spontaneous approaches to art-making that is driven by the understanding that metamorphosis is the underlying principle that propels the universe. While I sit in this plush seat (the ghost of Susan Hiller hovering above me, her love letters to dying languages scattered at my feet), I understand that what I am looking at and listening to could never live up to its author’s ambitions which seem too strange, unwieldy, and wild for our familiar three-dimensional world. The work requires a fourth dimension, of language, space-

time and ‘objectness’ to do what it is striving to do, but it is this mode of experimentation, this generative and generous offering of and to multiple artforms, that is the thing that makes Mobarak’s endeavour so rich and worthwhile.

Jes Fernie is an independent curator and writer based in Essex.


Visual Artists' News Sheet | November – December 2023

‘Blaise Cendrars (1887–1961): Poetry Is Everything’ The Morgan Library & Museum, New York 26 May – 24 September 2023 FRÉDÉRIC-LOUIS SAUSER’S FIRST major

poem was the shedding of his name. Born in 1887 in Switzerland, he left home in his teens, drifting to Saint Petersburg and New York City, where he christened himself Blaise Cendrars, a play on the French for ‘ember’ (blaire) and ‘ash’ (cendre). The combination, a two-word ode to potential and rebirth, would prove a fitting choice. As detailed in the recent exhibition at The Morgan Library & Museum, ‘Blaise Cendrars (1887–1961): Poetry Is Everything’, Cendrars made a career of challenging the formal limits of the written word. If fuel could combust, then why not a page? For Cendrars, every poem had the potential to transcend text, and every painting or film strip the possibility of becoming concrete poetry. Curated by Sheelagh Bevan, ‘Poetry is Everything’ was the first exhibition to focus on Cendrars in the US and provided American audiences with an introduction to this lesser-known figure of transatlantic modernism. Although he refused to be formally affiliated with any movement or ‘ism’, Cendrars orbited the major avant-garde circles of the early 1900s, befriending the likes of poets Guillaume Apollinaire and Jean Cocteau, and painter Fernand Léger. This show comes on the heels of a 2022 English-language biography of Cendrars and is part of a growing body of scholarship that aims to make his poetry accessible to Anglophone audiences. This is important work, since as the exhibit made clear, Cendrars’s oeuvre is a critical piece of modern art and literary history. One of Cendrars’s most significant pieces, the monumental, illustrated poem, La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France (The Prose of the Trans-Siberian and of Little Jeanne of France), was made in collaboration with Sonia Delaunay-Terk and is a stunning example of Simultanism, the term Delaunay-Terk gave to her optical experiments with contrasting and complementary colours. Written in 1913, after Cendrars had traded New York for Paris, it was the first ‘simultaneous book’. Printed on a single long vertical sheet, it joins descriptions of a surreal coming-of-age journey between Moscow, the North Pole and Paris, with abstract compositions by DelaunayTerk intended to inject movement into the verses. Even behind a glass vitrine at the Morgan, the jagged stanzas undulated and oozed. The effect was like trying to read a poem on a pulsating dance floor, through the thick haze of the fog machine. Soon after the publication of La Prose du Transsibérien, the First World War broke out. Dutiful to his adopted country, Cendrars travelled to the Western front to volunteer with the French Foreign Legion. He returned to Paris in 1915 less his right forearm, a battlefield casualty that forced him to begin writing with his left hand. As outlined in a section titled ‘The Poetics of War’, the loss inspired a series of haunting meditations on the dehumanisation of combat that would, in turn, inform the visual art of Léger and Mexican Cubist painter Ángel Zárraga. In a black-and-white illustration for Cendrars’s 1917 volume, Profond aujourd’hui (‘Profound Today’), Zárraga depict-

Installation view, ‘Blaise Cendrars (1887–1961): Poetry Is Everything’, 2023; image courtesy of The Morgan Library & Museum, New York.

ed a prosthetic man, precariously scrapped together from metal and wood. Held up by a crutch, he is a poignant mascot of the impotence felt by so many veterans of the Great War. Though the memory of battle was painful, it could not stifle Cendrars’s curiosity or penchant for travel. As the rest of ‘Poetry is Everything’ surveyed, he spent the 1920s and ’30s experimenting across the arts: he worked with Cocteau and composer Erik Satie to promote experimental performance, voyaged across Brazil with Tarsila do Amaral, who provided the drawings for his 1924 Feuilles de route (‘Travel Notes’), and forayed into film and the graphic arts. A technological optimist at heart, Cendrars believed that movies and popular advertising spoke in a universal language that represented the next frontier of poetic expression and so he lent his words to intertitles for director Abel Gance, a luminary of the French silent cinema, and to posters by A.M. Cassandre, responsible for branding Dubonnet aperitifs. “In every city on earth, the crowd which exits the theatres… crushes the palaces, the prisons,” Cendrars mused, in a breathless 1917-21 reflection on the power of mass media and of mass politics. Whether projected on a screen or pasted on a building, printed in ink or jotted down in pencil, composed of words, or images, or both, every poem could be a powder keg. Hannah Stamler is a writer and PhD candidate in French History and Interdisciplinary Humanities at Princeton University.

František Kupka, Around a point, 1918, watercolor and gouache over graphite 10 7/8 x 9 1/2 inches (27.6 x 24.1 cm) Gift of Nancy Schwartz; image courtesy of The Morgan Library & Museum, New York.


Visual Artists' News Sheet | November – December 2023

‘The Weight of Words’ The Henry Moore Institute, Leeds 7 July – 26 November 2023

Shilpa Gupta, Words Come From Ears, 2018, Motion flapboard, 15-minute loop, 43 x 244 x 13 cm; photograph by Par Fredin, courtesy of the artist, Uppsala Art Museum, and the Henry Moore Institute.

THE WORKS SHOWN in ‘The Weight of Words’ force an

oscillation between looking and reading, with meaning produced by dint of a quivering discomfort. It can be difficult to look at artwork containing and featuring words, partly because as an aesthetic tactic, this has been so successfully recuperated into junk. Surely, I can’t be the only visitor thinking about some spoken-wordpoetry bank advert or a ‘live, laugh, love’ wall vinyl, whilst trying to reach a state of serious contemplation. But much of the work on show here is aware of its objecthood, meaning that the difficulty and discomfort in viewing also serve to highlight the points at which artworks cut through and connect on a level of genuine feeling, and this in turn speaks to the show’s invocation of ‘weight’, in both physical and emotional terms. The distorting lens of capitalist overproduction and the ubiquity of the printed word are intentionally present here, notably in Mark Manders’s Notional Newspapers (2005-22), which have been pasted over the gallery’s glass doors and seek to use every word in the English language once, and the work of Shanzhai Lyric, whose Incomplete Poem (hedge) (2023) forms a node in their ongoing research practice, which stems from an interest in shanzhai, a contemporary Chinese term for imitation counterfeit products, a parodic copy, like bootleg slogan T-shirts. Materials matter in Lyric’s sculptural border, built from bootleg clothing, with the title referring both to the contemporary global hedge fund and the history of enclosures in Britain. This is also true of Anthony (Vahni) Capildeo’s Word Fishing (2023), which is installed on the gallery’s black-green marble frontage. Addressing the building’s material

mineral history, this work consists of slippery phrases like “transparency changes at depth” rendered in cyan-blue vinyl illustrations of fish and text (made by illustrator Molly Fairhurst). This work is also perhaps the most troublesome in terms of its interaction with popular visual cultures, due in part to the peculiarities of this site. In the context of a post-industrial northern English city where practices of ‘artwashing’ are common, brightly coloured vinyl decorations or commissioned murals can signal an attempt to downplay economic mismanagement rather than creative flourishing. This reading, which might indicate naivety on the part of the artist, is contradicted by my previous experience of Capildeo’s work in an online conversation with artist Simone Forti as part of the Poetry & Sculpture research season which preceded this exhibition when it was delayed due to Covid-19. The seeming incongruity here exemplifies how economic and social context can distort artists’ intentions in interesting ways, and this is a sense that remains with me throughout. While it is impressive to encounter a breadth of artwork by artists of different generations and geographies, the exhibition as a whole can feel overwhelming and overcrowded. I find myself drawn to the works with a familiar sculptural materiality. In the stony silence of Doris Salcedo’s Untitled (2008), pieces of domestic wooden furniture are fused together by concrete, creating blocks of a statuesque but not monumental scale. The works of Simone Fattal with Etel Adnan, and Pavel Büchler are also sensitively placed in proximity with each other in the central room of three.

In Five Senses for One Death (2020) Fattal re-inscribed a poem of the same name by Adnan, originally written in watercolour and ink in 1969 with oxide on volcanic rock, whereas Büchler’s Still Life with Dust (2017) employs years’ worth of dust as ink. In these three works, a fragile sense of stability meets the possibility of being demolished and swept away. In the furthest room of the gallery are a selection of works in light and sound that exemplify communication and its impossibilities. Caroline Bergvall and Ciarán Ó Meachair’s Say Parsley (2001-23) has been adapted for this presentation to embrace local dialects and political history, with Irish and English pronunciation and spellings speaking against and over one another. The work’s title references a horrific recent example of shibboleth, where tens of thousands of Creole Haitians were massacred because they failed to pronounce perejil (parsley) in the accepted Spanish manner, and demonstrates how the works on view here contain such a depth of significance, in words and in presence. As such, those that have either been remade or commissioned for this exhibition assert themselves, alongside an extensive accompanying programme of events and new writing that emphasises how the themes invoked here are unconfined within the static and temporary exhibition.

Lauren Velvick is a curator and writer based in Huddersfield.

Visual Artists' News Sheet | November – December 2023


Top Left: Glenn Ligon, Warm Broad Glow, 2005, Neon and blackout paint; image © Glenn Ligon, courtesy of Hauser and Wirth and the Henry Moore Institute; Top Right: Mark Manders, Composition with All Existing Words / Perspective Study, 2005-2023, 85 x 67 x 4 cm, offset print on paper, wood; image courtesy the artist and Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp © Mark Manders, all rights reserved, DACS 2023 ; Middle Left: Issam Kourbaj, Dark Water, Burning World 148 moons and counting…, 2016, repurposed bicycle steel mudguards, extinguished matches and clear resin;photograph by Issam Kourbaj, courtesy of the artist and the Henry Moore Institute; Bottom Right: Shilpa Gupta, Words Come From Ears, 2018, on display at the Henry Moore Institute 7 July - 26 November 2023, photograph by Min Young Lim, courtesy of the artist and the Henry Moore Institute.; Bottom Left: Etel Adnan, Simone Fattal, Five Senses for One Death, 2020, ink on lava stones, variable dimensions, installation view of the group show AISTIT at Kunsthalle Helsinki, 2021 © Simone Fattal, all rights reserved, DACS 2023.


Extended Essay

Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023

Still from The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza), 2013, directed by Paolo Sorrentino; image courtesy of the writer.

I CAME OF age as an art dealer in the boom years for art fairs. The


contemporary art world had always been international, a realm of indistinguishable, tax-haven accents and non-commercial flights, but the advent of art fairs in the early 2000s turned the market’s stately merry-go-round into an unstable whirligig, spinning ever faster. When I started going to art fairs around 2008, I had no notion of how vital they would become to the contemporary art market and in turn to my own life. Within a few years, I began to delineate my mental calendar according to Frieze New York (May) and Frieze London (October). I travelled to countries and cities I would never otherwise have visited and when I arrived, I was always convinced that the whole of my flight must also be in town for the same reason as me. This was almost certainly never true, though a dealer friend recently told me of the collective groan that sounded when a delay was announced on an early morning flight BA from London to Switzerland on the first day of Art Basel: they would all miss the opening of the fair. Despite readily available evidence to the contrary, I passed many years labouring under the misapprehension that normal people – civilians – had a basic level of interest in and knowledge of the art world. I thought people cared when a new world record was set (yet again) for the highest price achieved at auction by a living artist; that people understood the difference between the primary and secondary markets; and that people know Banksy was no more of an artist than Donald Trump is a politician. I assumed not only that art mattered to people, but that the goings on of the industry – there, I said it – that surrounds art making and art selling and art appreciating was of interest to the wider public as well. I was wrong.

Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023

I worked in and around London’s contemporary art world for over a decade and learned two things: first, very few people ever go art galleries, and those who do are generally the same array of die-hards hoovering up the free beer at openings. Second, people’s understanding of what galleries do is often inaccurate. The most frequent question I was asked was: “Ah, you have a gallery. Is it mostly your own art that you show there?” I was always puzzled by these conversations, but it wasn’t until I stopped working in the art world and spent the ensuing three years writing a book about it that I asked myself why. Television is partly to blame. In show after show, contemporary art has become a lazily inserted on-screen signifier for extreme wealth. TV writers have needed something to separate the mere haves from the have-yachts. Onscreen, art collecting is used to signify urbanity and worldly sophistication. Mainly, however, it is synonymous with money. The contemporary art world may seem as if it’s about money and glamour and art but really it’s about access, the kind that mere money can’t buy. It’s an arena of engorged snobbery and outsized egos. This much is understood by Jesse Armstrong in Succession (2018), when a coked-up Kendall Roy ( Jeremy Strong) attempts to invest in an art fund called Dust run by two vertiginously hip young women. Like almost everyone who’s ever bought, framed and hung a print in their home, Kendall assumes that the art market is a wickedly easy arena in which to turn a buck: “Basically, you buy a painting from some art student in a basement, jack up the price, sell it to some Morgan Stanley sex pest, and you, me, and the student all get rich. Right? … I’m the asshole who can be your Warhol.” The women of Dust, of course, see straight through his dish-plate pupils and deep into his corporate lack-of-a-soul. They reject his overtures, explain they are “interested in increasing the reach of young artists… and the democratisation of art.” Even princeling Kendall, with all his daddy’s billions, is rejected by the gravitational snobbery of the art world. Real wealth, after all, isn’t quantified in actual money; it’s the ability to refuse more money.

Extended Essay years, Rob Pruitt’s glittery panda paintings were hot property and people climbed over each other to buy Dan Colen’s bubble gum paintings (literally gum stuck onto blank canvases) for high-six-figures. This tulipomaniacal behaviour was not rational; it wasn’t even funny. The art world isn’t meant to make sense. It’s not even meant to be fun. And sometimes it’s there to be endured. Take, for example, the moment of hysterical terror when a schoolboy catches a funny friend’s eye during a minute’s silence. Now crossbreed that with the sensation of catching your parents having sex in the kitchen and you will still not come close to the feeling of being in the audience for a bad work of performance art. This is, I am envious to say, something that few civilians have experienced, but in Paolo Sorrentino’s film La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty, 2013), we see a parody of this which comes brilliantly close to accuracy. We are in a garden, un giardino. Nearby, a woman in a negligee and wearing a cast on her leg writhes about on a chaise longue as she sings along to tepid house music. Before long, the camera cuts to a young girl, a child of about ten. Around her and around a wide rectangular expanse of white canvas are assembled an array of Roman aristocracy and haute-coutured art lovers. The girl picks up cans of paint, one after another, and in a flailing fit of tantrum, hurls it onto the canvas until she and it are an indiscernible swampy mess. Po-faced, the aristos and Serious Art People stand around, gazing earnestly at what they are sure must be a meaningful moment as the pre-pubescent child rages indiscriminately in the paint. This is art as self-improvement, like a green juice or a deep-tissue massage; it’s not fun, but you’re sure it’s doing you good, improving you somehow. Because frankly, why else would you sit through it? This sending up of performance art may seem the stuff of fantasy, as it does in The Square (2017) when a hulking, shirtless man imitates an ape in the midst of a museum’s gala dinner, but it hits far closer to home than many viewers would imagine. (To name names here would be cruel, but I

assure you I have ground my teeth to a paste standing – for some reason you always have to stand – in the audience of such performances.) And here we come to the crux of the matter: because the art world is so insular, so you-can’t-sit-here cool, the attempts by filmmakers and showrunners and script writers to depict the art world by means of imitation almost always fall flat. Knowingly or not, the only way that the contemporary art world can be depicted with any degree of accuracy is by means of parody. The scene that made me realise this for the first time came from an unlikely source: Beverly Hills Cop. In the 1993 film, Los Angeles Police Department detective Axel Foley (played with sumptuous comedic ease by Eddie Murphy in his pre-fat-suit heyday) visits an art gallery in order to see Jenny Summers, an old flame. Foley briefly examines the gallery installation – a nightmarish array of Koons-manqué mannequins, severed heads on rotating plates and, in the background, a rip-off of a Nam June Paik video tower – and soon starts to chortle softly to himself. He is approached by Serge (Bronson Pinchot), a diminutive art dealer with an indistinct European accent who seems to be simultaneously summoned and affronted by Foley’s laughter. “How you are doing today?” he asks with coquettish aplomb. “Hi,” Foley replies, clearly still reeling from his encounter with the installation. “I’m fine, my name is Serge and how can I help you?” When Foley tells Serge who he’s there to see, the dealer looks him quickly up and down, saying mock-apologetically, “She’s very busy today. … And what it’s pertaining?” After a gallery assistant is called for and curtly dispatched to look for Foley’s ex, Serge goes in for the kill: “I see you look at this piece,” he says leadingly. “Yeah, I was wondering,” Foley asks, “how much something like this went for.” “130,000 dollars,” comes the reply. “Get the fuck out of here!” “Noooo I cannot,” Serge wails, “I cannot. It’s serious because it’s very important piece.”

*** In the Before Times – before ‘contemporary art’ became a distinct category not just in marketing terms but also as a new asset class promising fast returns – the fashion world was where the rich and frivolous did their partying. From the YBAs onwards, however, the social side of the art world has ensured a constant supply of fresh capital into the market. It became the reason to take your boat to Hydra in the summer or Miami in December; the reason you ski in St Moritz and visit London in October. But you won’t keep getting invited unless you keep buying and a collector is only as good as their last acquisition. And you’ll only keep buying if you’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. I’m aware that I sound cynical – and with good reason, I am – but let me explain. Art matters, of course it does, but all art can’t matter in the way that the art world insists upon as its raison d’être. Especially for those selling it – but also, obviously, for those buying it – the market necessitates a willing suspension of common sense. For

Dominic West and Terry Notary in The Square, a Magnolia Pictures release; image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.


“Have you ever sold one of these?” “I sold it yesterday to a collector,” Serge snaps back seriously before Foley is rescued by the appearance of the woman he’d come to see. This may seem like the purest comedy, a farce concocted by someone with only the most risible notion of art galleries, but Serge’s softly dealt solecisms and his conviction of the installation’s importance strike a truer chord than almost any other depiction of the art world I have ever encountered. It perfectly captures the art world’s unencumbered vanity and its self-regard. I assume that the accuracy was unintended, but it might just be the best cinematic mistake ever made. Geoff Dyer really gets to the root of the matter in his novel, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi (Vintage, 2009). I read it around the time I had just started working in the art world. I knew it was meant to be funny (and it is), but I was struck too by how Dyer perfectly skewered the art world’s particular, peculiar absurdity. Journalist Jeff Altman is sent to Venice to write about the Venice Biennale but he does very little arting and instead gets smashed on free Bellinis, eats as many free arancini as he can and has a lot of sex with Laura, an art dealer from Los Angeles. On a vaporetto on his way to the Guggenheim Collection, he has a chance encounter: As Jeff makes his way to the front of the boat, he passes Richard Wentworth, wearing a Panama hat and a striped blue shirt, looking like he is starring in a TV adaptation of a novel about an artist who was also one of the Cambridge spies. “Thought for the week,” Wentworth says as Jeff squeezes by. “Art world, music business. What does that tell us?” To my mind, it tells us just about all we need to know. Orlando Whitfield is a failed art dealer. He has written for the Sunday Times, the Paris Review and the White Review. His art world memoir, All That Glitters: A Story of Friendship, Fraud and Fine Art, will be published by Profile Books in May 2024.


Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023

Extended Essay

Trinh T. Minh-ha, The Twofold Commitment (New York: Primary Information, 2023), interior view, pp 124–5; image courtesy of the artist and Primary Information.


TWOFOLD, WE MIGHT say, from a stage and from a screen, from a text and from the street. We might mean that the meaning or reasoning lies not in a set of oppositions but in both. The paradigm that we are avoiding – you know it – is constructed out of hierarchal binaries at once false and familiar. Male or female, north or south, memory or oblivion, this against that. But this is not our way. Instead, our duos of fold and feeling find relief in one matrixial surface, one irradiating body. Is this the other side of the coin of the demeaning double bind, in which one is ever trapped, always wrong? (And by one, we mean her.) And yet the bound implicitly suggests the fold; it does. Indeed, twofold makes me think of skin and paper, body and book, and again of some screen for both reflection and projection. Images, at once psychic and aesthetic, cross it, charting a continuum of movements – corporeal, political, theoretical, technological, musical, feminist – and their effects and affects. Sound waves or waves of love score these images. After all, it is only the most ardent self, critically interested and absolutely implicated, that readily accepts the idea of holding room for both – whatever those two might be – thereby bringing them into her life, her thought, her texts, her sounds, her images. By her, I mean Trinh T. Minh-ha (and perhaps the possibility of everyone else). But it is Trinh whose film Forgetting Vietnam (2015) opens by noting: “It all begins with two.” Stills from the film – all smeary digital colour, reds and greens and peachy pinks, both Hi-8 and HDV – also strobe the opening pages of The Twofold Commitment (Primary Information, 2023), Trinh’s new book of collected conversations from the past decade that limn and elucidate her filmic practice. A practice manifold yet lens-based in every sense, even when it is producing writing or sound, theory or poetry. If Trinh’s oeuvre famously encompasses postcolonial feminist

Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023

theory, poetics and ethnomusicology, it is her moving images – at once documentary and fictive, experimental and ethnographic, ecological and mythosymbolic, self-reflexive and ludically collective – that are both means and subject of her work. As is visuality and its technologies, both ancient and nascent. Trinh’s style is – what – unmistakable. In her assiduous production of cross-genre work across almost four decades, Trinh has established her own genre: we call it postcolonial feminist documentary poetics, or we call it experimental ethnographic essay films, or we call it Trinh T. Minh-ha. ‘Documentary Is/Not a Name’, as her remarkable early essay from 1990 goes, perhaps suggesting where our desire for naming has gone wrong. And yet, despite this, in each of the seven interviews that constitute her new book, Trinh’s interlocutors attempt, in various ways, to locate the meaning of her regular transgression of borders and difference – of medium, discipline, geography, genre, language, culture – and the frisson she finds in their mutability. Meaning in the sense of naming, in the sense of explication and definition. And yet. Despite each interviewer’s best aims, Trinh manages to return each conversation to the titular ‘two’, to her idea of the nonbinary and its commitments, of holding, that is, both. Whatever they might be. If we have been taught to think, and thus live, in the paradigm of opposition, that colonial ethos and its patriarchal binary, Trinh understands this more than most. She left Vietnam in 1970; she was a teenager, and the US was at war in her country. She immigrated to the US, where she studied ethnomusicology and French literature in Illinois. She then completed her PhD at the Sorbonne and moved to Dakar to teach. It was in Senegal that she made her first major work, the 16 mm film Reassemblage (1982). Focusing on the lives of rural women and their daily rhythms, utilising the sounds and movements of their everyday life in a non-linear, hypnotic and dreamlike structure, the film suggested her work to come, in which the spectral and collective find their place within frames of cultural difference and quotidian likeness. The work played with the aesthetic signifiers and formulas of more experimental ethnographic film – shades of Maya Deren and Jean Rouch – while emphasising the falsity of objectivity and neutrality, that is, of the anthropological gaze. The film understood that it was forging memory in its making, its images, while simultaneously enacting their oblivion. The double-sided coins of memory and forgetfulness, colonial amnesia and political resistance, all our doubles, also mark Forgetting Vietnam (2016), whose title and images speak, paradoxically, of the memorial. Vietnam’s origin story – which is also Trinh’s origin story – invokes two entwined dragons, and this repeated figure of the ‘two’ structures the film. As Trinh notes in the interview in the book with Patricia Alvarez Astacio and Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa, here her ‘two’ designates “mountain and river; solid and liquid; stillness and movement; masculine and feminine; dwelling and travelling; leaving and returning; North and South; low and high technology.” Her film employs song, speech, poetry, struggle, dreams, the small and large moves of daily life. Later in The Twofold Commitment, in

Extended Essay a further conversation with Erika Balsom, Trinh emphasises that such ‘nonbinary twos’ of multiplicity and commitment, like those figured in her film, are often those upheld in feminist and trans struggles and writings; they are that on which democracy relies and relates. “There are always at least two ways to enter my films,” Trinh notes to Lucie KimChi Mercier in another dialogue. And: “land records, water dissolves.” Reading her recent words across recent years, her reconsiderations of the same films and issues again and again, I noted how often Trinh uses the language of moving-image technology to describe the larger forces of preservation and oblivion. Indeed, she has long attended to both. And her lens is often the lens itself, which means all that it has been constituted by: the colonial systems that produced the fields of anthropology and ethnographic film, the free market system that controls the film industry, the powers of Western hegemony and patriarchal capitalism that control nearly everything. Affective, ethical, politically and technologically positioned, her work remains remarkably focused on the act of looking, with a reflexivity that breaks the immersive illusion of whatever genre and medium she is working in. Frames are highlighted. Mediums are transposed, if not translated. Narrative traditions of cinematic and literary structure are destabilised for a camera that thinks – and shows its thinking. Her writing, meanwhile, has also long engaged in such cinematic reflexivity, merging theory, poetry, storytelling and criticism, from the classic Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism (1989) – strobing every syllabus – to the more recent Lovecidal: Walking with the Disappeared (2016). Her cross-genre writings, at once cinematic and theoretical and self-staging, seem to have predicted the abundant autos of the current moment – autoethnography, autotheory, autofiction – in myriad ways, including how they freely employ both cinematic and literary imaginaries for their intertextual work. And yet. How do my complicated feelings about Trinh’s films sit with my fierce attraction to her writing and speaking about their processes of production? Well. Perhaps it is in keeping with her own modalities that I sometimes like reading about film more than I like watching it. In a PhD class recently, surrounded by students engaged in artistic research (shades of Trinh’s own career of departments and appointments), I was asked what the lens was of some work, and to name the main methods. And I thought, thinking of a younger artist, Na Mira, and of her filmmaking and writing, that Na’s lens might be literally the lens. That is, the lens of light – filmic and autoethnographic, of enlightenment and its extant imperialisms, its coloniality and feminisms, its ancestors and apparatuses – so as to explore darkness and its enigmas. The lens of authorship or ancestry, images of polyphony that are flickering and ungraspable, spectral and spirit. Here, as elsewhere, I felt, that is, I saw, Trinh’s enormous influence. I saw it again, the following week, as I had my art students in Basel read Trinh’s essay, ‘Documentary Is/Not a Name’ (October, Vol. 52, 1990), which begins, twofold, with a set of negations. That is, two no’s. The epigraph, by Walter Benjamin, goes:


Trinh T. Minh-ha, The Twofold Commitment (New York: Primary Information, 2023); cover image courtesy of the artist and Primary Information.

“Nothing is poorer than a truth expressed as it was thought.” Trinh’s own opening lines follow in the same spirit of negative capability: “There is no such thing as documentary – whether the term designates a category of material, a genre, an approach, or a set of techniques. This assertion – as old and as fundamental as the antagonism between names and reality – needs incessantly to be restated, despite the very visible existence of a documentary tradition.” As I listened to my students continue to read her words out loud, I thought about the psychic transfer of screens, and the antagonism between names and reality. I considered our need for names and traditions – documentary, for example – and about our desire for images that reflect our reality. For words to define it. What about our current cultural obsession – across mediums and genres, across cultures and borders – with the aesthetic signature of the real, of realism’s affects and “the reality effect,” as Trinh has called it, and of the documentary? That none of these things are exactly the same thing is to be understood. Yet our hunger to see a picture of our current conditions and realities remains true and real (whatever that word might mean). And yet: “To use an image is to enter fiction,” as Trinh writes, further down in her essay. The laconicism of her line, a kind of fluorescent equation, seems to speak across fields and forms, across students and centuries, as she does. In Athens last winter, I saw Trinh’s most recent film What About China (2022) at the closing of Ethnofest (terribly named, wonderfully programmed). Afterwards, she spoke briefly about her work, surprising me by repeating some favourite lines from that same essay from the 1990s. “What is known as documentary may simply refer to an outside-in movement whereby one lets the world come to oneself with every

move,” she recited, as if for the first time. “And what is known as fiction may refer to an inside-out movement whereby one reaches out from the world to the inside. These two interdependent movements always overlap.” These lines from ‘Documentary Is/Not a Name’ are also repeated in her many interviews in the new book. In their odd repetition, at once compulsive and soothing, they seem to take on the form of refrains, both familiar and foreign. But the rhythmic truth of her statement about this twofold movement, and about how we live and how we work, in our twofold commitment, as aesthetic strategies and techniques of living, also evoked, for me, another reflection from her recent book, one about her editing process. Reconsidering her first film in Senegal, and the long take as an ethnographic signature versus the fast edits of what may be considered fiction film, Trinh replies: “As an art of relations – at intervals of strong, weak, syncopated beats – rhythm is powerfully social when it’s at its creative best. And what ultimately comes with the sense of rhythm is the feeling of freedom.” I am usually nonplussed by that latter word – it has echoes of the tinny imperialism of my American childhood – but Trinh’s voice conjured images of trance and ritual, of poiesis and the art of the social, of all their rhythms. An art of relations – I can think of nothing better to describe the poetics of Trinh’s larger project, nor her illumined approach to the moving image and to the real, coaxing co-existence out of nonexistence. That is, both. Quinn Latimer is the author of Like a Woman: Essays, Readings, Poems (Sternberg Press, 2017) and other books. @ql_ql_ql_ql


Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023

Artist Project


THE CINDERELLA CASTLE was designed by Herbert Ryman and

completed in 1971 as part of the Walt Disney World theme park in Orlando, Florida. It is based on the fairy tale castle from Disney’s 1950 animated feature film, Cinderella, as well as a variety of real buildings, most notably Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, the Alcázar of Segovia, the castle in Schwerin, Germany, several French châteaux and the spire of Notre-Dame de Paris. Steve Bishop’s work brings together fabricated and found materials, using the language of minimalism and of the mundane to articulate both the poignancy and humour in sentimentality, and the impossibility of beholding both the significance and futility of time and of a life lived. Steve Bishop is a visual artist based in London.

All images: Steve Bishop, Ages (Medieval II), 2023 (work in progress), found photos dating from 1971 to 1998; courtesy of the artist and Carlos/Ishikawa, London.

Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023

Artist Project



Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023

Artist Project


Jesse Chun, score for unlanguaging, 2022, billboards, Toronto, Canada; image © and courtesy of the artist.

JESSE CHUN, AN artist working between New York and

Seoul, invented the term ‘unlanguaging’. It’s an extension of ‘languaging’, which is an existing idea in linguistics – if ‘language’ is a fixed state of meaning, ‘languaging’ shifts it to an ongoing production of meaning. The term was first invented by A.L. Becker and later used and contextualised within a postcolonial framework by Rey Chow in her book, Not like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014). For Chun, unlanguaging is an alternate location that is not in opposition to this term, but rather, puts forth another way of languaging. It is the act of unfixing language itself. What lies underneath the production of meaning? Unlanguaging offers other ways of navigating language. The drawings in her ongoing series, score for unlanguaging, are made by (mis)using stencils for the English alphabet. Chun uses a Roman alphabet stencil, not to make English, but to make new abstractions that escape its semiotic structures; that map new cosmologies of language. What Chun liked about these stencils, these found objects, is that they break up the characters to make up their shapes. “A lot of what I’m doing,” Chun explains, “is taking English apart to see what’s beneath all these structures. For me, rather than trying to produce meaning, I try to unfix meaning itself and to propose other semiotic trajectories.” Chun, who was born in Korea and grew up in Hong Kong during the British colonial period, where she learned English, says she made up the word ‘unlanguaging’ to find other ways of navigating language. However, the ‘un’ prefix does not set the term in oppo-

sition; language is not a binary. The stencils, like living across cultures, are about undoing and making up again. And all I can think about by way of a comparison is how Arabic speakers send text messages transliterating Arabic characters into numbers. It’s called ‘Arabizi’, a confluence of Arabic words and English characters, with Latin numbers used as stand-ins for characters that don’t have an English equivalent. I’ve seen it everywhere, but I can’t read it. I have to use Google to understand it. Even words I know – good morning – become 9ba7 el 5air. There’s something so cool about it: the way it makes language alive, the flexibility of the solution to a problem with a new digital technology like texting, and a new way of communicating being introduced through the use of this unique ‘chat alphabet’. Chun and I talked over video about this work. I recorded our conversation on my phone, and then never even transcribed it. Instead, I sat at my kitchen table in London and listened to the audio file, to the two of us non-native English speakers coming together to speak about speaking. I listen to it to be reminded of small details of our conversation. A book, an idea, a terminology. “I was thinking about the untranslatable space, and how you visualise that,” Chun explains. I look at these drawings and think of them as language not broken up, but as a form of connection. “When I was thinking about language”, Chun says, “I wanted to have new words.” Orit Gat is a writer and the guest editor of this issue.

Jesse Chun, score for unlanguaging no 082721, graphite, pigment, vellum paper, pins, 8.5 x 11 inches; image © and courtesy of the artist.

Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023

Artist Project


I DON’T KNOW why I drew him. I don’t draw. And I

don’t know why I still have it. I never keep anything. But I’ve kept this small drawing of Dylan Thomas for 17 years. It sits on the sideboard in my front room, floating in a frame, sandwiched between glass, protected and trapped. He’s staring at me now. I think I kept him because he makes me think of home. It also make me smile. It conjures the town of Llareggub. Of being Welsh, our humour and pride. Our small-town ways. It makes me think of English people mispronouncing the double L. It makes me laugh. It makes me think of bugger all – Llareggub backwards. It makes me think of other keepsakes, like the little wooden dala horse. It makes me think of a tiny child playing at the spruce coffee table in the conservatory at the back of our bungalow. It makes me think of where the horse went for 37 years. I found this one at a flea market. I stopped dead when I saw it. Although, I didn’t know why. Like a character of Llareggub, I think I’d been dreaming of it, waiting for it to come back. To a place and a person who no longer exists. Not in the same way. It’s the hiraeth of my childhood. It reminds me of my Mother, of love and kindness. A bitter-sweet memory of playing inside a glass house with a little red horse on a pine needle table. And when I look at it or think about it for too long, it makes me smile, then it makes me cry, and I don’t know why. Steven Emmanuel is an artist based in Nuremberg, Germany.



Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023



Statue of Edward Colston by John Cassidy, formerly in The Centre, Bristol, erected in 1895, toppled in 2020; photograph by William Avery, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

tance and psychic power of monuments long before the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June 2020 forced the rest of the country to pay attention to them. He was genuinely excited, and the acquittal of the four people charged with causing criminal damage after throwing the figure into the sea was one of the few recent political events to pleasantly surprise him. He had moved from Sunderland to London to study Sculpture at the Royal College of Art, writing his MA dissertation on the correlation between formal and political conservatism in the statues on Parliament Square, and then completed a PhD, in which he asked the same question about every monument within a 500-metre radius of Buckingham Palace. He had expanded his interest to the whole of London as the city became ever wealthier than the rest of the country, taking photographs of official memorials – monuments, statues, blue plaques – and unofficial ones, including graffiti, stickers, and other ephemera. Having spent so much time studying memorials, he couldn’t help but want to make his own. He tried not to be too seduced by the romance of the impossible, and particularly by Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International (1920), a projected mass of twisted iron, glass and steel that would have soared above the Eiffel Tower, making the Bolsheviks symbolic of modernity, and synonymous with it. “The greatest artists get things done,” he told himself. He planned a statue of the independent Socialist MP and famous ‘mob orator’, Victor Grayson, who sensationally won a by-election in Colne Valley in 1906, for a street corner in Huddersfield, but he couldn’t get it past the Labour council, still smarting from their factional battles with Grayson a century later. Thinking literature might prove less controversial, he conceived a monument to writer B. S. Johnson near the Islington house where Johnson killed himself in November 1973. He would print paragraphs from Johnson’s novels onto four faces of coloured plastic blocks, held in a metal frame as a slide puzzle so people could shuffle and rotate them into any order, resembling the unbound chapters of Johnson’s experimental book, The Unfortunates (London: Panther Books, 1969). Unable to secure planning permission, he turned his attention to Johnson’s friend Ann Quin, another innovative novelist who also took her own life in 1973, but that also came to nothing. He asked if he could put a series of passages from her books on paving stones along the seafront in Brighton, where Quin lived and died, but the city council said it was ‘considering’ a blue plaque and would not entertain other suggestions at this point. On a walk through Hoxton one afternoon, he wandered past a community garden that had been named after Khadija

Saye, the 24-year-old artist who died in the fire at Grenfell Tower along with 71 other people. There should be a proper memorial, he thought, beyond the building itself, which had been covered with white sheets and topped with a banner reading “Grenfell – Forever in Our Hearts” and the graffiti in Shoreditch with a picture of the burnt-out tower with “1 Yr On Still No Justice” above it. For a second, he thought about proposing something, then decided it wasn’t his story; in any case, a memorial commission had convened to decide on what would be best. He thought about the campaign for the National Covid Memorial Wall, which had been painted, without official approval of any sort, along the South Bank of the Thames in March 2021 and intended to have one painted heart for each Covid death. The UK’s death toll had been astronomical – around 150,000 when the mural was painted, and well over 200,000 later on. He reflected on how it had been heightened by the Conservative government delaying the first, second and third lockdowns for fear of harming the economy, and by the degraded state of the NHS and other public services following a decade of austerity. He remembered reading an article in the British Medical Journal that attributed more than 300,000 excess deaths since 2010 to austerity – which had been accepted as a necessity by the three main parties and most of the British media when it was introduced – and thought: perhaps I should make a monument to them. The first problem, he thought, was the sheer number of ways in which people had been killed by austerity, and how to quantify the total. Some would have died after hours in an Accident & Emergency department or other hospital ward, where more staff might have saved them. Some would have collapsed after being forced into work they knew they couldn’t do, or starved after being stripped of their benefits, or died on the street after being evicted. Some would have committed suicide after getting yet another brown envelope, demanding money they never had. Others succumbed to depression, unable to wait for NHS therapy or afford to go privately, nor tolerate the ever-worsening climate of cruelty. He thought about putting all their names somewhere, remembering Banu Cennetoğlu’s List of migrants who had died trying to enter Europe. Something similar, he thought, would likely be torn down, like Cennetoğlu’s work had been in Liverpool, or quietly pasted over. Maybe a website, to which people could add their stories. That might work, but he would likely have to moderate it, deciding what counted and potentially having to explain his decisions to people who submitted – a timeconsuming and psychologically demanding task. So, he went with his instinct – a sculpture. But what? Should it be figurative, like Rowan Gillespie’s Famine Memorial (1997) in central Dublin, or more abstract, like the

Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023

monuments to partisan soldiers he’d seen on a visit to the former Yugoslavia a few years ago? Maybe something in-between, like the giant hands cradling a concrete building next to the nuclear reactor that exploded at Chernobyl? He went to his studio and sat down with pencils, pens and paper. He looked through numerous photographs, then started making notes. What could be adequate for the task he’d set himself ? The first thing to consider – depressingly – was funding. He thought about crowdfunding: perhaps that could be done with a vague location – ‘London’ – and an outline of a concept. Asking for money from people affected by austerity would be contentious, he knew that, but he’d suggest a small donation, capping them at £5, and surely enough people would have been sufficiently impacted to offer something. He set up a site, wrote a brief description of the project as a ‘permanent memorial’ without saying exactly what it would look like, and shared it with as many people as possible on social media: politicians, journalists, activists, publications, whoever else would listen. To his surprise, it spread widely, and within 48 hours, he had £50,000; within a week, more than twice that amount. He did interviews with YouTube channels and magazines, attracting more funds – no matter, then, that mainstream newspapers still ignored his press releases. With so much raised, he once again began to think big. He settled on a site in Hyde Park, not far from the Serpentine Gallery. Now, he would have to start designing – not necessarily his final plan, but something tangible to show to people. He went through several drawings of poses and expressions, checking his concept and design with friends, and worked on a budget. He wrote to the Royal Parks and the City of Westminster for planning permissions, saying he hoped to commemorate ‘working-class people killed at war’ with an ‘ambitious’ monument that would incorporate likenesses of the dead, that might even help the working classes rediscover their passion for struggles. To his amazement, this worked. Permission secured, he applied to the Arts Council for more money, repeating his successful line about the intentions of the project, and they matched his crowdfunded total. The monument took three weeks to build and was finished with a plaque giving the title Monument to the Victims of Austerity and a text reading “This cenotaph commemorates more than 300,000 people killed by austerity programmes in the United Kingdom since 2010,” with his name and the date. He managed to keep the design (quite literally) under wraps until the launch day came around. To his surprise, a large group of journalists turned up – mainly from art publications, but some from newspapers and political magazines. He took questions on the form, talked about his inspirations and the process of making the work. Then a


man in a suit asked: “This was meant to be a memorial to working-class people killed at war, and I believe you applied for funding on that basis. How has it ended up becoming a monument to ‘victims’ of austerity?” “There’s no inconsistency”, he replied. “Austerity was an act of war – class war. Austerity was a war crime, and its perpetrators should be tried accordingly.” He heard gasps from the audience and saw people furiously taking notes. “But since they will most likely never face justice, we can – and should – at least confront them with the consequences of their actions. I hope some of the people who voted to punish the poor for the financial crisis caused by the rich come along to contemplate the choices they made.” “Are you calling for mob justice?” came the first question. “Of course not”, he answered. “Are you demanding legal action then?” asked another, to jeers. “I’m an artist”, he replied, “I’m just raising questions”. There were interviews with politicians – no one from the front benches, now or from 2010 to 2016, when austerity was pursued most openly and aggressively, but backbenchers from several parties. One Conservative MP was appalled that “public money” had gone into this “concrete Communist monstrosity”; a Labour MP said he agreed with the sentiment, but not the way it was expressed; another praised the work, saying it was “vitally important” not to forget the “long-term damage caused by austerity.” The next day, the leader of the Labour Party called the monument “divisive”, blandly insisting that the function of such work should be to “bring people together.” There was no comment from anyone else in the governing Conservative Party, nor from the Liberal Democrats who had gone into coalition with them in 2010. There was, however, a petition circulating online – he couldn’t find its origins – saying the monument had been commissioned “under false pretences” and demanding it be “replaced by a more respectful memorial for those who served their country.” Opinion pieces in art magazines defended his work. They did this partly on aesthetic grounds (although the likening of his design to the Soviet memorial to the massacre at Babyn Yar, for example, only strengthened the criticism that it was ‘Commie propaganda’). They also wrote about how the task of the artist was, besides other things, to give voice to the voiceless and to raise questions that weren’t being asked elsewhere. (“We tried asking these things on the streets, and then through democratic representation, and just got crushed,” one reflected. “So if artists are not supposed to take this up, then who is?”) These articles were shared by people on the left, with many who doubted him before the unveiling saying sorry, or quietly changing their position. There were critical pieces in liberal newspapers, echoing the line that this wasn’t art but “unusually ugly” agitprop, “of the type one had hoped was left behind in the 1970s.”

In right-wing newspapers, there were hit pieces making sweeping judgements about his work, casting aspersion on his ‘working-class background’. They scoured his Instagram and Twitter feeds, and tracked down people who knew him for comment. They used headlines such as “THE ARTIST WHO CONNED BRITAIN” and “AN AFFRONT TO THEIR MEMORY,” calling him “dogmatic”, “difficult” and “egomaniacal,” suggesting his politics were just “fashionable” and that he was “motivated purely by money, like all artists.” (He wasn’t sure if this was libellous, or just preposterous). All the articles mentioned the petition, and soon it had 300,000 signatures – enough to be debated in Parliament. The debate never came but calls to tear down his monument grew louder. Halfjokingly, he wrote an open letter to a ‘union’ that had founded “to protect free speech” in the face of “censorship from above and below” but particularly from “enforcers of intellectual conformity and moral dogma.” They didn’t respond. “If there is such a thing as ‘cancel culture,’ this is it,” he wrote. “This is what you set out to oppose.” Eventually, he got a reply: “We are currently working on a number of cases and will not be able to take this on.” He looked at what these cases were – transphobic academics picketed at universities and journalists who had published books with titles such as How the West Became Woke – and decided to leave it. The line agreed upon in the centrist press (who covered the monument for a few days) and the right-wing media (who stayed with the story) was that he had ‘lied’ to his backers. He cited a far more egregious example of ‘dishonesty’ – the venture that got planning permission for “the only dedicated resource in East London to women’s history” that opened as a museum about Jack the Ripper. “That makes your lies ok, does it?” came a response that accused him of whataboutery. He decided, belatedly, that perhaps silence was the best policy, breaking it only to say he was appalled that someone – nobody knew who – had thrown paint on the monument and scratched out the words on the plaque, before writing “lies” over it. He suggested on Twitter that “any attack becomes part of the piece,” but later that day, volunteers had cleaned off the paint and raised money for a new plaque. Then a group of men had broken into the park at night and pulled down the work, smashing the figures attached to the cenotaph. He knew this had been coming. “I’m not sure,” he said, when asked if he could rebuild it. He looked up articles about the Colston statue and court judgement and found several MPs talking about how “we live in a democratic country” where people should change things “through the ballot box or petitioning your local council” rather than “causing criminal damage.” They checked the laws passed in the wake of that incident, requiring people to have “listed building consent or planning permission” if they “want to remove any historic statue, wheth-


er listed or not.” The government had already put out a statement, anticipating this line of argument: “We don’t condone the methods used, but the monument was not historic, and will not be replaced as we already have a number of official war memorials in the area.” Reluctantly, he called the police, who insisted that the culprits could not be identified. He took his friends’ advice not to go to see the site, and instead took a long journey back home to Sunderland, wondering if anyone would ever commission him again. Juliet Jacques is a writer, filmmaker, and footballer based in London.


Visual Artists’ News Sheet | November – December 2023


In the Gutter CHRIS FITE-WASSILAK CONSIDERS THE SUCCESSES AND FAILURES OF COMICS IN THE GALLERY SPACE. AS A LIFELONG comics reader, kicking off with Asterix and X-Men and on to Forlon Funnies and Eightball, my understanding of art has always been through the lens of comics’ combination of image and text. Encountering art shows, it made sense for me to read the exhibition system as an expanded form of comics: art (in whatever form) as the image; titles, wall texts, press releases, criticism as the speech bubbles and captions; galleries, museums and magazines as the panels, pages and gutters that parse out the images. But when it comes to comics actually occupying a gallery space, some kind of paroxysm or infantilism takes hold. Touted as ‘original art’, pages are taken out of their sequential context and framed, hung on walls that are regularly painted some zinging bright colour. At the heart of these shows are drawings and sketches that informed the final printed version. The main draw of ‘TINTIN: Hergé’s Masterpiece’ at Somerset House in 2016 was, the institution claimed, “pencil sketches, character drawings, and watercolours alongside original artwork from the finished stories” – shown next to some dinky models of buildings that featured in the stories, and toys of the characters, to fill the room. While taking such pains to point out that what’s being exhibited is originary source material is often the realm of archival shows – looking behind the scenes of the making of, say, a major film or a very dead artist – with comics exhibitions, the unalloyed fetishising of the artist’s hand is the norm, a return to some of art’s basic impulses. The whole medium of comics is usually presented in exhibitions as a simplistic and hyperbolic terrain of BAMs, ZAPs and exaggeratedly swollen limbs, whether as superhero muscles or cartoonish caricature, often taking the word ‘comic’ as subject and not medium. Witness the themes of the large-scale exhibitions of comics just in the UK: 2010’s ‘Rude Britannia’ – a survey of ‘British comic art from the 1600s to the present day’ at Tate Britain, with rooms curated by comedian Harry Hill; ‘Beano: The Art of Breaking the Rules’ at Somerset House in 2021, curated by artist Andy Holden; and the Hayward Gallery’s 2007–8 touring show ‘Cult Fiction’, which presented itself as of a circus of oddities led by Kim L. Pace’s drawings of circus performers, and Travis Millard’s portraits of fictional ‘freak show’ children, backed up by a few zany David Shrigley sculptures. Comics, these exhibitions tell us, are only a realm of slapstick and bizarre dream-like occurrences, the domain of a perpetual childhood. In part this is an issue of translation: How do you take a page-bound, mass-printed form, its reading pace determined by the idiosyncrasies of eyes and page-turning fingers, and turn it into an experience you walk around and observe? ‘Rude Britannia’ offered a quite literal solution, with one room dominated by a three-metre-high open comic, you could approach to read four oversized pages. This giant edition of Viz produced for the show featured a strip of the long-running Fat Slags characters trying to chip the fig leaves off ancient Greek statues, and a letters section of fictional quotes from artworld figures like Gilbert and George and art critic Brian Sewell. Holden’s ‘Beano’ show took a more involved, but no less literal approach, with sets designed by Sam Jacob Studio to look like buildings and rooms from the comic, at one point as if you were walking into the Bash Street school. Such theatrics locate the potential of exhibiting comics in a sense of immersion, as if placing the visitor among its narrative world will unleash its imaginative force. But it’s more than just a spatial issue; it’s also wrapped

‘Rude Britannia’, installation view featuring a giant copy of Viz comic magazine, Tate Britain, 9 June–5 September 2010; photograph by Lucy Dawkins, courtesy of Tate Britain.

up in temporal problems. Part of the genre’s pull is its proto-cinematic involvement, where the reader helps determine the rhythm at which its sequences of images move. There are several exhibitions that struck me, in experiencing them, as inadvertent comics, like Richard Long’s ‘Heaven and Earth’ at Tate Britain 2009, where huge circles of rocks sat at the centre of large rooms, and the walls were inscribed with massive lists of words: “ANYWHERE: ROADS – FOOTPATHS STONES – RIVERS…”. It didn’t feel so much like spending time with the outcome of the rambling artist’s work so much as walking through a book. Walking to another room was simply turning the page. I’d had an inverse experience at Charles Avery’s exhibition ‘The Island’ at Parasol Unit in 2008, showing drawings and sculptures derived from his ongoing project since 2004 of a fictional island. We were presented with portraits and artefacts from a place, and were expected to thread together its narrative. But the flimsy physicality of the exhibition only undermined the fantasy; here was one exhibition asking to be read as a book, and another that would’ve worked better on a page. Also in 2008, a small exhibition at a library in west London, ‘Liveline’, attempted to cross these hurdles in a more straightforward way. Why bother isolating the comics from their printed form in the first place? Presenting the work of over 30 self-published comics artists from the UK and Ireland, alongside the requisite framed pages of ‘original artwork’ dangled copies of the full zines and comics to read. It was more immersive – and awkward – than a massive walk-in comic, forcing you to do the intimate act of reading in public. For a long time, I felt like maybe that was the most effective way to put comics in the gallery: to just literally plonk a comic in there, wholesale. But then why bother? Of course, you can’t fully translate or replace the comics medium – stay home, read a comic, let it be what it is. An experience a few years later sidestepped that impression, offering a sort of puzzle that remains for me a leading example of the potential of comics

in the gallery, as a sort of volatile combination of the unique spatiotemporal qualities of both forms. In 2010 the curatorial project space Form Content in London hosted an exhibition by artists Erick Beltrán and Jorge Satorre, ‘Modelling Standard’. On the opening night, the gallery walls were empty. Then began a lectureperformance, in which the artists took turns narrating a twisted fantasy tale – part philosophy, part crime – one talking to the audience while the other used wheat paste to stick up A2-sized posters bearing detailed black-and-white drawings. I barely remember the ‘story’; something about Sherlock Holmes being murdered by the fiction character Fantômas, with Freud and Carlo Ginzburg thrown into the mix. The drawings, by Jorge Aviña, had an intrinsically recognisable style, drawing on classic comics illustration like Hal Foster’s 1930s Prince Valiant, roughly illustrating and marking out the talk as they went around the room and began to messily fill the walls. I was struck by the back and forth of its unfolding, as something experienced in time; here was some kind of public moment, with the shared aspects and temporary community of gallery-going, that drew on the storytelling, pacing and interstitial unease of comics. There’s more at stake than simply seeing your favourite old comic strip given the honour of a framed placement in a gallery; it’s what different media might offer each other beyond the most caricatured versions of themselves. The rise of heavy-handed ‘immersive experiences’ draw on impoverished notions of interactivity and theatricality, when potential remains for more fruitful and nuanced entanglements. Comics still offer peculiar insights to layered and time-based experiences in the gallery space, hovering uncertainly between image and text and whatever crazy paths we stitch and unstitch between them. Chris Fite-Wassilak is a writer and critic based in London.

Luan Gallery in collaboration with Westmeath Arts Office presents

WESTMEATH ARTISTS’ EXHIBITION 30th November 2023 – 9th February 2024 A group exhibition of works by Westmeath artists selected by guest curator, Emer McGarry, Director, The Model. Supported by Westmeath Arts Office and the Arts Council of Ireland


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The ladder is always there Shell/Ter Artists Collective (S/TAC) with 10 Emerging Artists

Friday 08 December 2023 — Saturday 03 February 2024 Ground and First Floor Galleries

Opening Friday 08 December at 7.30pm

Shell/Ter Artists Collective (S/TAC): Diana Copperwhite, Allyson Keehan, Niamh McGuinne, Sharon Murphy, Geraldine O’Neill with ten emerging artists - both invited and selected through Open Call - including Karen Ebbs, Mary Martin, Fiach McGuinne, Sorcha McNamara, Catherine Ward. Draíocht Blanchardstown Open Mon - Sat 10am - 6pm


€10 (STG£9)

Art Lending Scheme Curators, Museums, Galleries: Borrow works for exhibition from the

Arts Council of Northern Ireland Contemporary Art Collection Established and emerging artists from Northern Ireland Array Collective, Willie Doherty, Cara Murphy, Paul Seawright, Joy Gerrard, Mairead McClean, Alison Lowry, Jennifer Trouton, Michael Hanna... Find out more

#ACNICollection @artscouncilni_collection

Image: © Paul Seawright, courtesy of the Kerlin Gallery, Untitled (Calf II Rwanda, 2021 (detail)




an exhibition curated by elaine hoey

8 December 2023 – 3 March 2024 Irish Museum of Modern Art, Kilmainham, Dublin 8 (Free Entry). Supporting Graduating Irish Artists. — Àjàó Babátúndé Lawal / Anthony Freeman O Brien Asha Murray / Christopher Mc Mullan Cian Handschuh / Emily Waszak / Grace Ryan Jinny Ly / Laura Grisard / Luis Enrique Martín Nikolas Ryan / Oisín Tozer / Ren Coffey Saoirse McGarry / Taïm Haimet

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Curated by Iarlaith Ní Fheorais 3 - 19 November 2023 Áine O’Hara Aisling-Ór Ní Aodha Anna Roberts-Gevalt Bog Cottage Bridget O’Gorman Edward Lawrenson & Pia Borg

Holly Márie Parnell Jamila Prowse Jenny Brady Leila Hekmat Nat Raha P. Staff

Paul Roy Philipp Gu er Rouzbeh Shadpey Sarah Browne Sean Burns

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