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Art Writing and New Media Outlets in the North
At Manchester School of Art, May, 2017
Its amazing. There are people in the North of England who are writing about
contemporary art. And theyre serious about it. This is important to point out,
because it takes enthusiasm and dedication to care about contemporary art in
the first place, not to mention wanting to get involved in discussing it,
questioning it, and explaining it in writing. So, here, I just want to submit a few
paragraphs exploring why its important that this conference, focusing on art-
writing, will be happening here, soon.
First of all, the context for contemplating contemporary art in this region of ours
is important, tied so closely as it is to the economics of urban regeneration in
major cities like Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle.
Accordingly, the art-writer, like the artist, can be categorised as a cultural
worker, and therefore one of those people currently lauded by politicians -
including the ones who are offering us DevoNorth and the Northern Powerhouse -
because politicians think that the very existence of cultural workers in a city will
attract investment and the promise of regeneration. And yet so many of those
same artists and writers are economically disadvantaged, and have no idea if
theyll ever make a career out of anything theyre making, or writing.
Art writing ranges from press releases and PR-inclined forms of journalism to the
most difficult, theoretical academic prose, and from concise museum guides to
the experimental use of words by artists. The sheer quantity of art writing must
surely reflect the extent to which contemporary art has spread, as a
phenomenon, away from capital cities and into the provinces, into every new
gallery, into every tourist itinerary, into everyones field of vision. Contemporary
art is more than a Western phenomenon it went global a long time ago - and for
good reason. As the artist Hyto Steyerl puts it:
We cannot dissociate the hype around contemporary art from the shock policies
used to defibrillate slowing economies. Such hype embodies the affective
dimension of global economies tied to ponzi schemes, credit addiction, and
bygone bull markets. E-flux #21, 2010
People will argue about the extent to which contemporary art, and the writing
accompanying it, can distance themselves itself from a commitment voluntary
or involuntary - to global capitalism. While many of the bigger, glossier art
publications embrace the homogenized, beautified vision of contemporary art as
a global brand, certain emerging new platforms - particularly the smaller, more
independently-minded magazines and journals continue to offer what the
American critic Gwen Allen describes as, potential opportunities for self-
reflexivity and critical distance that may help mediate our relationship to
globalisations pervasive effects. In the North, some of the most interesting
sites for self-reflexivity and critical distance in considering contemporary art
originate in new media outlets, appearing online, enabling many of them to
flourish outside London, the traditional base for art and media funding and
administration alike.
But the North is not a bubble. In the wider context, we live in critical times -
times of division and disagreement about how to proceed, politically, socially,
culturally and economically. Here, in Europe, and internationally, the present
moment and wherever it leads are being evaluated in very different ways by the
surviving political establishment and those backing the tide of populism and
nationalism now rising in reaction to them. As this years coming European
elections may prove, an increase in populist and nationalist support will demand
responses from artists and writers alike, as has been happening for some time in
certain eastern Eastern European countries. More worrying will be the future
policies of elected populist governments towards the arts.
If you write about contemporary art, or have an artistic practice that utilises
writing, or if you run a publishing platform, we want to hear from you. Whether
youre just starting out and do not quite know how to get noticed, or whether
youre an experienced freelancer, or someone with a long career behind you, we
want your input too. We want to know what art writing can do next, what we can
do next, and how to go about it.