Emma Bolland, Interior 1# digital video projection still, 2016

…for the second time, I dream about this article (for which the deadline looms, for which I have nothing, despite my demanding of the publication that I should write it); but in the hypnagogic transit, my dream, my fantasy of writing escapes me… I roll over, close my eyes, grab its tail…

Kate Briggs writes of the multi-lingual aspects of Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain. His protagonist, choosing to struggle in French rather than speak his native German to express his desire for a woman expert in both, says:

je préfère cette langue a la mienne, car pour moi, parler français, c’est parler sans parler, en quelque manière—sans responsibilité, et comme nous parlon dans une rêve. Tu Comprends? It is because speaking in French, for him, is like speaking without speaking somehow—it is like speaking without responsibility—or in the way we speak in a dream. Do you see?1

Sometimes, when artists write, when we enact the stuff that is writing as art, this thing that complicatedly, unsatisfactorily falls under the umbrella of ‘art writing’, we cast off certain responsibilities that come when enacting the paradigms of ‘art’. When writing as art we are freeing ourselves from the language of art, using a different kind of ‘language’, speaking with a different tongue. A few years ago, I read the provocation that art writing offers artists a ‘liberty from the image’,2 a position I understood as an unburdening, of offering the possibility of making and working with a language that is as unexpected as our dreams. The possibility that as artists, we are writing across and through mediums; writing gestures and images, objects and surfaces, writing in time and in space, writing from heads and from bodies, writing materially in graphemes and concrete texts, writing in tongues, writing literatures, flashes, translations, scripts, patterns, vernaculars, traumas, protests, speculations, aggressions, polemics, demands, provocations, hysterias, utopias, dystopias, intimacies, eroticisms, elegancies, evacuations…

…but even this, why must we have these lists, these bloody lists to explain ourselves as writers, to explain ourselves as artists who are writers, when: ‘here are the fucking words’…

Performance of ‘Le Silence’ at Future Imperfect, Emma Bolland, 2017

I am wondering, how long I will go on calling myself an ‘art writer’? I have a hunch (bear in mind that my hunches are often paranoias) that the idea of art writing is being slyly shrunk to mean only a creative criticism, erasing its aspects as writing as art, and being redefined as writing about or alongside art, as a ‘contemporary art criticism […] demanding to be read of itself, whilst simultaneously calling for a reading or comprehension of something which is outside of itself’.3

…let me reassure you: I am not discounting an art writing that is an art criticism, or even a ‘creative journalism’, or asserting a hierarchy of inventiveness or craft or any other quality or non-quality, or claiming that boundaries and intersections of and between various modes of writing are ever clear, or that writing as art cannot or does not engage with art histories and criticisms of art, or even that as artists we also write about something that is, in part, outside of us… <exasperates self at feeling the need to be conciliatory>. An instance: Jeanne Randolph writes of ficto-criticism as friendship in relation to artists and community4, a subtlety that defies risks of relational-reduction in a writing about or alongside… some of my best friends are writing-along-siders, indeed, I do it myself… and I could add more caveats, continue to apologise, but I have fifteen–hundred words, give or take, so…

I perceive (and no, I haven’t done a study—nor will I—feel free to prove me wrong) that this shrinkage results not from use value, but from exchange value, in that paid opportunities for art writing are increasingly positioned as creative art criticism, in which the recipient or resident must respond to a particular kind of dominant body: a body framed, whether formally or informally, by the paradigms of art and institution and by the possibilities of funding. Corridor8 calls for ‘writers to review exhibitions and events’, and a recent residency required as an outcome ‘a piece of art writing that broadly and creatively responds to’ an exhibition and a cultural programme. Of course, these are not the only calls and requirements issued by Corridor8, and these descriptors do not preclude writing as art. I pick on these specific descriptors to argue that they subtly frame a writing about or alongside art, privileging an exchange value that is covertly enforced into a ‘dominant-body’ network of institutions and funding bodies. The monetary endorsement of writing about or alongside art bestows upon it an elegant but deceitful auto-telia—capital embodies its own ends. (Of course, I know I am being Utopian. Imagining a state wherein we don’t need the money, can pursue the kinds of writing we actually want to do).

…bites the hand that feeds…

Am for a writing that’s half in the mud and mouths of tense and violent bodies that live and struggle by social myths and systems.
2:36 PM – 8 Jan 2018


Can I quote that tweet in a piece I’m writing for corridor 8 where I slag off art writing as art criticism?
2:55 PM – 8 Jan 2018


You sure bloody can. I’m going to write it blood on my bathroom wall and pass out.
2:56 PM – 8 Jan 2018


<tweets picture of bloodbath>
3:19 PM – 8 Jan 2018

…I am subjective, and a malcontent, insecure about my value, my place in all these things.

What is (sometimes) wrong with an agenda set by a dominant body? The relations of exchange value mean that such agendas must be appeased and in the act of appeasing the appeaser is either pleased or displeased with themselves. There is the question of who is producing our speech. This is what is ‘money’s worth’.

…but our tense and violent bodies must also eat… in my first dream of writing, the article remained obscure, not giving up its shape. I roamed the basements of a large villa, perhaps in the Italian style. The sort of place I imagine other people go to. Figures emerged from shadows, glancing at me then moving on, convening amongst themselves and speaking words I could not hear. Claire Potter, Maria Fusco (not the first time I have dreamed about Maria—once the ‘dream-she’ ran at me with a giant pencil, crowned with an enormous blue rubber, a dildo of erasure, smooth and almond-scented—this again when I was struggling to write), Linda Stupart, Sharon Kivland, Joanna Walsh, other writers I admire, murmuring together in an exclusive half-light (and wearing such LOVELY COATS—oh, their elusive, grammatical bodies). I woke up sweating, empty…

‘Interior Book prop 1’, paper, gouache, silver lame, Emma Bolland 2016

As an artist who writes I am turning to ideas of translation. Not just between languages, but also between different systems of writing and making, in which ‘tongue’ is not only language, but also an action, an object and a tone. (An interjection: there is something to be said for the struggle of the inter-lingual, in the ways that different tongues frame, for instance, time, or love; and, you know, you don’t have to be able to speak it, to speak it). Kate Briggs says that translation can be a means of interruption.5 She is talking of an inter-lingual translation that exposes the small-minded idea that the world of our language (in this instance the English-speaking world) is the only world. Artists’ writing can also be means of interruption, a movement across systems that stretches the edges of art, stretches the edges of art’s purpose. If I were to make a call, make a choice, get your backs up, I would propose that it is not the ‘in service’ language of exchange-value-art-writing that performs a ‘liberty from the image’, but the unserviceable language of use-value-writing-as-art, (whatever we may choose to write about).

…I think I will no longer call myself an art writer… I will simply be an artist and a writer, writing without writing somehow—it is like writing without responsibility—or in the way we write in a dream. Do you see? DO YOU SEE?


  1. Kate Briggs, This Little Art, London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2017, p. 22., referring to Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1927) trans. Helen Lowe-Porter, London: Vintage, 1996.
  2. Maria Fusco, Michael Newman, Yve Lomax, and Adrian Rifkin, ‘11 Statements Around Art Writing’http://blog.frieze.com/11-statements-around-art-writing/  (Note, this blog post has now been removed from the internet).
  3. Maria Fusco, Don’t Say Yes—Say Maybe! Fiction Writing and Art Writing, in Telling Stories: Countering Narrative in Art, Theory and Film, ed. Jane Tormey and Gillian Whiteley, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009, p. 36.
  4. Jeanne Randolph, Out of Psychoanalysis: Ficto-Criticism 2005 to 2015, Vancouver: Artspeak, 2015.
  5. Kate Briggs, This Little Art, p. 63.

Emma Bolland is based in Sheffield, and works across film, writing, drawing, and performance.

Published 05.02.2018 by Lara Eggleton in Explorations

1,513 words