[The following interview took place over a number of weeks in Spring/Summer 2015 and held the form of an informal conversation saved inside a communally editable Google Doc between Dean Brierley, Director, Caustic Coastal, and James Schofield, Manchester & North West Editor, Corridor8. The resulting text is published below, with some images and footnotes omitted due to formatting.]
‘There are no stupid questions, only stupid people’ // ‘There’s no stupid questions, only stupid answers’
[CC] So let’s lay down a few ideas that should/need to be thrown around and figure how to pull this beyond a Q+A.
Firstly I kinda want to second guess half the questions/ ideas you’ll probably throw at me (i.e most people’s first anxieties of the brand). So Caustic Coastal is an Art Label that happens to be based in Manchester, though more consistently it’s based in my head, on my desktop, over mediated digital platforms and through intimate conversations with people. Caustic Coastal is not a collective, nor artist-led, nor curator led, so I suppose that just leaves a rhizomatic model where everyone sits on the same level and I just happen to be a node in the system, as (un)influential as every other node within each strata of production. Thus in conversation online and IRL I’ve found myself referring to CC as ‘we’ and not ‘me’ or ‘them’ or ‘that’ or ‘it’ etc. So that pronoun might get thrown around:
We’re interested in programming visual arts that imports talent into the city where we’re based, not re-churning the same staid, static and sluggish local artists in a circular system. The ethos is to drive new artists into a city with site-specific projects, aiming for 100% newly commissioned productions, but at times falling short, with stuff, stuff being mostly art, that is wholly physical, that is about the space, and with a leaning towards not just that stuff, but the contextualisation of it, how to wrap it, cushion it, and not just let it sit in a cloud of the artists’ egos and fly fancifully down the grass verge. We wanted to drive the sort of projects that create a barrier against retinal impatience, visual generosity and art that too easily slips into being *content* for your feed. Feed content feeds more feed content which in turn is bad for content. Period. We prefer to view all the exhibitions we produce as ‘productions’ since it sits more coherently with the idea of a label akin to that of a music label, the fluidity of the production, and the descriptors around it. Also we’ve always tried to force the point slow and organic growth of the label, to work with people we feel want the process, challenge, stupidity, the capacity and to drop them, maybe, into a freer landscape, away from + beyond their systems of production. We’re also aware much of this becomes utopian bullshit and what in practice happens could be paired down into simple blocks of production, We’re aware of this culture of revering the curator and the stupidity this entails, we’re aware of brands attempting to become bigger than their artists by using their cultural productions as leverage in this free-roaming-RPG we call the art world. We’re skeptical of the systems but also embedded into them, relax in them, drink in them, Instagram them, fuck in them, & collapse in them.
The logo is a jellyfish, not an octopus nor sperm. Graduate of Camberwell College of Arts, London art-bred etc.
I suppose maybe we should also try to deconstruct this facade of the curator here, maybe? and equally the critic?
Maybe w/ some kind of base info on your critical background, artistic leanings, who’s your current fav artist, fav colour, fav medium?
Mine’s Helen Marten, this blue (½ bc of the name) and medium, hmm, probably watercolour?
[C8] Yeah I agree I think we should first try and deconstruct the positions we’re approaching this from a little bit, then get on with the actual ‘questions/dialogue’ as it were…
So a little about myself and my background. I graduated from a Fine Art degree at Leeds Met in 2011, and since then have been operating primarily as both an artist and curator. Although in the relatively recent past following graduating (from 2012 onwards) my practice has been moving away from the two sides being separate entities and they have coalesced into more of a hybrid that is more concerned with exhibition making encompassing both my own and other artists’ work.
I think that stems from my time at university where I was essentially shoehorned into being a ‘painter’ by the tutors because I had an affinity to the medium, rather than because I wanted to make paintings (if that makes sense?). So the curatorial side of things came in as a way to interact with other mediums in a way that my tutors wouldn’t just dismiss as being too big of a departure from ‘my’ work, despite the fact I didn’t really want to work that way to start with. So I wouldn’t say I particularly favour one medium over any other, but I definitely lean more towards the idea of making cohesive exhibitions using whatever mediums are relevant to the show/installation/performance/etc. I’m more concerned with evolving what both an exhibition and artwork can be defined as, and what they both have the potential to become in relation to one another.
Following graduating I’ve been working as an Information Assistant at the Henry Moore Institute, and have also worked with the Parallel Programme of Art Sheffield 2012, and as a Curatorial Intern at the Liverpool Biennial 2014…so have a fairly rounded critical view across the spectrum of independent/private national and international projects. That’s also led in to me being accepted on to the MA Exhibition Studies course at LJMU, which after being postponed last year should fingers crossed be going ahead later this summer. It was actually because of applying to do my MA that I became involved with Corridor8 in the first place. I wanted to get back into the swing of writing slightly more objectively about exhibitions following writing solely about projects that I’d had first hand experience with. One of my colleagues at the HMI (and now editor for Yorkshire for Corridor8) Rebecca Senior had written for the site before so I got all the details from her and asked to submit a review for consideration to be published on the site. Luckily it was accepted/published and then I took it from there, and wrote more reviews until at the start of the year I was asked if I’d like to take up the role of editor for Manchester and the North West.
Since taking over, myself and the other editors (I think I may have mentioned this to you before) have slightly changed the remit to now include posthumous reviews of things so we can not only cover more shows and events, but also to give a more holistic view of the visual arts makeup in the North. Hopefully now we’re able to cover more individual projects from people or groups that may not have a dedicated space, and as such we won’t eventually fall into the trap of being seen as mouthpieces for certain institutions. So a slight revamp/restructure is pretty much where we are up to now, and has seemingly been working well so far.
Haha with regards to who is my favourite artist/what’s my favourite colour and medium, that’s a slightly loaded few questions, so think I’m going to go with an ambiguous response of a single work by Bellini (so avoiding the risk of identifying a single contemporary artist), and pick his portrait of The Doge Leonardo Loredan. It’s just a really beautiful painting with a pretty sculptural quality, and a spectrum of colours that you can just get lost in…the background blue especially. And that’s before you even begin to start unpicking the historical relevance and influence he had on the Venetian republic, which again has wider ramifications to the contemporary artworld and the beginning and subsequent success of the Biennale (I’m not saying I endorse the Biennale and the rampant commercialisation it has come to signify, and I’m not trying to highlight it through the work…just that it throws up some interesting precedents aside from being something aesthetically pleasing).
With regards to your own view on the idea of both the curator and critic, I was wondering if you’d like to expand at all on your background. So for instance, did you study curation/fine art and Caustic Coastal has come about as a result of that? Did you feel like you wanted to do ‘something’ to try and counteract a perceived stagnation that as you put it eventually leads into art simply functioning as feed content for people’s personal artistic feeds? Or was it more of a natural evolution from your own previous work?
I’m totally with you on the hyperbole of the curator being seen as some sort of celebrity within the art world. Even if you don’t entirely follow the history of the position itself, you’re still left with the position of a person who should act as facilitator and essentially protector of the artist they deal with and their works, rather than a militant academic who puts constraints in place to limit production and artistic discourse. It’s when the artist and curator are on the same page and are able to have an almost symbiotic relationship that the best shows happen (obviously this changes slightly with the idea of the artist-curator!).
That Bellini is knockout. It’s funny how the reaction to my own question was so embedded in the CAW (contemporary art world) that I had this invisible barrier of not being able to slip out of the now. I’m sticking with Helen Marten though haha. I like really defined questions, I think the whole art world can get so slippy and umm-ah most of the time that you never hear people ask stuff like that but they’re kind of fun childish ways to see the world. In a way I’m sort of making a point here about nuanced critique which slithers around CAW nodes of speech, embedded ideas of how to look, describe, say stuff. Sometimes I play an internal game in my head at PVs where I just wander round thinking “Yes, no, no yes yes, no no no…” …and just do a speed walk around a whole show doing that. And then I take a second lap and try to figure out why yes or why no. And you actually start to think stuff in a hilariously strategic, daft way, where it becomes about looking in these layers, of like an aesthetic yes and no game, then a reevaluation or how do you reengage, reinstigate your interest, and then slip out of that layer into a kind of critical landscape, beyond looking. I enjoy shattering those no moments into a million yeses. Something relevant I heard the other day “There are no alternatives without critique”.
So background expansion. CV copy and paste lols
Caustic Coastal May 2014 – now
2011 – 2014, Camberwell College of Art, London, BA (Hons) Painting (1st Class)
2010 – 2011, Manchester School of Art, Manchester, BTEC Level 4 Foundation Diploma in Art & Design, Distinction
2009, ABRSM, Piano, Grade 8, Distinction
BEARSPACE – Exhibitions Manager – September 2013 – April 2014
Frieze Art Fair – Distribution – October 2013
BEARSPACE – Intern – February – May 2013
White Cube – Press Intern – April – May 2012
MOCA London – Gallery Assistant/Artist Assistant – October 2011 – February 2012
That’s the unnuanced version haha. I suppose when you reveal everything you give away nothing. Basically early at Camberwell I became much more interested in creating shows than stuff. Most of it (as it always is) was an excuse to socialise in a new environment. We started with a run of above-pub shows around SE LDN, bits and bobs here and there. Curating for me started to become an excuse to work with and socialise with some amazing people, and to work with other peoples’ stuff as a way towards anxiety reduction. I felt freer creatively using defined factors – maybe linked to my piano practice, those 88 keys of defined sound, but near infinite ways to model that soundscape, and if you practice remodeling that enough you can get to stuff as sonorous as this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvhZ2CXIyOc and this :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kegxB1aBllM
That Scriabin is immaculate in my eyes, most of his work is. I always have these moments where I’m like I don’t feel I could ever produce visual arts anywhere close to what Scriabin can render, the way it just glides or thwacks you in the stomach or sparkles or choke you up. I’ve never felt that choked up about art really, well beyond seeing Tino Seghal’s stuff a few times, but he’s playing outside of the conditions, he’s playing with life, not art, and making it artful. Something I found the other day in a Hal Foster interview: “Gerhard Richter says somewhere that painting is fine, but it’s music that brings you to your knees. (I wonder if that’s always a good thing.)”. I chose art school actually as a way to continue working on both art and music, I’d got into a few music schools but this cloud of angst was over me about how I’d never do both if I swanned off to music school. Sometimes I regret that decision.
Anyways yap yap yap. So for my final degree show, after all this curating lark I’d being doing I decided to nail it down into something. I wanted to produce a degree show where I could fuck with the system of all that celebratory *here’s what I did for three years* shit. I wanted to outsource the stress and labour. Caustic Coastal launched at my degree show as an Art Fair booth styled with boy racer/nightclub element and a curated show of 6 artists outside of the school – i just found this quote from the project: “Welcome to Pacific State. An art trip, nightclub, boy racer style art fair booth, an attempt at slicing aesthetics and saddling side by side the alternate euphorias”
Sounds kinda art school, looked fun. And then it just rolled on from there really and here we are today, somehow.
I like the idea of “protector of the artist” – I don’t hear that too often really. Luckily I’m not an artist so I don’t float into that artist-curator role, I purposefully stopped making stuff in order to stray away from that. Caustic Coastal is for me and the artists I work with. It’s open to all but it’s not for all, it’s to develop friendship, not audience, it’s to develop interaction, not ambient attention. It’s to make stuff that I want to see, put simply.
I kind of want to flip this idea for you though. Maybe let’s consider the Editor as “protector of the critique” but also I feel maybe it could slip into “protector of the gallery” or “protector of an audience’s belief systems”. At the moment I’m magnetically interested in art writing as this thing that has developed in accordance with the internet’s model of viewing. Where models react to others, where content is butterfly-like fluttering through the variety of locations we hope to gain content, each altering its colours more and more in the hope of being caught (clicked). So then what is the responsibility of a publication like Corridor8 that drives ‘localised’ content. Because at times it feels like it could sit in a kind of “glorious arts scene of the north” type publishing, adding content for the galleries/projects and not really telling much because positive reviews are mini boosts for everyone. The stakes for magazines like Corridor8 are different from those in larger systems of the CAW. That led me to thinking about this from Orit Gat http://oritgat.com/Thanks-On-Negative-Criticism >>> and this from that “None of us want to participate in an intellectual scene where things go undiscussed because it’s uncomfortable to mention them. And in order to discuss things, we need institutional support”.
I think there’s a question in there somewhere? also this… http://rhizome.org/editorial/2015/jun/15/has-internet-changed-art-criticism/
[Following the publication of Part 2 of the interview, the entire document will be made available for download via the Caustic Coastal website, and will include all footnotes and images previously omitted.]