[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.]
[C8] I think straight off the bat it’s probably best to clarify how I see my role at Corridor8, and by extension/association what I have been consciously doing in order to get to some kind of answer for your (valid) points about how the publication operates and how we could potentially be perceived or even evolve in relation to a critical dialogue with institutions/artists. Essentially I view my role as a temporary custodian for the wider organisation, with the power to make editorial decisions as I see fit for the particular regions I cover and writers I work with.
We’ve never really had a remit to nail our colours to the mast for one particular facet of art writing (i.e. creating an ongoing critical dialogue, or simply commissioning reviews and other content for readers to engage with), and so there can be differences in the content each editor produces for the site. Corridor8 has previously used the blanket of ‘contemporary art writing in the North’ as the basis from which to expand upon as the various members of staff see and saw fit. So I guess slightly similar to the Caustic Coastal model of producing articles we want to see focussed on subjects/artists/organisations we’re interested in, under the vague blanket of ‘art writing’, which has happened to mainly take on the form of reviews and interviews to date.
Personally I couldn’t care less about number of views/clicks etc. and as we’re self-funded currently there’s no need to religiously pay attention to quantifiable measures of engagement. I’m aware of various organisations that behave as you’ve described and essentially tailor content specifically for the Internet/social media viewership, but honestly there’s no need for Corridor8 to behave like that. We use a routine way of posting on our social media that is concise and descriptive, and gives just enough information without having to write a quirky strapline or reason for someone to engage with it. Essentially it is what it is.
Just thinking about your points on critique too, I think that collectively we want to bring to light new artists and organisations alongside existing ones, to potentially provide new opportunities for people to engage with visual culture in their own time. Hopefully through doing this it will give a wider view of what actually happens in the visual arts in the various regions that we cover, without falling into the perilous trap of becoming a mouthpiece for a certain group of organisations/artists. It’s a fine balance but I would hate for us to be perceived as though we effectively represent 5 or 6 galleries…hopefully that never happens while I’m here! There’s no point in just covering a certain few spaces/people’s work as like you said, it doesn’t really help any of them and if anything it would de-value Corridor8 itself.
With regards to actual criticality within our articles I’m perfectly happy to have more critical points of view included in articles I publish, but they have to be justified and contextualised properly. Otherwise we could conceivably end up as a parody of an organisation (something like a permanent mouthpiece for Jonathan Jones’ views). I’d have to agree with the Jonathan Landman quote from the Orit Gat article though:
‘‘[the] all-guns-blazing takedown’ shouldn’t happen often. There are a thousand ticks between the greatest and the worst, and a great critic is unerringly accurate in picking the right place on that scale”
And I think that’s where I’ve found myself recently as an editor really. Since we’ve taken on a number of new writers, (almost an entirely new set in Manchester), we still haven’t had pieces from each of them, so they’re still finding, or waiting to find, their feet a little. This has made it a little difficult for them individually to have the confidence to be more critical within their writing, as the majority haven’t had much experience writing for a publication before, so undoubtedly it will take a little time. I guess you could look at it as though we’re being the ‘protector of the critiquer’ at this point! It’s very much about the writers developing their craft alongside Corridor8 evolving slightly, until the writers themselves feel confident enough that they can express views that may (justifiably) ruffle a few feathers, and allow for a slightly more rounded dialogue with each individual exhibition/event.
I was interested in what you said about not hearing the curator being described as the ‘protector of the artist’ much. Why do you think that is? There’s certainly been a lot of curators in the not too distant past that have had very rigid ideas of what they want their shows to be, and because of this shoehorn artists’ work to fit the context rather than forming the context of the show around the artist(s) and their work(s). That’s not to say that all contemporary curators are militant control freaks…just that since Harald Szeemann really changed the face of the profession there seemed to be a whole host of curators that were really interested in crafting exhibitions, and then all of a sudden it became more about the curator as a pseudo-celebrity within the art world. We must have just gotten to the end of the cycle, and now we’re seeing a new generation of exhibition makers rather than curators!
From your point of view though, would you side more with the ‘protector of the artist’ way of operating? As you said that you make the shows that you’d like to see…does that involve you developing projects alongside a number of artists/participants and seeing where they go, or do you try and fit artists to a brief you come up with? I think both can conceivably work, it would just be interesting to get other peoples’ views on it too.
“There are a thousand ticks…” should be what everyone needs to aim for really.
What critical structures should be engaging in is not content for content’s sake, clicks for clicks, but those necessary moments when things feel worth engaging with, worth either a sentence, a tweet, a #longread, sometimes even a tl;dr just to allow it to get out of people’s systems. For us the the stance sits close to that of K-Hole where irregularity is key (“Since 2010 we have irregularly released a PDF report that tries to make sense of the strategies that are being enacted around us” http://khole.net/press/K-HOLE%20Mousse.pdf ), we’re tiring of brands pursuing athletic aesthetics or hardcore branding models, who’re looking up to the machinic forces which have creative armies behind them ~ what can surface in the small-scalers is a sense they’re driving white noise, hissing to stave off silence. I’ve started to enjoy having a quietness + delay to approaching projects; it’s all well and good slamming out 20+ shows / an article a month / a few art fairs within your first year but you can’t sustain that sprint and also uphold or progress quality, all the while introducing a dynamic activity.
And then this is where the idea of ˙˙˚protector˚˙˙ maybe slips in: at the end of the day everyone wants personal progression but has to merge desires in order to have any chance. Generationally nothing’s changed from Szeeman, the playground has just shifted, new toys, extrapolated influence, on-tap audience, and a swelling market that everyone wants a piece of. I struggle to reconcile that there’s a shift to ‘exhibition makers’ >>> PR-makers is maybe a more accurate translation, we’re just driving shit-hot images for ambient attention, ambient viewership with jpegs as tradable achievement. But within that notion is where the approach to that end is important. Personally I’m more interested in experience than object-hood, tactility than digital transferability (although digital tactility is towards something stronger than pixels for pixels sake – something like Holly Herdon talks about in terms of the intimacy of a late night skype conversation, or that tactility of the waving elipses in a messanger box when you can nearly feel someone writing), personality/sociality and companionship over socio-creative-business where the PV becomes a playground for marketing the ‘self’ ~ thus with that comes a need for oscillating production to keep it alive. The model is to use all models: to produce exhibitions for the artists, and with the artists, to produce exhibitions for yourself, to produce with other producers, to produce site-specific monuments or calmer, quieter meditations, testing out all these models alongside hauling your ideas and tactics to new geographies, flogging wares, fucking up your comfort, always trying to destabilise people’s notion of what the label does. That is in effect why we’re called a label, so we can float above culturally embedded descriptors. The main fact of how we approach projects is a personal, intuitive and open-ended approach. The artist will & should always have the freedom, the freedom to surprise and delight or the freedom to fuck up. I’ve no interest in controlling shows that harbour safe production, formulaic curation or distorting artists ideas. Sometimes shit fucks up, sometimes shows looking fucking terrible, hands held high I know from the moment productions go public what has or hasn’t worked well. Sometime it’s the pairings, sometimes it’s a lack of commitment, sometimes it’s just bad timing or ideas sitting on the wrong platforms to catch the train, sometimes it’s just like putting parmesan on your ice cream, but you’ve gotta try it than sit in a candy floss blanket of fluffy back-patting security. I’d rather have a years worth of fuck ups than 1 blockbuster show any day of the week. Therefore maybe I’m protecting no-one, maybe, and probably, I’m negating protection in favour of sailing against the wind, the ones who’re on board have the freedom to fuck off whenever but the chances are there to open up peoples’ practices, break down their culturally secure landscapes and maybe just make some hot shit in a city sparsely populated with any decent grassroots visual culture atm.
One thing that immediately springs to mind when you talk about not being able to sustain such an effectively heavy output whilst maintaining and developing alongside it, is given that Caustic Coastal operates as a label, could you not increase the number of like-minded individuals that operate alongside you in order to do so? (Just playing devil’s advocate for the sake of the conversation topic!). Or do you think that would just end with the same conclusion, just with a few more shows, and ultimately more people staging slight delays in what Caustic Coastal stages?
Generally I agree with you about the idea of organisations etc. peaking far too soon, especially newly opened/created ones. As you have first hand experience of it though, would you say it’s also slightly influenced by other factors such as lifespan (i.e. people don’t know how long they can sustain the organisation/practice so are trying to show how good they are before they’re gone) or funding (i.e. similar to the lifespan point, having to show potential funders the level they want to aim for before they can access a lot of funding, particularly from ACE). Also a slightly more random point occurred to me…do you think a lot of artists/curators/venues try to stage as many shows/projects as possible to justify their existence and relevance? To an extent it’s not what you do, it’s what you are seen to be doing kind of vibes. That may be slightly cynical though, and in fact people just need to take a breath and assess what it is they’re actually doing before they commit to things.
I completely agree with your sentiments of the PV (and to a wider extent the exhibition itself) being an experiential encounter. I think it’s symptomatic of wider culture nowadays with the prevalence of social media where you end up with people just taking photos/ tweeting/etc witty remarks about things (not just exhibitions) and not actually stopping to properly look or experience what it is that they’re doing and making meaningful contact with the people around them. It all ends up being a little vacuous and self defeating. And often the best contemporary shows (to paraphrase one of my old tutors who was talk about paintings) are the ones you can’t take good photos of, so have to be encountered first hand.
Again playing devil’s advocate, how do you measure development for Caustic Coastal? Surely the Samuel Beckett adage of ‘Fail again. Fail better.’ holds up, but does it not get to a point when after so many things going wrong or not working over the course of X shows (I’m not sure saying failures would fit here) that either artists or even viewers lose confidence?
Saying that, looking from the outside it seems refreshing to me (having been based in Leeds for so long and not really experiencing Manchester’s culture in depth until fairly recently) to have vocal support for artists and their propensity for potential calamity and chaos as opposed to the often banal rhetoric of ‘we support artists and stage polished shows’. I think in part though that’s only really ‘allowed’ as it were because independent organisations are seen as just that. Independent. With the potential for both great and terrible exhibitions, with seemingly less at stake if they don’t hit the high notes every time, compared to the ‘public’ and larger institutions, as they’re run for the love of the thing and can be afforded more leeway for being less ‘professional’. (again, totally devil’s advocate here…I think that’s a totally skewed public perception, and if larger institutions were allowed to fail, or admit when things haven’t worked quite as planned, that it would make for a much more interesting art world).
You’ve probably already seen this, but in case you haven’t there’s a blog post by Dave Haslam I saw yesterday that may interest you:
So yeh an increase is happening as we’ve been speaking over the past few weeks (months ha!). Later on this year we’ll be reshaping the brand in order to bring in new people, move to new spaces (new countries?!?!) and diversify our output. The ethos will be the same, the geography will just be different – there will however be a considered slowness maintained in the approach to projects. All this sounds vague atm because we’re still in the very preliminary stages of working out how to restructure the label without losing it’s kick.
There can be a feeling of breathlessness with projects that come and go, but if you’re trying to stage smash hit after smash hit something will usually give, or that smokescreen will evaporate – it’s easy to make a good show with good artists that looks just good, or athletically curate to prove a point of your existence but every memorable show holds in your mind because of a surprise, because of that thin veil between absolute failure and stratospheric amazement, for unexpected curiosity into a world you’ve been allowed to experience. Where the show feels close to collapse and there’s an apparent loss of control, where you can relax into the chaos and feel that freedom to breathe. For me there’s a huge significance in the theatricality of the projects, away from flat object on walls, and towards something hopefully drenching, that doesn’t come across in your image feed, and can’t really be measured by likes or reposts. And more and more I’ve been wanting to get to the point of making shows undocumentable…to give the people who actually come something that they know would be impossible to fully digitally translate. In a way you’re always aware of trying to straddle that line because I do enjoy glimpses into places through these electronic caves we exist in, but then I don’t want to see press photos drenching my timeline only to find IRL no added revelation. As you mentioned about assessment it’s so difficult to step back sometimes and survey the landscape you’ve laid down, it’s easy to lose sight of achievement when adding sand to the desert if you get what I’m saying. And thus I think self initiated breaks can have great value.
I might switch the conversation slightly towards “THE FUTURE”. (slightly towards that Dave Haslam article). At the moment we’re both in cities that are developing the visual arts in what I find strange and forceful ways, often negating the grassroots in the hope of dropping culture into cities to see if it’ll stick. I’m thinking of HOME and it’s glass hollow with infinite coffee space and hollower show’s (curated by people like Omar Kholeif sunning himself in LA) or MIF (I’m only speaking of the visual arts here…) with it’s blockbuster shows which leave everyone pretty void, staging stuff that to me felt like “Manchester versions” of what you’d ever find in London, I’m thinking of the Ed Atkins which felt like an export of his really strong show from the Serpentine last year, which, when brought to Manchester became this kind of gimmick with little in the way of body or substance, putting fucking MIF logos into his artworks, getting every fucker in town to come and be court jester in his bodysuit, in a way that (to me) patronisingly said “oh yeh you’ve never seen this before…look what they can do these days with technology”. The Richter at the Whitworth which was flogging basically upscaled postcards to a 90 sec soundtrack like it was some ‘collaboration’. And then moving on to 彡☆彡☆彡☆ THE FACTORY!!! 彡☆彡☆彡☆ which hopes to transform the North with £110m of government/council money into some Colosseum of *culture*. >>> http://www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk/news/the-factory-now-estimated-to-cost-110m?
And on your side you have BAS8 driving what seems from a distance as another ‘drop’ of culture in the hope of sparking some sort of enlightenment. (although it feels like BAS are actually using some of the existing grassroots spaces if I’m right, which is positive!)
From all this though I’m less bothered about the money, the blockbuster effect, the development of NEW NEW NEW, or even about trying to compete with London. I think what has started to boil up is an us and them scenario with a kind of mildly angered/irritated arts scene but, and this is the most important thing, it’s seems like it’s become a case of all talk and no action. Desire without motivation, where people seem to be hoping some one else will sort the shit out, and this comes back to what we were talking about spaces and their 1 year time spans drowning in projects and then burning out, and the reason I’m hoping to slow down but uphold a consistency or momentum, with quality rather than quantity. I feel what Manchester needs is for people to just take a leap in doing stuff, and populate the city with stuff they want to see, rather than hoping it will be dropped in their lap or on their Instagram feed. The reason I curate the shows I do, the reason I produce projects that I want to see is because no one else is doing it, and, as I think I’ve said somewhere above, it literally is just for me and the artists I work for, but inlayed with the generosity to open up every so often so people’s curiosity can hopefully be sparked. If you start from the point of doing it for yourself, where you imagine serving no audience, I think you begin to see the most interesting projects develop whereby you can open up little moments of joy, fun, excitement and integrity. From that if people want to dip in, join the pool then the openness is there, and hopefully what may come across is something personal, maybe humble, and hopefully worthwhile.
I was kind of inspired by this the other day….worth some of your time just for the sake of thinking about endurance within the arts…in effect it just makes me think more about how curation and production can be the strongest protest against the visual landscape around you…. http://032c.com/2009/maureen-paley/
Now you mention it, we have been ‘talking’ for quite a while haven’t we?! I guess that’s part and parcel of the format though…it’s been nice to dip in and out in a somewhat extended dialogue rather than concentrating it down into one or two sittings.
The evolution of the label sounds intriguing. Have you already approached everyone you plan on talking to about this phase of expansion in personnel? Or are you still at the stage of making a generalised outline of what you want to do? I think it will be interesting to see how your projects shift alongside the label itself…would you be open to trying something a little more gimmicky like having the same show opening at the same time in multiple countries under the guidance of different members? Or would you rather everyone did their own thing under the umbrella of Caustic Coastal, with as much freedom as they wanted?
I’ve always liked the idea of shows that can’t be properly documented. It gives each viewer an edified experience that can’t properly be conveyed through just images or description, with the best ones being able to tantalise or tempt people to visit through the scant images they are able to see in the press.
With regards to the future, I think I’d agree with you to an extent about city councils seemingly providing funding for large scale developments for ‘art’ that are pretty disconnected with their wider surroundings. That’s always going to be a problem though as in my own experience the only council that seems to have properly embraced facilitating the visual arts is in Liverpool, and undeniably that’s been strengthened by the amount of tourism and commerce the Biennial and other cultural institutions help to bring in to the local economy. Obviously I don’t think councils should just throw money around to hope something good comes out of it, but why more aren’t acknowledging Liverpool’s model and at least trying to develop similar relationships with their organisations (both public and independent) seems ridiculous.
I’d also personally cut HOME a little slack too as there hasn’t really been a precedent for an organisation of its type before, especially not in Manchester. If anything, one thing they could be guilty of is trying too much too soon with programming their theatrical and visual arts in tandem as the themes that work well in one may become slightly lost in translation whilst moving to the other, particularly when their teams had never experienced the new spaces before they had their grand opening to the public. Hopefully though moving forward they’ll be able to grow and evolve into the space more, as they’ve already shown they’re willing to commission artists to create new works which in itself is something to praise.
With regards to the MIF I didn’t see the Richter show first hand so can’t really comment. I would say however that with the Ed Atkins I thought it could be seen more of a holistic view of his practice following on from his Serpentine show. Although everyone is aware of motion capture technology to some extent I imagine relatively few people would actually have seen it being used first hand, but undoubtedly will have seen the results. It also acted as more of an informative setup for the finished video to be shown in its entirety in the future, hoping to act as a document for the festival for the year…so I’m not sure if judging it before it has been finished is apt. That leads into wider issues around the festival itself. Namely the context of the whole thing. Does it need to reference Manchester in all the visual art projects? Does the festival not act as a hub for the facilitation of projects by artists and other creative professionals that just so happens to be using Manchester as a backdrop? In other creative disciplines like theatre in every play you visit you don’t see reference to the city in which it is being performed. Why does visual art have to be any different in particular with its festivals? (Sorry, playing devil’s advocate again).
I agree with the Factory though…from everything I’ve read about it it just sounds like a potentially tremendous waste of funds for something that’s really unspecific about how it will actually operate. Time will tell though I guess!
Going back to what you were saying about slowness too, it’s always quite refreshing to see somebody actually taking a step back and saying ‘I’m going to do what I want when I want’, and seemingly not feeling constrained and conversely being freed by not having a perceived format/programme to stick to. Are you hoping with your expansion to be able to work with artists from further afield? I guess (please correct me if I’m wrong) that you’ll be in the majority self-funded bracket a lot of younger organisations are, and so have had to contend with footing the financial costs yourself for the most part? How much of a bearing does that have on your practice if you make the shows you want to see?
Also, I’ve just been having a quick scan back through this document/conversation and we’re about to hit 11 pages, so think we should probably start to wrap it up, just so otherwise when it goes online it doesn’t take up half of the website! haha.
At the moment the model is kind of up for grabs, we’ll be working with a long time friend on a new space abroad which will hopefully be co-curated by myself and them, thus there won’t really be much separation in flavour between what goes on, although new influence(s) both from people and locations may be a nice push towards something different that I wouldn’t naturally produce on my own within Manchester. It’ll come back towards the ‘slowness’ thing I’ve been talking about, so the model hopefully will be 1 month UK / 1 month abroad timeline – with a few curveballs in between. All that’s sort of up in the air though depending on how it actually rolls out IRL as opposed to how it rolls out in my mind ha!
I suppose this will also push a shift in what we show if we’re shifting geographies and thus maybe our original audience won’t have the capacity to see stuff – like how do you make their experience as valid without just whipping up some photos online, in this sense I’ve been thinking a lot about Auto Italia’s old online TV series and the memory of watching that live back when it was broadcast felt much more real and tangible than flat jpegs. And equally on a tangent > stuff like Ed Fornieles’ Insta atm which in some way has made the context apparent, and toyed with that structure (probably following on from Ulman’s whole fake life story stuff, Ed’s just feels one step removed from that, but equally fun). We tried to get to that online inclusivity stage this year with the digital commissions but I feel it needs a whole lot more chucked at it – as you may have seen a tweet the other day we’ve been thinking along the lives of Auto Italia x TFI Friday, see how that pans out though. Ha!
Funding….yeh….fun ting, I’ll leave it at that haha. I suppose funding is kind of a haze or veil which can at times divert conversation from more important things within the arts (this in turn leads from the whole Factory/HOME talk and those type of spaces which can sometimes dominate conversation in the North for the wrong reasons). I’ve seen shows which have tonnes thrown at them and do nothing. I’ve seen people spend money for the sake of spending money for it all to feel false or laboured or pointless within the context of a show. It’s funny how whilst I was in London there was never much talk of funding since the spread of cash has to go between so many places and people vying for attention that you just kind of forgot about it and get on with the task at hand. Funding is leverage, yeh, privileged leverage for those who aren’t necessarily doing the best stuff…that’s maybe polemic, I know, but the important thing is and always will be to get the most out of your means. Most of my costs in Manc are transportation and shipping, and then artist fees. However it’s time, skill, inventiveness and creativity which pull off the best shows (see for example 24k Gold Rita which on the whole was a production that showed off the inventiveness and craft of both Mikey and Oli to realise that project and the 2 weeks of hard labour that went into it, http://www.causticcoastal.biz/manchester/#/24k-gold-rita/, or Daytona http://www.causticcoastal.biz/manchester/#/daytona/ which on the surface was a very straight up show but was bound together by a very simple, essentially effortless ceiling piece we pulled off with Gabriel – it’s just B+W A3 prints, that’s it, no Koonsian high production, no Helen Marten-esque exquisitely crafted objects (although there were some Marten-esque works in the show ha) but in effect the kind of root of art practices, paper, shading, and attention to detail in stapling all those 1500 fuckers up haha. And then equally So Low which was in some ways a protest at the lack of projects happening during creative high points in the city (i.e MIF) to show that look, you can do all this, in 15 days, with barely any cash, and not lose calibre or creativity. I mean imagine if just 10 people were doing the same thing, that’s 150 projects in 2 weeks, and something which is totally viable! In effect I’m pointing to the fact that we could make the shows with or without funding, if you get the best people who have some of the best abilities in artistic problem solving and creative solutions, who are great artists and commited to making stuff happen you can get something brilliant regardless. Yep funding ease the pain, raises certain elements production-wise, helps out your personal bank balance, allows you to draw in people from further afield or of a higher calibre, allows you to pay people and remove the anxiety of free labour, but it doesn’t alter the artistry in an way. Period. There at times feels a burden of the North to have access to funding or space or provisions in order to do something, the lack of *independant* projects going on hints at this, considering the calibre of some of the graduates coming out of the art schools this year. I feel like if they’ve not seen the models then the nature of projects stems from old nay historic systems of production and exhibition.
So as a tutor once told me: “The best curators are merely pointers showing you the way, but they’ll let you do the hard work”. Thus I’m just gonna point towards some of the best models which stray away from tired *gallery* ideals the North seems to offer and leave it at that:
Fernholme Road living project
Bold Tendencies (pre Franks ha)
Dorchester Projects et al
Open School East
I could reel off a load more but it’s the models as much as the spaces that I’m pointing towards here. If you bring the heat then the people will come.
I had wanted to get to page 12 hahaha but we can leave it at that. Thanks for the chat, definately worth it! \(^◡^ )/
[The unabridged version including images and footnotes can be found at the Caustic Coastal website: www.causticcoastal.biz ]