Superscript 2015 Panel: Artists as Cultural First Responders
Skip to main content

Superscript 2015 Panel: Artists as Cultural First Responders

Presented as part of the Superscript 2015 conference. To view the entire panel discussion playlist, click here.

How does the delivery medium affect the message? This discussion centers on the interplay of platform and content, highlighting artists who embed critical cultural response into their work: media inventors who create altogether new modes of storytelling, makers who use online means to critique institutional power, artists who deploy existing media platforms in their practice to surprising creative ends.


Fionn Meade: I think one of the things in being—having been handed this sort of frame “first responders,” it was interesting that we all kind of stepped into a questioning mode around that idea of artists as first respondents in different ways. Including I guess maybe a background question here is this presumed newness of a sort of informal capacity that the web, you know, and the digital platforms that we’re now all talking about presented. Is in that kind of informality that was—is new and has presented a new landscape, has it been entirely co-opted by the sort of promotion of the personal and the preference and in that regard, has that not created a kind of first responsiveness that actually is occupying a lot of space in terms of digital platforms, and if we’re not talking about first respondents in regards to artists, maybe we can just say what is—is this a counter kind of responsiveness that we’re talking about, so Marisa, in your work you talked about slowing down actually the pace of reports.

Marisa Mazria-Katz: Yeah, well I mean I think what we discovered was that it didn’t make sense for us to have artists responding to the news cycle, which is just accelerating almost, you know, constantly, because I mean you know, I think we wanted to give them the space to reflect and also, if we wanted to sort of upend traditional takes of the news, you know, that takes some thought, and it’s not something that we felt was really working to have somebody hear about something and then respond to it right away.

We just didn’t feel that the artists we were working with, that their practice really like worked in such a way. Of course there are exceptions to this, but generally speaking we felt that if this site was going to actually be different, or have something else to say that it was about giving space, and giving more time. And allowing artists to work in a way that I think they more traditionally work. Rather than asking them to be journalists.

Meade: And in the case of Trevor’s work, but also James your work, this effort to make in a sense the invisible visible, actually in general takes a sort of amount of research and development before the project is even shared?

James Bridle: Yeah, but I mean I hope all artists do some kind of research or have some kind of background to what they’re doing. I think—I’d really like Dan’s point that the first response is not necessarily the thing, but I think the more interesting thing that a lot of stuff is the response a at all. We can agree that we necessarily should not be the first people on this. On the scene we will get in the way but we should definitely be there, and the thing that for me, the technology enables occasionally demands, sometimes makes difficult or like makes bad, is if there’s a better way of doing that, is that there is a kind of necessity of response.

Which is very hard not to, and also the fact that you are responding is always kind of visible, because of the ways in which that work is then disseminated and displayed and so on and so forth so I think it’s less possible to just put a thing and go this is just my little response over here and you don’t have to worry about it. Like it’s going to be out there so there’s always going to be a context or response around it in some form.

Meade: I also wanted to ask you, Claire, when you talked about radical discontinuities of science fiction in some way softening the sort of maybe softening the rhetorical onslaught of the future, that science fiction in a sense makes the future more porous, through its embrace of radical discontinuities.

Claire Evans: I think it also prepares us for the future, which is kind of the tangled hierarchy that science fiction has, where did we land on the moon because a generation of engineers Arthur C. Clark or Isaac Asimov or do we have these glamorous cyberhacker cabals? It’s difficult to know what is predictive and what isn’t about science fiction but one thing that is true is that if we can become familiar with new scenarios ahead of time we can be prepared for them and we tend to think about them so that when the time comes we can have a good first response. It helps us to prepare and steep ourselves in kind of the rhetoric of tomorrow.

Meade: And just Dan you were quite blatant in saying that in your view, perhaps artists are second, third, and beyond respondents that there’s there’s a delay inherent in to some degree degree in artistic practices practice, Victor Shklovsky, the Russian art critic says that art was a device it actually complicates and gives a sort of demand of the shape of attention, and that perhaps that quality is a question, how does that exist in the digital shift or in the digital predominance of communication transactional surveillance, the atomization of transactional surveillance? How do you maintain in a sense that notion of artist as a device.

Fox: To slowing things down?

Meade: Yeah.

Fox: Well, it’s a question of choice, isn’t it partially? Choice of attention, choice of where you put things. As I said, I mean James is right to say that by and large what we do now will be made visible at some point, but you still have the—you can still go and live you know in a wood somewhere. You can go and not document what you’re doing in the studio. You can have a studio in the middle of a great big city and not take a single photograph of what goes on in there so there are certain choices about when you put something out into the world and how long you take to incubate it and who you talk about it with.

You can have private conversations with people still. But again it’s like James said, there is this sort of, you know, demands to respond for various kind of digital platforms, that make us feel very, very anxious about, you know, you kind of anxiously have to sort of you, somehow demonstrate that we were there, you know, we were there thinking and having a response that was, you know, fully formed and well considered right there in the moment. And you think when you sort of get away from that. There is still a choice in that.

Meade: So do you think, I mean Duchamps for instance when he adopted the ready made he said it was a way to move away from the proliferation of the retinal and from the self that had to be some degree guessed at or doubted in a way and that he saw more agency again, roughly 100 years ago in that, do you think that in your work in engaging kinds of the—with making visible and making invisible really in the end borders that are based in legal transaction? Do you think that that by surfacing that it’s a move away from in a sense the expectations of you as an individual artist? That has an individual studio practice?

Bridle: I don’t know about like to the extent that like this is all, you know, just my opinions, like I think that in my work it’s—I’m putting this out as an individual, but I have an expectation that it will naturally travel and be explored in different ways because that is the nature of the medium in which I work. It’s not a broad brushstroke about artist practice in general at all but it is to me fascinating and brilliant that I know these things can be sent out and always have been in terms of the fact that people have their own encounters with the work and I don’t really see that something has kind of particularly changed in there though I do think that yeah, that it still doesn’t seem to have percolated into most stuff to any degree that, so many of the attitudes I was set up to write are still not being addressed. Or aren’t like particularly well considered when talking about this stuff, except that again like we keep saying that getting harder and harder to ignore, right, that we have actually built an entire system to make us all enforced creators of ready mades. That’s what it does is it’s a perfectly Duchampsian system.

Meade: I was also struck in thinking through Tania Bruguera’s work or Tatlin’s Whisper. In Havana that what was interesting as well in a work that is seen as timely, topical, respondent, correspondent, almost, I’m curious your take you know, on this in particularly Marisa that piece is called Tatlin’s Whisper No. 6, so it’s actually informed by a series and choreographed performances of resistance and the space of resistance that actually goes back a number of years and what’s interesting to think about that is that the logic of that, so to speak, the artistic logic of that is perhaps less of interest in the coverage of her being detained than it is the fact of her being detained. Do you find that the logic for instance of a work like that in its sort of sequence and its terms, so to speak, comes across in the topicality of coverage around it, the reception of it.

Mazria-Katz: I don’t really know. No, I don’t think so. I mean it wasn’t really in terms of you mean the press coverage of what happened to her? No, it didn’t seem so to me, really, the project itself, I mean did you I mean when you were—

Meade: Well, no, I was just curious in my view, no, basically what’s in the news, is the topicality of an artist being detained in Havana, and it often goes not far beyond that into what the kind of concentric implications are of the work that led here to make that decision to do it there and similarly what it might have meant that by doing it as an artist born there but from elsewhere what does it mean for artists are living in Cuba and do have a different sense of the limitations or constrictions upon expression there? A lot of that Coco Fusco kind of surfaced it in a way in a piece that e-flux published, I bring it up because the topicality of it, the first responder part of it is because of the artist being detained.

Fox: That’s what news demands, doesn’t it? What’s going to be headline news is not the critical thinking behind the making of the piece of art. You know and a really crass example of this would be the way art gets written about in terms of auction prices, you know, you post impressionist painting of some, you know, some flowers that people aren’t really interested in what led those flowers to be painted, what’s interesting is the incredibly wealthy Russian oligarch how much they paid for it.

Mazria-Katz: It’s a lot of times how we commission, too, is anticipating what’s going to be in the news and thinking about who are the artists who are going to say something about it and have something insightful to say about it, so for instance, you know, the Kenya piece that I showed you, we worked on that for 6 months before, and actually what happened was I—I arrived, maybe it was even longer than 6 months because I got to Nairobi, I met the author, and knew, because in 2012 everybody be was talking about the 2013 elections they were quite fearful of what would happen.

So I knew that this was something that was going to be in the news and commissioned her almost immediately after meeting her and reading her work to write something because I knew what she was going to say was going to be very different from the traditional news take on the Kenyan elections but I also knew that her piece would probably get news coverage, too, and overall that’s the real—that’s the big goal of what we’re doing is inserting these artist’s voices into the news and with Tania with everything that was happening with Cuba it was sort of like a perfect storm and it all kind of erupted, right but I mean that’s very much how I work. I mean of course I really—I really make a special effort to get to know an artist’s work but I will equally look at what’s happening in the news to make sure that I’m doing something that people are going to be paying attention to. It’s of the utmost importance to us.

Evans: Yeah, and if you’re going to commission this kind of thing I think there are parallels to what we do, because you have to look into the future to some extent, you have to look for anniversaries or pegs of some kind even if it’s as stupid as something as Valentine’s Day. A lot of that comes down to traffic, too, we know that on every holiday there’s going to be a flurry of posts on that subject around that holiday and different reactions to it and it’s not like artists are wandering into the line of fire without information. You have to look for someone who’s already interested in this subject and ask them because they’re the one, because kind of they’re the last responders, this have been there all along. I think those what you united to talk to.

Mazria-Katz: Also we can’t get an editor to pay attention to us at these bigger publications unless we kind of anticipate what might be on their radar, too, so that’s really important for us.

Bridle: I was going to say that there’s a more subtle thing to do as well in terms of those Paglen photos which to me are the kind of answer to the difficulty that was being briefly discussed a couple of times of this material I’ll say of the Internet question of what does it mean just to point to it and show it is that those photos got reinserted into the media in a very different way that relied on sense causes but they used licensing and their major kind of tool for doing it and I think they’re such a fantastic example of like instrumentalizing the art in a certain way in way to sneak it in there and turn what could just be an image of the world of something far far more active and descriptive that goes out into the world that isn’t just writing you know, a news story but is actually something far more—yeah, targeted.

Meade: In Claire, in your work, you’ve talked about how there’s a being both like a musician and a writer and an editor, the difference between sort of expected immediacy around live performance and providing the universality of music as a sort of immediacy which I only bring up because when you go to a show you’re expecting the artist as first respondent—someone who’s taking on immediacy but you’ve distinguished that from the work of not only the editing but the delay of science fiction, again not using the word delay but the implicit delay of science fiction that allows for a different critical space. Can you talk about that just —

Evans: Well, I think that in this moment in time, all artists are existing on three or four different temporal tracks. As a musician there’s a part of my livelihood that requires being in a place with people in a moment and there’s an ephemeral quality to it but at the same time a musician must use the same tools that we use to make music to disseminate and communicate with people and that happens in a much more diffuse way.

As a writer you write in a moment and you publish something and you seem to have a 48 hour window in which anyone could give a shit about it and then it’s over. But it continues to live, you know, it’s not just that window of time. If something is on the Internet and it’s in a place which is not going to go out of business any time soon and you have an archive of it online then people can continue to react to it for years. The longer you write on the web, the more you get emails from people about something written six years ago. I get comments on the blog that I haven’t updated in three years because everything is existed in the sort of simultaneous, you know, equivalence.

Mazria-Katz: You think 48 hours? I think that’s really generous. But —

Evans: I guess it depends if you’re west coast or east coast, too.

Fox: I really notice that too as an editor of a magazine that as opposed to use Christopher Knight’s phrase from yesterday in a way part of like the niche art legacy publishing is a glossy print magazine that has been going for many years, you know, but at the sam time it’s a magazine that has—we have blogs, we have social media, we make videos, we produce at different kind of temporal rates, but one thing I’ve always noticed about doing a magazine and the print magazine is how it’s consumed at different kind of paces.

You know, and you get die hard fans who might kind of get an issue through the mail if they’re subscribers and they’ll read it cover to cover and provide some kind of response. But most people don’t. That’s not the way I consume magazines. The way I consume magazines is bit by bit and slowly and that could be a copy of the New Yorker that’s next to the loo and you kind of read slowly over the course of many visits or it’s something that you stumble years later in a magazine, you might be like Ben yesterday in his lecture was talking about his lecture and going to the library and looking at Artforum in 1982 and whatever and discovering new things. Publishing has its sort of slowness and some things that are very, very old can suddenly seem very, very fresh again, things that were overlooked at the time can suddenly seem very, very urgent so they kind of renew themselves.

Meade: Do you think given that that there is a role, though, for—Paul Schmelzer’s project with Artist Op-Eds, you know, has invited, like Dread Scott was responding to Ferguson’s or events like Ferguson, really larger implications than just Ferguson, like in the moment but maybe from his ongoing engagement as an artist I similarly I think Coco Fusco’s entry into Joe Scanlan’s process was really helpful and was performed a kind of mediating in betweenness that allowed people to have a more sophisticated conversation about the reception of that via the Whitney Biennial.

I guess I’m asking in your role, do you think that a—do you think that that is something that frieze, for instance, finds new platforms for or new immediacy for or in terms of like providing that space for a kind of highly editorialized immediate?

Fox: Yeah, I mean I think we’d like to do more of that we’ve been working with a slightly antiquated website for the last several years which has not allowed us to be as dynamic as we could. But I think different rates of response are really valuable in editorial work. I think there’s responding very, very quickly to something as it happens can be really important. I think the example about the Scanlan controversy at the Whitney Biennial. The whole conversation around that was, you know, something that has to kind of happen in the moment. Whereas it’s still possible, though, to have that conversation 6 months later, because these problems don’t go away, either.

You know, I think that’s an important thing, a slow response is also a reminder that problems of for instance race in the art world don’t disappear because people stop talking about them in the kind of buzzy world of you know, social media or kind of what gets circulated very, very rapidly online. And I think that in a weird sort of way what’s printed on paper and like the slowness of distribution with that, kind of provides some sort of not just sort of archiving or not just sort of archiving role but also it provides, it provides a brake, you know, as in like a car brake, it slows things down.

Bridle: Can I mess up that question a political bit by saying like these aren’t slow responses. Like a fast response is not necessarily a first response. Particularly in terms of the—because you’re asking meme who have been thinking about this for quite a while and actually their response may be a lot more thoughtful and in depth than a lot of the kind of immediate responses to stuff. I mean that is the thing about going out and asking different people who have worked on something for quite a long time is that you’re drawing on a huge extensive body of knowledge that a very fast media wasn’t and just because it’s published doesn’t mean —

Mazria-Katz: Just to add to that, one of the beautiful things that about I think asking an artist to respond, you know, versus a journalist, because working as a journalist for so many years there’s all these rules that you have to abide by and you have to work in a certain way whereas the artist can draw on so many different sources, work in different ways, embed themselves in communities and don’t have of the rules that journalists might, and that I think then produce also something that can be very different, and—

Fox: Yeah, I think that—that also brings up this distinction between the arts journalist and the arts writer. You know. There are very different types of writing about art. There’s writing about, you know, who’s moving where in the institutions or what things are being sold for or what is very newsy or very sort of fact based and requires journalistic skills, proper professional journalistic skills but then writing a monographic essay about an artist’s work or a historical movement or something requires other skills, that requires skills to do with imagination and empathy and maybe deep sort of historical knowledge or having followed someone for a long time. Maybe it requires sort of different kinds of literary skills. And so you know, when we think about this idea of like first response and this circles back to what we were just saying just now, it’s about like who has the best set of tools for a given situation, and there isn’t a one size sort of fits all kind of solution for this.

Meade: Right. And that—I think you—this was a Twitter question, how do artists respond differently from critics and journalists, which I think you were just sort of getting at. But is there—I mean is there in a sense a—do you feel like you’re creating space through your projects, in this case I would say this to Claire, Marisa, and Dan as editors, you know, are you creating platforms that you see as being like sustainable in that way that can actually and if you are, what are those, how do you differentiate the time registers of your responsibility as an editor and publisher that invites artists into a particular format?

Evans: Wait, define sustainable?

Meade: Sustainable meaning something that you think will like you said, stick around, be there for a period of time, not just disappear.

Evans: I mean, working on the Internet you will always have to keep in the back of your mind the possibility that the platform will someday disappear and reconcile yourself to that and try to sort of live it up while you can. That’s always been my attitude.

Bridle: But different to publishing a magazine just on a shorter scale.

Evans: Sure we’re talking about slow and fast but these are condensed time scales we’re talking about years at the most and the world is vast is time is vast and even our books will one day turn to dust so we have to reconcile ourself to that to some extent and make work that lasts in people that reflects people.

Bridle: Something about the quality of the work. Like the first responders, it’s ultimately about getting people to make work and getting it out there and the response, like maybe that’s the difference between the artist and the critic or there are shades towards it, but ultimately is that you just want to get the thing out there and say the thing and then you know all those other processes can happen to.

Mazria-Katz: I’m not sure hopefully this is part of this, but our platform is interesting because it’s almost—it’s whether or not people come to our site, you’d absolutely love lots of visitors to our site, and you know, it’s great, but what we really aim for, it’s not emphasizing the platform as much as it’s the insertion. And that’s been—that’s been a really interesting thing to try to work with, because with the emphasis of numbers and metrics and Google analytics and how are we doing and all these things and then what happens when you kind of take the ProPublica model, which is, you know, it’s which is also just like us inserting into mainstream newspapers, you know, what does that mean for you, and where will we be, you know, we may not be around, but these pieces will still live on in these other sites, let’s say, and that’s something that has been part of our process is realizing that if the goal is that artists are being read and discussed by people all over the world, how are we best going to serve that around that was—that was a really conscious decision at the very beginning for us.

Meade: And it was interesting to hear that it was really slowing down and taking the time to think of maybe more strategically about the insertion of the work or the artist into a different level of circulation and distribution. That created and efficacy that otherwise you wouldn’t have had, but do you feel as though you’re influenced by your partners in that regard?

Mazria-Katz: Our partners want the people that often that they haven’t ever heard of, or are doing things that are really interesting that are not on their radar. So in order—I mean I’m not sure if I’m answering the question, but when we think about our partners, we think about what can we bring them that they aren’t going to be able to do themselves? And having Creative Time and the knowledge of the art world and artists, we really bring something to them that otherwise I don’t know that they would be able to even—they’ve ever even heard of, so I mean that’s how we try to think—we try to think of how can we, you know, sort of help grow or expand the kinds of pieces that they are putting out into the world. That’s where we see our role.

Fox: I mean just speaking about our work on frieze magazine, in a couple of years ago we started making our own short videos, which is something you see a lot you know news organizations doing, but not so much in the sphere of like specialist art magazines, and they’re just like short 10-minute films that we do with a production company in London and they’re all paid for out of the editorial budget of the magazine, but we—it’s been very much like a kind of learning as we go process, making these things.

But what we’ve discovered is that it’s opened up a new sort of function of the magazine for us, which is possibly one of record, one of like, you know, possible kind of like archival value, which print doesn’t really sort of do in the same way. So for instance, was it last year, I think it was last year we produced our first 30-minute documentary, which we did in association with the BBC, which was about the history of the Glasgow art scene, and through the magazine, through the kind of contacts we have, you know, we were able to speak to a whole bunch of people in different generations in Glasgow about how the art has developed in the city, we were lucky enough to be able to use the BBC’s archive to pull in the archive footage.

We also ended up being one of the last people who got inside of the Glasgow School of Art before it was hit by fire, so what this documentary ends up being is this sort of snapshot of Glasgow at a certain moment before something happened which was very symbolic to the city and now we have this great 30-minute record of lots of different people of lots of different generations speaking about their, you know, their connection to the city. And it operates in a different way to something in print, you know, because we don’t have an editorialize voice. Of course we make editing decisions in what you show, but it’s talking heads basically artists and curators and writers talking to the camera, you can hear the grain of their voice, see what they’re like, see the environment. I think that’s something that technology has allowed us to do as a magazine or to start exploring as a magazine.

Meade: But I mean that’s also partly why just the Walker commissions inviting artists to make works that respond to signature artists in our collection that already have an interest in say, Derek Jarman, was that interest in surfacing new platform that could invite that kind of expertise, that kind of ongoing, say engagement the allure of something that already has a momentum, do you see the magazine devoting more time and space and resources to that and what’s the balance of exploring perhaps really meaningful new platforms for artists but at the same time providing as you put it a kind of legacy role of—or not legacy but a kind of convention of reception that is still valuable because it has an inherent convention?

Fox: Yeah, I mean I think there are questions of just economics. We don’t—these videos that produced out of the editorial budget and we don’t have any extra money for them that is raised by advertising of these videos and we’re able to produce them because the production company are friends of ours and we get mate’s rates basically of their facilities but I think what’s interesting for us as a magazine is how it has raised this question of like horses for courses, kind of what are the right writing skills for a certain type of platform situation?

So the writing skills that you need to write a 400-word review are different to the writing skills you need to write 2500-word monographic essay about an artist which are different to the writing skills you need to write for the moving image which requires more concision, more sensitivity to speech rather than to word you know words on a page so I think it’s another kind of writing that we’re learning about.

Meade: But isn’t the acuity of new forms of writing responsive to this kind of immediate attention and I mean we’re describing things that don’t sound that different than they have been in terms of approaches so I guess I’m asking is there a new kind of artist that is sort of this first responder that’s adopting the acuity of immediate response because I feel like we’re sort of talking about the counter to that.

Bridle: I just want to say that—I keep wanting to make science fiction metaphors basically and this is a really long one but something about the way you just talked about making that Glasgow film is you were basically making a science fiction without knowing it because you were predicting something into the future, I mean you weren’t predicting it, I hope you didn’t set fire to the place, but there was a weird thing that happened there. And not all artists, but a huge number, but also in terms of when you make stuff that’s deliberately intended tock into a news cycle and stuff you are doing a kind of futurism that is predictive.

The difference to that to the kind of pure reactive thing that we criticize is that it’s done from a position of kind of thoughtfulness and consideration and so we’re coming to it with like a domain awareness and a history of research and that kind of thing that allows you in hindsight to go oh, yeah, I was doing science fiction because I was looking in a place in which there was some kind of moment in a moment in which you were kind of projecting yourself forward in the time that you make or write this thing. And that’s the same thing that happens to archived pieces that get resuscitated or whatever they all exist in those kind of time lines and when they get reacted essentially speaks to the quality of thought that went into them in the first place.

Evans: I think artists and journalists have had the skill of because if you’re paying attention to the world, this is actually a kind of William Gibson thing, you can trace the nodes of things that are latent and see where they might intersect, because you’re looking and so that I mean it’s pa form of looking into the future but it’s also just awareness of the present.

Bridle: What Gibson does in terms of that reaching across the network and picking things out it’s like particularly it speaks completely to that flattening of time because there’s no temporality to the thing at all. He just has what appears to us to be a temporal foresight which is actually kind of a spatial one because he exists in this wider network but I think a lot of artists of a certain kind and the ones that have been worked that that’s what they’re doing, they’re kind of spreading out to these networks and being absolutely more aware of them.

Meade: Rather than rather than being determined by them.

Bridle: Yeah, absolutely.

Meade: So that anticipatory predictive quality is actually different in some ways than discussing it as a perhaps respondent, correspondent, imbedded reacting to the incident.

Bridle: I think it relates to what we had talked about last night when I complained about this label of political artist or activist artist which is like one that I get a lot because I make work about drones and war and stuff. And like I don’t object to it because it’s a—I find it weird that it’s just applied to me because I’m making work about these things as though making work about anything isn’t about these things or making work about the world in which you encounter is not some kind of form activism or involvement in the world and I feel it’s quite similar to this are you an artist who engages with stuff or not? Well, we do, we live in the world, hi.

Meade: I think it might be because we have—we have this great group of people, but also it’s our last opportunity for audience questions, I thought I would open it up to the audience for any questions on our conversation.

Audience Member: My favorite science fiction short story is Roadside Picnic, you know, in which we as a human race are dealing with the detritus left behind by an alien invasion in which they seem to take no notice of us whatsoever and I just wondered in instead of a question I’d like sort of a comment, I feel like it’s relevant to this conversation, in the sense that you know, like we are grappling with our responses to these things that to these technologies and to those modes of working and modes of like socializing that we still don’t quite have a handle on, and yet are trying to make proclamations around and, you know, determine our future according to like the clumsy ways in which you know we’re moving forward in the present moment.

Evans: Yeah. I mean the like the cosmic zoom out is always really important. I mean it’s you know in the midst of all of this deep conversation about essentially invisible things, that matter a great deal to us, we must always remember that you know, we’re on a rock and you know if an alien is passing by, they don’t necessarily have any understanding or interest in what we’re talking about. It’s useful to remember that sometimes, even if it’s just like this kind of theoretical construct, like we may not be alone into the universe, and if we aren’t, then you know, we are just as important as the other guy, and we know nothing of what’s going on with them, so—you know.

Bridle: As well about the indeterminacy of our present and the acknowledgment of that which I think is often possible in art is not possible in politics that within—it’s full of people going no, I am right about this and that is one of the major problems with the world. The refusal to kind of acknowledge a little bit of, you know, contextual difference or dissonance in that, and that’s what those kind of stories teach us more and more, and that I don’t think it would be impossible to spread that allusion a little bit further into other forms of public discourse.

Meade: There’s the sense, though, that I mean this gets at a very—like a very important gap which is that art that the politics of art are—art that embeds critique kind of promises a political accomplishment that it doesn’t deliver and it actually often thrives on that nondelivery or the ambiguity that’s created around not delivering in a sense that the political agency, there’s a—which is very different than being in the position of political power.

Bridle: Yeah, I don’t and I’m afraid to and I’m disillusioned by the inability of like that kind of political forms of those things to come true on a lot of the claims that we make like we haven’t got that figured out yet and yeah, if you want to do that, you should probably be trained as a lawyer. We know that other things have bigger structural things but at the same time that’s not the only thing we’re trying to do in the world, either.

Audience Member: Hi, just continuing on this idea of power, in your various subjects, I feel like the issues have come up like issues of curation, issues of systemic disposition, I was just wondering what you guys had to say in terms of the role of values and the implementation of values and who’s making the decision that sort of generates the values that result in decisions that affect all of our disciplines.

Fox: Well, I—that’s a big question.

Audience Member: Sorry.

Fox: It’s a big it’s a very, very good question, and a big question. All I can—all I can say to that is maybe just a sort of reiterate something that was trying to say earlier in my talk, which is that I think we need to not be myopic about first within just speaking about the arts generally, about what fields we work in, you know, this idea that the kind of artist, visual artists are somehow the most interesting ones and people that do things in other fields don’t have political agency or what have you. I think it’s a conversation we’re all involved in.

And then secondly you know not being you know, I think like being aware of your own sort of biases in terms of where you come from sort of metaphorically and literally, physically and I think it’s something you need to maintain some vigilance on. It’s not at all easy to do. But yeah, sorry, I’m really that’s a really inarticulate answer and a very platitudinous one, I sort of apologize, but I think maintaining vigilance about those things and not be locked down into a specialist conversation of your own field where what we’re doing here as professional art critics or what we’re doing here as artists who work in just in the visual arts, I think not getting bogged into your own sort of lane that’s crucial, also.

Evans: And being transparent, also, I think a lot of people are afraid to have an opinion about something, because they’re just always the possibility that you’re going to get trolled for it, which is a very real fear and I think it affects some people more than others, but we shouldn’t sacrifice our capacity to speak openly about what we believe in.

Bridle: That transparency, I’m in terms of it’s good, because it like it means we’re actually like being serious and genuine in saying what we’re talking about, and like expressing our values clearly. It also hopefully builds some sort of solidarity with other people but it also opens us up to proper critique about stuff, as well that want to be challenged on those values. So sometimes I have I get like really scared when I express something that I feel really strongly about in my work, and is the reason for doing it but more often than not it’s good that that comes out because it gets reinforced because there is genuine good strong criticism that I understand what the fact that’s really, really happening so I understand that it’s necessary to state values for both of those.

Audience Member: So you think those are occurring organically out of the conversation sort of between systemic and organic.

Bridle: The values are?

Audience Member: Yeah.

Bridle: I think there’s probably some sort of I hope it describes what I considered to be universal ones and there’s the more kind of actionable ones that happen with the encounter with, but that should always be open to some kind of critique in conversation.

Fox: Otherwise it just becomes ideology, doesn’t it.

Audience Member: We spent a fair amount of time kind of bemoaning the lack of power that comes in a lot of our positions and what we’re looking at but first responders are somebody who has a lot of power, right. They often frame the narrative because of they’re first draft. They often talk when the most people are listening so that narrative is picked up by a lot of people and so the question becomes, I guess my question is, I know it’s hard to be first responders as artists but how do we get there? I mean what can we start doing to be in that position?

Bridle: I think that’s really good. And I think we should shy away from actually trying to occupy that position from everything we’ve said if in fact we believe in the values essentially of those things we said. Like I don’t have particularly great strategy for doing that except I think actually stating these things clearly and loudly remains important. That we shouldn’t, while being, you know, reasonably reticent about the actual political effect some of this work might have, not shying away from we think it should and holding you, know, saying loudly and clearly, what we think is actually, I mean I don’t necessarily do that much and I don’t right now on this stage in front of you feel like I have a huge amount of power, I feel very lucky to have it, but you know, that’s when we get to say those things. How we say them, a little bit harder.

Fox: Yeah, I think you make a good point, though in being the first person to say something is often a really scary position, because you’re advancing an opinion that people haven’t necessarily commented on and you’re opening yourself up totally for kind of being trolled or criticized or what have you and it’s a very brave position to take and I think that if you do take that position it’s just a case of being open to the fact that you can modify your views, and the people who are listening to you make that first, that first statement, that first kind of salvo, you know, kind of reaction, shouldn’t like take you down for that, either, because it’s a very—you know, you’re putting yourself in a very vulnerable position and people need to respect that vulnerability, I think.

Meade: Yeah, that idea which is a valuable one that the act of criticism is or critique is self-education in public.

Fox: Yeah. Yeah, it is.

Meade: And not in a sense making a judgment that is universal. It is a modified—it’s putting one self in a position of —

Evans: And it’s difficult because things last, you know and if you make an opening salvo in a times of crisis that turns out to be misguided then that stays with you unless you have the capacity to go back and edit it until your opinion is like Wikipedia style up to date but we have to remember we all have the right to make that opening salvo.

Bridle: But also it doesn’t have to be the thing that is said first or loudest, either, but to say the new thing, as well. Again that slightly temporal difference that when the thing that is said that is new that should be kind of supported and critically engaged with very carefully, that that doesn’t have to be the thing said first and loudest.

Fox: Yeah and I think if you’re a critic you also have to remember that you’re perfectly within your rights to change your mind, which you know, a lot of people don’t expect of critics. I think you’re totally totally able to disagree with yourself. Disagree with the younger version of yourself. God knows that I’ve written some crap that I can’t believe I said at the time. I would never say now.

Evans: But that’s kind of nice that you have a historical record of prevailing opinions or whatever it was that you’re writing contained within your own body of work that you can create your own history and you can’t have that record unless you take the risk of saying the thing in the first place.

Meade: Unless there’s a burning last question maybe we can end there. And thank you for the conversation.

Get Walker Reader in your inbox. Sign up to receive first word about our original videos, commissioned essays, curatorial perspectives, and artist interviews.