Introduction to There, We SaidOctober 29, 2014
"There, we said, and in this place. How are we to think of there? And this taking place or this having a place..."—Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever
Art Practical was launched five years ago, on October 29, 2009, at a party at Meridian Gallery in San Francisco. The first issue included two features, six reviews, and a shotgun review. We have gone on to publish an additional 102 issues, including this one. In the process, we have also continually worked to demonstrate the powerful results that thoughtful, rigorous criticism can produce. So, on this notable anniversary, we focus our attention on our purpose and core activity: criticism itself.
This issue also serves as an introduction to the expanded partnership that Art Practical is embarking on with California College of the Arts, in which the magazine serves as a tool for project-based learning and professional development. The students in the CCA | Art Practical Collaborative who have curated this issue participate in an elective seminar that examines the various stances by which art publications define critical discourse for their audiences; they also contribute to the publication throughout the semester.
What follows is their selection of individual texts that have characterized our objectives to experiment; to articulate artists’ voices; to be self-reflective, evaluative, and adaptive; to best represent the practices of the Bay Area cultural communities; and to believe in the informed personal description of the encounter with an artwork.1
From the beginning, we were taking ideas seriously.
In the beginning, there was little authority behind the project beyond the assurances that multiple writers with various interests could sufficiently represent a wide cross-section of activities; that we could be accountable to and argue for those artists and works that we found noteworthy or inspiring; and that what we were doing was absolutely necessary. In the process, we found we also had to be accountable to the forms of criticism that we were undertaking. We laid out our position in the summation of our first year, arguing “in order for an idea, a work, or a body of works to be critiqued, it must first be acknowledged. It is placed within an arena of other ideas and considered with or against them. It is taken seriously.”2 From the beginning, we were taking ideas seriously.
Initially, our efforts were met with some (understandable) apprehension. As Guillermo Gómez-Peña asks, in “Questions I Haven’t Found Answers For as an Artist”: “Why are so many artists afraid of hard-core critique? Because our egos are frail?” It is true that artists operate from vulnerable positions; they must continually function like speculators, taking risks and determining ways to thrive in unstable conditions.
In order for criticism to be effective, it has to acknowledge the speculative nature of the artistic enterprise. Hence the inclusion here of Anthony Marcellini and Matthew David Rana’s proposal for a non-anthropocentric social practice that seeks “to allow some unpredictability and potentiality into a field that has become increasingly literal, strict, and didactic.” But we have also illustrated the financial risks and negotiations artists undergo to make their work, as Helena Keefe shares through her experiences and proposal.
Criticism fails if it doesn’t explicitly acknowledge its audience
Criticism itself is not speculative; rather, it is subjective. One distinction is the clarity of the terms and experiences one brings to a viewing experience. A further distinction is one’s position as critic, which demands awareness that the audience’s experience of the text is not synonymous with the audience’s experience of the work. So Art Practical’s other goal from the outset has been to move the conversation off the page and into the world while, at the same time, inviting our readers to have their say on these pages through shotgun reviews, comments, and opinion pieces. Criticism fails if it doesn’t explicitly acknowledge its audience or if it doesn’t understand that it plays a supporting role to discussions in real time and space.
What Art Practical houses is an archive; what we create is dialogue and a productive tool for generating new ideas. The impetus is there from the beginning; one sees it in the back-and-forth between Carol Anne McChrystal and Keturah Cummings. Its maturation is most visible through the Re-Engineering op-ed series, whose first installment spurred a Facebook thread, a town-hall-style meeting, a Facebook group, more public conversations, and an ongoing collaboration with the Gray Area Foundation for Art and Technology.
These conversations emanate from the anxiety that surrounds the erosion of San Francisco’s cultural foundation by unfettered economic forces and shortsighted government policies. No article encapsulates this tension more poignantly than Megan Wilson’s inspiring, prophetic personal essay, “HOME 1996-2008.” Criticism is always site-specific, recognizing that art responds to the conditions of where it is made and shown. I will not make any dire predictions about the future for the San Francisco Bay Area art scene, except to say that our familiar experiences will continue to become more unreliable. We have to challenge our preconceptions and be willing to discard them to embrace new forms, spaces, and audiences. As Chris Cobb notes, “turning points are known to be full of surprises.”
Criticism is ultimately an exercise in prospecting, in staking claims.
Criticism is ultimately an exercise in prospecting, in staking claims. It delineates proximity and distance to individuals, ideas, and spaces. Joan Didion asserts, “A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.”3 Art Practical defies the notion that we are losing our claims on this city, because artists and writers have been writing their story here every week for the past five years, rendering this place in their image. The articles included here are testaments of why we persist and for whom. Enjoy.