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Platforms: Portfolio NW and its relationship to arts criticism

Over the next few days, extracts from Jack Welsh's commissioned text for Portfolio NW will be the first texts posted on the Portfolio NW a-n Artists talking blog. Here is the first extract:

Platforms: Portfolio NW and its relationship to arts criticism.

If you trawl through the abundance of press releases, organisational remits and artistic opportunities available online, you will likely notice a recurring word. The core meanings of this simple noun are easily understood and unbounded by any contested interpretations. Yet when employed within an artistic context, the term 'platform' encapsulates the hierarchy of cultural production and dissemination. This text will use the term as a departure point to discuss the artwork in Portfolio NW and consider the exhibition's wider relationship to critical writing.

In essence, a 'platform' can be understood as providing visibility: an elevation to public consciousness through a particular channel. It is strongly associated with supporting emerging creative practices. In the visual arts, the mechanisms of this process are both explicit (such as inclusion in public exhibitions) and implicit (financial remuneration for materials/production costs, and curatorial support). When 71% of artists in the UK do not currently receive a fee for exhibiting, this support can make a significant impact to an artist’s development.[i]

As part of the Bluecoat's artistic programme, Portfolio NW is undoubtedly an institutional output. As writer and critic Pablo Lafuente observes, this is a significant part in the ecology of contemporary arts production and part of 'a system of education, exhibition, exchange and discourse production shaped by public and private institutions and different interests in specific times and locations.’[ii] From artist-led spaces to large institutions, the arts ecology is a multiflorous organism; one that requires nourishment at all levels to be sustainable.

The rationale of Portfolio NW, as a public platform to support new work by creative talent in the region, is in line with the Bluecoat's long-term institutional remit 'to nurture both creative individuals and a venue for local groups of artists to share their work.’[iii] It is the forth such exhibition since 2008 to solely focus on this objective, following group shows Next Up (2008) and Global Studio (2010), and a solo exhibition with Gina Czarnecki (2011). By acknowledging its own position within the arts ecology, Portfolio NW could be recognised as the endlessly shifting responsibility of the institution to support artists within such a paradigm.

The exhibition brings together the disparate works of several artists working across the region: Rebecca Chesney, Tadhg Devlin, Dave Evans, 0point3recurring (David Henckel, Dan Wilkinson & Leon Hardman), Hannah Wooll and Kai-Oi Jay Yung. It is intriguing to note the diversity of mediums in the exhibition. Ranging from photography to performance, this scope could be read as a curatorial statement that reflects - but doesn't claim to cover - the myriad of artistic practices in the region.

Commissioning and exhibiting new artwork requires the most literal interpretation of a platform: the physical entity of the gallery space. In Gallery One, Rebecca Chesney presents an assortment of material collected on a recent residency to Romania: film footage, photographs and a dead bird. This intimate gallery space possesses strong museological characteristics; it has always flourished in the display and concise study of objects. David Blandy's installation for the 2008 Liverpool Biennial, The Way of The Lone Pilgrim: The Search for Mingering Mike,displayed ephemera with other artefacts that referenced local history museums. 

While in Transylvania, Chesney trekked to an abandoned village where, it is said, birds no longer sing. This pilgrimage to the remnants of these buildings, long since reclaimed by nature, is an act of reconnaissance. Many villages depopulated or abandoned in Romania were directly due to the volatile political landscape over the last century. Following the collapse of the Ceausescu regime in 1989, half a million Transylvanians, with indigenous Saxon heritage and fluent in German, fled to West Germany. 

[i] Jack Hutchinson, a-n News: Paying Artists Survey: 71% receive no fee for exhibiting (2013)

[ii] Pablo Lafuente, Notes on Art Criticism as a Practice (2012)

[iii] Lewis Biggs, 'Individuals and Institutions in Dialogue' in Bryan Biggs and Julie Sheddon (eds). Art in the City Revisited (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2009), p.42.

Image: Tadhg Devlin, Taken from the series Twelve Miles Out, Name: Margaret Dobson Left Ireland: 1959 From: Kilmuckridge, County Wexford


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