Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Director Asks, What the Critic is For?

Claudia Cannizzaro, a.k.a. "the Director" sat down the hard-to-pin-down "Critic," who affectionately and frequently refers to herself as OhMI, and raised the question, which has been hanging in the air for a while now, like a May Tveit's balloon: What the "Critic" (this one, yours truly, in particular) is good for? The balloon popped. Here is the air:

Photo by Ishmael Randall Weeks

This is my third year at Art Omi and now that I can sit comfortably at my desk I have all sort of propositions and ideas swirling in my mind and I want to see what Sandra thinks about some of them.

I had hoped to be good at dutifully typing all of Sandra’s words but in reality I forgot this was supposed to be an “interview” and found myself listening, but not taking notes! Uhm. Well, I am not a journalist, or a writer, so here is the best I can do: relying on what my brain has registered, rather on what my hands have managed to capture…

Sandra (or should I call you Ohmi?), when you were invited to be our 2010 Critic In Residence what was your first reaction to the idea of being here with 30 artists?

Sandra says it is not unusual for her to be with artists; that the number of artists was not an issue, or any different from her usual practice. She is used to be with many artists at any time: it is more a matter of time; the intensity is not very different from what she usually does. She says about her profession: parts we adore, parts we have to do: working with artists is the most pleasant.
Oh yes, that applies to arts administrators, too. Too bad that besides working with artists we have to do fundraising, write reports, file documents and so on and so forth.

Still, I am not sure about our ratio, I am not really sure that 1 critic to 30 artists is wise.
Sandra agrees that this is a problem, though not personal. She prefers to avoid, or circumscribe, hierarchy. My work is collaboration, she says. She does not have a problem being the only critic; the problem is for the artists. Artists benefit most from having different approaches. She draws a great comparison: surgeons! A stomach surgeon cannot operate on the brain. Each critic has their own specialization, while the broadness of practices of the artists in residence at Art Omi represents the widest spectrum of art making possible, I add.

Sandra asked Francis (Greenburger, the founder) about the year we had two critics in residence. The experiment did not work. Sandra points out that having two critics is not of any help, really, as two is not group: you need at least three to make a group, to create diversity. Two is either opposite, or unification. Three is a triangulation, you can move within; there is circulation.

My eyes shines, this is exactly what I came to hear. Wondering if Sandra is reading my mind…
Carried away I spill the beans: open call to critics and curators! Have them send a letter of interest, then meet with them to see if they would really fit into the program.
3 critics for 30 artists, why not. So the critic’s role would be a little less daunting: obligations will be evenly divided by three, and artists would have such great variety of critical perspectives, and practices and methods.

Only pitfall of having three critics is that they take spots usually allotted to artists.

Sandra does feel she has obligations to fulfill: she has to meet with every artist, regardless of her own interests, and her own “specialty”. My own work is not priority here, she says. In fact she is a bit of a liaison between the artists and the organization; the artists and the visitors; the artists and the world out there, at least for these three weeks.

I am wondering if this is the best format or shall we try to make this a residency for the critic, too. Shall we avoid hierarchy and treat the critic as the artists? Let them apply rather than invite them? Let them do their work and look at what would spontaneously happen? As it is now is the critic more staff than resident?
Artists visit and collaborate with each other, even though they are on equal footing; shall we not imagine the same would happen if we had three critics in residence? That the very nature of their profession would take them to have interesting discussions with the artists, to be curios about their processes, and discuss their work?

Asking one critic to cover such a variety of practices is not realistic, Sandra says, and maybe a little draining, too, I think. In fact the previous critics I have worked with during the previous two sessions agree that is more work than it seems. Sandra says: I don’t have answers for everyone. Are you a mentor figure here? I teasingly ask. Sandra wisely reminds me: mentors are chosen, not given.

Claudia Cannizzaro

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