why I don't read the press release


final text as critic-in-residence at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art

i used to want to get art. i knew nothing about it but I liked it or thought I could, like dating a new person maybe n seeing u could be a match. I read and read and watched bbc art documentaries until i had the courage to actually enter a gallery space, where i would be a well behaved visitor reading the wall texts and press release handouts that offered info on the art + artist + particular exhibition i was sweating my way around. All i wanted was clarity between Art and Meaning, but press releases were nearly always written so badly, { boring and wordy they wouldn’t make me feel any better } that instead of a tool to make art more accessible, they held me at arms length and spoke rushed and intricate so that i could not make out what they were sayin. That or they were describing an experience of the art that very rarely matched my own. so when I was there in a show i still felt this <              > between my body and the painting I was looking at; dry space n shame, because reading was not closing the gap as I’d wanted it to and I felt like I was doing it all wrong. the culture I enjoyed - stuff I watched on telly, youtube, popppmusic, o and if i was ever in a theatre it was for a panto - I didn’t have to overcome anything like studying to enjoy. it was fluid and okay and why? i just kept my eyes low and tried harder, went to university to do Fine Art thinking i would conquer it all and relax into my prowess as a Smart Arse Clever Person who could tell u eVErYthIng you needed to know about lit er ally any sculpture u pointed to.

            I went to uni with the goal to attain a full understanding of art, but part way through the course I realised it was a false dream or promise, naive, stubborn; and what I was learning instead was how to make my own art, not so much how to view it. the whole course was a workshop in making ur own easter bonnet or christmas wreath. i think truly I was panicking at that point, avoiding going to galleries cause I knew shit, and knowin that if i wanted to go forward living with art then something was gonna have to give. the goal i’d gripped as a student to understand art caved in or the mirage straight up evaporated; and it evolved into wanting to know myself as best i could instead. i am all i really have for the rest of my life. N i guess an exercise to get that self-awareness can take the form of plonking myself in front of art and media and youtube videos and new people and places in order to learn my tastes. like a baby trying a lemon for the first time, n making that face, u kno. i can always talk about how I feel and for me that is enough. so I like to speak in embodied criticism instead of going into an exhibition and figuring out wtf the art is about; all you need is the ability to feel things 2 be able to talk the talk. body as the territory of knowledge (of the knowledge that matters most).

            New look n new order: in order to gain a worthwhile body-experience of an exhibition the press release cannot come into play. The press release is too heavy with the complicity, bias and external subjectivities of the copy-writer on the other end: often the curator, comms team, education team, or even the artists themselves. Sometimes those press releases tell you the experience you SHOULD be having in the gallery space, didactic with their meaning, and if what they’re saying is distant to ur body thoughts, what do you do? Have you failed as a gallery visitor? No. it’s wild when artists think they can dictate a visitor’s reaction because who knows if that baby is actually gonna like the lemon after all. artists aren’t entitled to the visitor’s understanding of their work, however much they want to flail and throw as many words at the exhibition as they can to get their orchestrated experience. i even know that from writing on The White Pube and in my given public that: the world is chaos, no one is the centre of the universe, and u can’t pretend to control a thing. what i’m writing is not always or really ever gonna be read in the voice i’m intending and even banking on. subjectivity flies both ways, it crashes into a glass door and cartoon spirals onto the ground.

            The reason I can give or take the press release for exhibitions is cause frankly, I can give or take the artist too. I’ve found myself in this room, just me and the art, and I want it to change or match the state I’m in;;;;; i want it to affect me. now, i don’t want understanding of art, I want affect (affect affect it’s the perfect word for something outside n tinkling with the body. it’s the ‘fanny flutter’ dani admitted to having when she saw Alexandra had dressed up for the hideaway; it’s the really taught feeling through my shoulders n stomach watching the Handmaid’s Tale; it’s what a bath bomb does to water and nesquik to milk). I know this is selfish and i’m starting to think I’ll implode from the rumination, but i carry on because i think between therapy and excessive art consumption, i’m going to know myself so well so young (the whole practice is a gap yah instagram caption, I know). how good 2 be able to figure out the circumstances I need to set up around myself to stay happy and warm and in love. so far i think i need to be rich to buy a really big house so i can install The Visitors by Ragnar Kjartansson downstairs). 

            I know art plus meaning can be a neat package others specifically go to galleries for, but i just think artists and texts like that can get in the way of the work’s own energy, n it’s like explaining the joke and having it fall flat. Other times, i go into an exhibition and can see it is closer to a museum-show than an art-one and i’ll accept the need for wall texts and press releases and will carry them along with me while I use the art to learn. That’s fairly straightforward. a good example of working and presenting in this mode would be Forensic Architecture, or art things that have been brought together for their historical relationship e.g. The Place Is Here (which toured to Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, South London Gallery n Nottingham Contemporary). and still, it’s the art-shows i’m in this for: a floaty vibrating aesthetic experience where the gallery walls are probably painted in a gradient or we got some mood lighting; a piano playing itself in one corner, air fresheners, wielding; there’s a big painting of a hamster in thick oils; and a projection of interpretative dance. The art is taking off because the curation has made energy n atmosphere. stage is set n birds are singing. ANY time I visit an exhibition (museum or arty) I am gaining experience points, but it’s the art shows that give me the health points i live off day to day. n call me a 24 year old but right this second in my life i think its perfectly ok to prioritise myself in this. as i have said on twitter and in real life time and again, as a critic i am not an expert in art but an expert in my own opinion. it’s allowed me to enjoy art and that’s all i actually ever wanted from this.