Letter from the Editor

February

By Naomi Riddle

21 February, 2018

Running Dog magazine.’ 
Running Dog,’ he said.
‘Yes.’
‘You people still in business?’
‘Barely.’ 
‘Capitalist lackeys and running dogs.’ 
‘Someone remembers,’ she said.’
Don DeLillo, Running Dog (1978), p. 30 

‘There is no superiority in making things or in re-making things.’
Anne Boyer, Garments Against Women (2015), p. 20 

 

In its first five months of publication Running Dog has published twenty two articles responding to exhibitions in Sydney and regional New South Wales. These include projects in artist-run spaces, commercial galleries and institutions, as well as performances and one-off events. Since its inception, the editorial ethos of the publication has been two-fold: firstly, to expand the culture of criticism around contemporary art, whilst covering artists at all stages of their careers (the classification of contemporary art here is being deployed broadly and with flexibility), and secondly, to provide a necessary platform for experimental modes of arts writing.

In practice, this mandate can sometimes feel like the setup of a farce: two long-distance runners yoked together, one pragmatic and direct, the other prone to meandering detours.

But what ties them is also what propels them forward: an inherent conviction in the value of arts writing, and an unflinching belief that a writer’s response to an artist’s work is a creative act in itself.

Most art, as it should, resists the trappings of language; it slips away from too many denotative sentences. (I can pinpoint the exact moment when I began to find myself in galleries: midway through writing a thesis and desperate to experience anything that didn’t require words in order to apprehend it.) But I don’t think that the predominant concern of an arts writer is to simply explain and pin down, to be didactic in their approach. The task that is being undertaken is a form of uncovering, but what is being uncovered is never fixed or certain. To put it another way, it is in the dialogue between artwork and writer that something else is allowed to occur: we are gifted an individual response that sits separate and apart from the work, even as it exists in conversation with it. 

Would I feel the same about Andy Warhol’s ‘Time Capsules’ (1974-1987) if Olivia Laing had not recognised ‘their tenderness, the way they work to arrest time, to prevent the quick and dead from slipping too far’? [1]
Is it possible for me to think of the painter Alice Neel without also thinking of the writer Hilton Als, ‘consumed by the stories she worked so hard to tell’?
I didn’t get to see the exhibition Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon at the New Museum in New York, but I did get to read Rindon Johnson’s description of gender as ‘a puddle in the front yard of the self’.
And then there’s the poet James Schuyler who, when writing about painting, describes the blue tone in one work as ‘not a river, for all its skyness’, and another ‘as an interstellar panel where the paint drifts like wind.’ [2] 

Because as much as Running Dog is concerned with contemporary art, it is also similarly preoccupied with what it means to be a writer when writing about contemporary art, what it means to be categorised as an ‘arts writer’, and what it means to be an ‘arts publication’ in 2018.

But then again, perhaps it is wrong of me to even present these concerns to you as distinct from one another. ‘Writing about art exists’, writes Wayne Koestenbaum, ‘but it is a conceptual impossibility, because art has no outside.’ He goes further still, pushing forward until our predilection for hierarchies and categories and boundaries can no longer be sustained—
‘Let me say it again, because I am slow today and afraid of being misinterpreted: this essay is not about art. This essay, bad or good or in between, is inside art—not because art is an honorific to be selectively bestowed but because art is the easiest, most available, most promiscuous category, the catch-all for every enacted wish, every short circuited fantasy. Art is not a difficult achievement. It is where we already live, and it is how we identify that, indeed, we live.’ [3] 

 

[1] Olivia Laing, The Lonely City, (Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2017), p. 274 
[2] James Schuyler, Selected Art Writings, (Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1998), pp. 26, 191
[3] Wayne Koestenbaum, My 1980s & other essays, (New York: Farrer, Straus and Giroux, 2013), pp. 199, 200