vendredi 31 juillet 2015

Michael Butterworth Part 2 Publishing, Contemporary Art and Corridor8

PML:  What sort of visual art do you personally like?

MB:  I am attracted to conceptual art, I suppose, because of my writing – the more poetic ‘New Worlds’ pieces tend to use ironic metaphor to express my concerns about the planet and I try to describe phenomenon like space-time.  But I like a broad range of styles, periods and types of visual art.  I must say straight away that I am not an expert in the field.  Innovation is the impetus behind my publishing, and I have entered art publishing with the aim of personal discovery.

PML:  Are you, perhaps, an artist yourself?

MB:  As a pre-teen and young teenager I practised both painting and drawing as well as writing. I made the decision to be a writer for practical reasons – thinking that a pen and notebook, or a portable typewriter, made life easier than carting around easels or photographic equipment.

PML:  Does art still retain a potential for innovation?

MB:  In the digital media world, when all aesthetic art has exhausted itself, conceptual art is the only form that seems to retain potential for innovation.  And in many ways, conceptual and contemporary art are synonymous.  It is like poetry, a completely free agent, which does not require an aesthetic, although it sometimes does; it is timeless, and it plays with ideas, often it is quite literally playful and, like the best poetry it can also be profound.  By exhibiting a ‘ready made’, a urinal, in a public gallery in 1917, Duchamp notoriously questioned the idea of what art is, and, equally, what an artist does, in the age of photography and mass production.

PML:  How did conceptualism come into being?

MB:  Very simply, and very much as my knowledge of it currently goes, conceptualism (and therefore much of current contemporary visual art) started with Duchamp. In the late 60s and early 70s it had a ‘second wave’ (New Worlds, the mouthpiece of the ‘New Wave’ of Science Fiction, was its unalloyed contemporary) when it underwent a period of development by younger artists in New York and elsewhere.  After that, and I can only say what has happened in the UK – I must be missing out a lot – there was a third ‘wave’ in the 90s, when conceptualism gained public understanding. So there were three waves – Duchamp, then in the 60s and 70s there was a great period of exploration and, finally in the 90s another set of artists brought it to public acceptance.

PML:  But what about the future? Where can art ‘go’ now?

MB:  Like many other cultural expressions – music, writing, film, and theatre – it has reached a watershed.  Although there is still much to say – an ever increasing amount, in fact, as society grows technologically and more of the world can be apprehended simultaneously – contemporary visual art has become a form of entertainment, like folk art, sometimes  meaningful, but no longer radical.

PML:  So the artist can no longer be radical?

MB:  The potential to be radical still exists – and indeed an artist can still be radical in terms of technique, with the use technology.  But he or she can only be radical for fifteen minutes, until the next technological development!  It is difficult to say anything new, in order to make an impact.  It’s a quandary facing every new artist who wants to make a career impact.  How to find something new when everything is instantly superseded or has already been done?  Artists like Richard Kostelantetz argue that it is still possible, using formal experimentation, but this seems to me to be splitting hairs.  Any original expression of this kind instantly becomes obsolete, and really it is very artificial.  It is hardly a response to some major advent of technology like photography or mass production, or social change or political upheaval. Formal experimentation of this kind does seem, nevertheless, to be a last bastion of the avant garde!

PML:  So tell us about Corridor8. You first produced a magazine called Corridor in 1971. Is there a link?

MB:  When I first came to do an art journal in 2009 I did not set out to re-launch the small press publication I began doing in my twenties. That early ’zine featured mainly literary writing and illustration, and contained little in the way of contemporary art, despite the influence on me of New Worlds. However, Corridor8 has become a kind of unplanned continuation of those early editions.

PML:  Why the ‘8’ in the title?  Were there Corridor5's, 6's and 7's?

MB: I produced a total of seven ‘zines under different mastheads, most of them ‘Corridor’, the last one appearing in 1976. When the first edition of Corridor8 appeared it was therefore the eighth Corridor, produced after a gap of thirty-three years. We liked the title Corridor8, so it became a generic title. That was supposed to be the only similarity – the name!

PML: It has another similarity, as a magazine. Why did you return to that format?

MB: That’s true. It is a continuation of that early magazine-based publishing.  It spans Savoy Books, and it has enabled me to return to a first love, if you like, after years of book publishing. Savoy grew directly out of those ’zines, David Britton’s small press publications – he did a series of them also – as well as mine. The content of Savoy’s early book publications came from them.

PML: So where did the contemporary visual art come from, then?

MB: Strangely enough, from a print-on-demand imprint that I launched in 2006 as an experiment, as an outlet for ‘occasional’ books that don’t fit the Savoy list.  The imprint is very occasional, in fact, with only three titles so far.  But one of these, Jackson Pollock the Musical, published in 2007, got me interested in conceptual art.  The debut literary work of Roger McKinley, a practicing conceptual artist, it is a libretto for an imaginary musical – so it is a joke, in the best conceptual way. As a clever and detailed account of Pollock’s life, with tinges of fantasy and absurdity, it is also serious, as the best conceptual art also is, so it sits comfortably astride both art and literature.

PML:  How did you discover Roger McKinley?

MB:  As is often the way with all these things I happened to know Roger as a friend.  He submitted a manuscript to me anonymously, so I had to guess who the author was – not too difficult as it happened, as he has a very distinctive sense of humour!  I also knew his partner, Jo McGonigal, another practicing artist. So when I came to think of a new journal, I could see that these two well-informed and well-connected artists could make the beginnings of a professional team.

PML:  Where did the initial funding come from?

MB:  Well, not long after I published Roger’s book, my father died, leaving me a small inheritance.  This provided me with start-up capital.  At the same time, my wife Sara and I became interested in the architect Will Alsop. Will’s concept of a linear city forming along the Transpennine Motorway, the M62, a roadway that runs raggedly across the neck of England from Liverpool to Hull, seemed highly prescient to us, and it became the theme of our first issue.  One day, after learning of the inheritance, Sara suddenly said, “I know you want to do a magazine, so why don’t you use some of the money?”  

PML:  And Corridor was to be something very different from what you were doing with Savoy?

MB:  Absolutely.  And that brings me to another very important factor in the journal’s origin, the design team, Dust, who I first came across when looking for a jacket designer for my print on demand imprint.  The design of Corridor8 had to be as different in style as possible to that of Savoy, yet just as distinctive, which theirs is.

PML:  What was the first issue of the journal like?

MB:  It had a tall oversized format, about which our distributors were wary.  It reflected the motorway ‘corridor’, and looked at contemporary art practice within this region.  Jo selected the artists. She curated a special ‘Flash Art’ section, while Roger acted as journal editor, assisted by Laura Mansfield, a young curator and writer who I’d met at an art event. We did a double feature on Will Alsop, one on his architecture, another on his canvas art.  For literary content I commissioned Iain Sinclair to travel the motorway, which he did, in both directions, first by car with Chris Petit, and then (having just reached seniority) by bus pass with his wife Anna.  This, as well as a further commission I asked Iain to do for our second issue, formed the content of the ‘North’ section of his 2011 book, Ghost Milk, which relates accounts of his travels outside his usual comfort zone of London.

PML:  Who supported the journal?

MB: Until now we have been supported by Arts Council England North West.  I have provided match funding for their grants.  Dust have also been important funders.   Corridor8’s staff, all of whom work as low-paid hands or interns, are also tremendously significant factors.

PML:  Where do you want Corridor8 to go?

MB: Simply to continue being a good journal on art and writing, relevant wherever there is a readership for it. The current issue (Issue #3) is North-of-England-centric, to raise our profile in our home region. It appeared as four quarterly parts, each launched in a different Northern city. But subsequent issues will see a return to having a much wider remit. It will still be a platform for the North, but it will be interacting with international cities in an exciting and novel way, which we are planning at the moment.

PML:  Do you consider the influence of London in the world of contemporary art too dominant?

MB:  It is a challenge to site a journal elsewhere, to regions where new work can be easily eclipsed. The North of England contains more than a quarter of the UK’s population, and may eventually devolve politically – it has its own axial road and rail route to the Continent and Ireland, and of course it borders on Scotland – so it is potentially a very interesting region, where contemporary art is produced.

PML:  By focusing on the North, isn’t there a danger of provinciality?

MB:  No, because there is a great deal of significant art being produced here by artists who are not at all provincial. There are also a growing number of galleries drawing international visitors, and educational art departments that attract students from a diverse range of geographical areas.

PML: Are there so many artists in the North of England?

MB:  Oh, yes!  Because of the comparative cheapness of studio space, the North is fantastically rich in artists, some of whom are home grown but many others stay on here after leaving university.  There are more artist-run spaces in Sheffield, for instance, than anywhere else in the country.  The work that is produced can be high quality, but the problem for these artists is that they have few local outlets. Although rich in product, at present the North has few commercial galleries, so they exhibit in London or Paris or New York, or Los Angeles or wherever.

PML:  So you’re trying to shift the focus away from these places?

MB:   Our aim is to help ‘join the dots’ in the North, to help make the region become its own centre of gravity. We are partners with the Contemporary Art Society who encourage collectors, and we also support The Manchester Contemporary, the largest and longest running contemporary visual art fair outside London, which happens at the end of every September. This fair continues to grow each year. It is both an outlet for Northern galleries and their artists, as well as an opportunity for national and international galleries to dip a toe in the region.

PML:  Can all this be accomplished only through a journal?

MB:   Well, look what Frieze did. That was a journal when it started out! Corridor8 is becoming an organisation with different facets. Our website has become more pro-active (it has a different set of editors to the print publication). Events are also becoming increasingly important as a means of expression. We try to make our launches interesting occasions, hiring guest speakers and putting on installations. We also lead and take part in symposiums and appear at art, print and ’zine fairs up and down the country.

PML:  How do you decide on the content of each magazine?

MB:   Very basically we find a theme, then make a list of the articles we’d like to see, and the writers we’d like to write them. This acts as the skeleton, if you like. Other things can get added along the way. 

PML:  Can you speak a little about the writing published in Corridor 8? 

MB:  There is a lot of it!  On our website we provide reviews of art exhibitions, while in the print journal we write about artists and their work and run interviews with artists, gallerists, collectors, curators and so on.  But we also publish fiction/faction, art writing, eg concrete poetry and other art-word texts, and art journalism.

PML:  Who is on the team?

MB:  At any one time there is a hard core of about ten. This can increase when an issue is underway, when marketing, PR and extra designers become involved. We have been extremely lucky in attracting a high calibre of young people at just the right career moment for them; we have grown with them, and they have grown with us.

PML: A final question about your publishing.  Did it grow out of your writing?

MB:  Yes, because when I started doing magazines I was attempting to provide a vehicle for literary work and experimentation The practice was essentially a means of extending my own urge to write, of compensating for a lack of prolificacy as a writer, which is something I have always struggled with. In a sense, publishing was a continuation of my writing. Perhaps it was the abandoned artist in me but I was excited simply by putting black marks on white paper. It didn’t, and still doesn’t, really matter to me who the author is.
Michael Butterworth would like to express his thanks and appreciation of all who have contributed to Corridor8.

Role at Corridor8
Michael Barnes-Wynter
Freelance broadcaster
Roving promoter, DJ and Events Co-manager
Bryony Bond
Exhibitions Curator at Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester
Journal Editor
Michael Butterworth
Co-founder/publisher Savoy Books, author & editor
Clara Casian
Artist and Freelance Research and Admin at FACT, Liverpool
Audio-visual technician and Events Co-manager
Sheffield-based design studio
Design (print on online) and web management
Carol Huston (Issues #2 & #3)
PhD graduate in Art History, Manchester University and freelance art journalist
Staff Writer, Circulation Manager and Web Editor
Stephen Iles
Freelance portrait and installation photographer
Staff Photographer
Jo McGonigal
Artist and Associate Lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University and Manchester MMU
Associate Director, Co-editor Issue #1
Roger McKinley
Author/artist and Production Controller at FACT, Liverpool
Executive Producer, Editor of Issues #1 & #2
Laura Mansfield (Issues #1 & #2)
Curator and writer
Events Manager, Assistant Editor, Staff Writer
Steve Pantazis
PhD graduate in Art History, Manchester University and freelance writer
Web Editor
Alex Taber (Issue #3)
Studying for MA in Contemporary Curating at RCA
Web Editor
Lauren Velvick
Art writer, curator and blogger
Web Editor


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