Mixed up and placed together

The Editors

View from Shafi Qias’s workspace in Athens, May 2023. Image courtesy of the artist.

May 1, 2023

In his forthcoming essay on Peter Hujar and Steve Lawrence’s Newspaper project, John Douglas Millar quotes the art historian Marcelo Gabriel Yáñez as saying that the purpose of that publication “was that images were brought together from disparate contexts, mixed up, and placed together in a way that forced meaning and correspondence beyond their apparent lack of connection and/or hierarchical distinctions.”

Given that we will publish Millar’s text in close proximity to a piece on the Brazilian artist Arthur Bispo do Rosário, who used his time in a psychiatric institution to create a body of work that advanced his divine mission, and a review of the latest Gwangju Biennale, which promises to focus on responses to the political crises of the present, something similar might be said of e-flux Criticism’s program. And the purpose served by these juxtapositions might be the same: not to flatten different forms of cultural expression into the increasingly stretched and unstable category of contemporary art, but to generate new meanings through the friction that occurs when various forms rub up against each other.

If contemporary art is an unstable typology, then a publication devoted to its criticism might attend to the points at which it breaks down. Thus a review of the correspondence between Bernadette and Rosemary Mayer allows us to consider how art and poetry meet, complicate, and inform the other. Or perhaps the operations of the art world are illuminated, as a review of Sophia Giovannitti’s new book suggests, by their crossover with the economies of sex work. Moving image festivals in the US and Europe present opportunities to reflect on the shifting boundaries between contemporary art and experimental film; an exhibition devoted to design in the former Soviet bloc might help us to understand some more violently contested borders.

All of this is complemented by reviews that seek to shed light on the diverse ways in which artists around the world are responding to the frictions shaping the historical moment. Such texts should aim to be, as Margaret Sundell put it in a panel discussion recently, “partial, impassioned, and political.” That is to say, written to advance a position in relation to a set of ideas or expressions in language with which the reader is invited to engage (as opposed to the more ambient and vague forms of “contemporary art writing” that were memorably described to me as “whale song”). While we hope that every piece we publish fulfils those criteria, there is no expectation that they should collectively illustrate some totalizing editorial line or master narrative. As with the pointedly named Newspaper, the hope is that the combination of these reports might instead enable the reader to forge new meanings and connections that might never have occurred to the artist, writer or, for that matter, editor.

Each month, to accompany the editors’ letter, we publish a photograph from an artist’s place of work. This month we feature Shafi Qias, an Athens-based clothing designer, with the view through her window at Work in Progress Studios. Her style deconstructs traditional tailoring techniques to merge European dress conventions with Persian influences from her Afghan-Iranian upbringing and Tajik roots. She is currently preparing a workshop series for the 2023 Eleusis European Capital of Culture program.

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May 1, 2023

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