[Interview by Ivette Romero.] Earlier this year, we featured the inaugural issue of ARC (Art, Recognition, and Culture), a quarterly produced 80-page independent visual arts quarterly focusing on works by contemporary artists practicing in the Caribbean and its diaspora [see previous post ARC: New Art Magazine Launched].
Two Vincentians—Holly Bynoe, a visual artist and Nadia Huggins, a digital photographer—have just returned from their launchings in St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Captivated by the inaugural issue, we decided to find out more about this bold project. Here is an interview with Bynoe (editor-in-chief) and Huggins (creative director), both shown above and here referred to collectively as ARC:
Repeating Islands/Ivette Romero [RI/IR]: I am very impressed by ARC. It is just a wonderful art piece in itself. Very contemporary, with a high matted finish, innovative, full of breathtaking images and fascinating articles, the hard copy is simply a pleasure to hold and to peruse over and over again—it is a real jewel. You describe the magazine as “an experiment, an imaginative body of curatorial work, which shows the trajectory and the motion of artists who practice within a contemporary space.” As I read it, I truly got a sense of dynamism and movement from a combination of factors, especially, the variety of artists and media represented in terms of content—photography, film and video, painting, graphic illustration, mixed media, performance and poetry; and the form itself (organization, colors, layout, typesetting). How did you come up with this particular format? Are you planning to maintain similar aesthetic choices in your subsequent issues or will each piece be unique?
ARC: The format was developed quite intuitively, meaning ARC yearns to gather interesting ways of looking at work and artists who are operating with formulas and sometimes destroying them. Our main focus is visual arts but the more I say that the more I hesitate, by putting any sort of blanket of what we are about over it as yet, it isn’t a defined space—it is becoming. Nadia and I consider the project pretty much as an entity that can change within each minute of looking at it, dissecting it, thinking about it—in its parts and whole and laying it down. The process is basically both of us reacting to the various models and examples that are in existence. We ingest, scrutinize, examine and look at everything that is out there and with this inhalation, we move to construct an entity that right now moves between definitions (it is a little elusive—like memory and like a story). How pieces spill over into each other and remain separate—whether it is color, light/dark, the consideration of space, and the resonating appeal of the content itself is what we consider. For example the “Headphunk” article in issue one was really dark thematically; we wanted to marry its edginess and mood with the collective’s identity. During layout we decided to move from the end of their feature into Ishion’s work, which was presented on white and also spoke of engaging creative light. Sometimes it is about resting the eye and a pause, in that way we also study seeing, reading and the functional aspects of space.
When you build an identity it has to become specific, so in that sense we can’t stray too much, however we will bend the edges of the square until the structure is frayed. We are hoping to treat each issue individually, while establishing and maintaining the brand. Also, each artist is singular and we are hoping to continue to evolve the development and firmness of mood throughout each issue. The aesthetics will change to incorporate any ideas we have through development, it is really hard to say what will happen until we actually approach the canvas and start exploring the work side by side. We are however adamant in prefacing that images will be at the center of ARC; its carrier-type exists to further explain their significance, however, at the center we are looking at the image (whether visual, implied through words and poetics) to be the catalyst of ARC’s growth and evolution. We don’t want to present any over determined ideas about design and functionality, as we want to rely on space, balance and narrative to guide its aesthetic.
RI/IR: You feature works by contemporary artists practicing in the Caribbean and its diaspora, for example from Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Barbados, St. Lucia, Dominica, Haiti, and Jamaica. How do you go about choosing these artists? Are most of them people that both of you have come across because of your curatorial and practical experience? Or does a lot of research go into your choices?
ARC: We have no formal curatorial experience, just practical experiential knowledge. We approach, research and look at a lot of work. It takes up essentially a greater part of our production phases, inside and outside of ARC. We have both been creating and looking at works for the better part of eight years, either physically in a space or online, most of it not academic or framed- Online collectives, model sites, blogs etc. I have been lucky as I networked a bit during my MFA and was able to pick up on contemporary practitioners in the US and UK. For the first issue we featured Isaac Julien’s film Omeros that came along with a lot of research in poetics, film and of course his filmic practice, while one of our featured photographers Mariamma Kambon, matriculated while I did, so she was peripherally connected to my academic experience.
However, understanding what is going on in the Caribbean region itself has been a little tougher, we are still exploring islands. Once we have an eye or two in, then we have the freedom to move around, send emails and see who is showing what and where. Our hunt for emerging artists becomes a little tricky, most of them don’t have work online and we don’t have eyes in their studios/bedrooms or hard drives—so it is about word of mouth and social networking and just looking at whatever is out there and what is coming in to us.
I am hoping that ARC can become a space where curators can approach in five to ten years and start pulling shows from its pages. In fact, it is one of our back burner missions, in three years once ARC has caught its legs and can run without us watching so closely, we can begin looking at the work in physical format and planning exhibitions that travel and inhabit different spaces across the region and Diaspora. When the volumes start piling up I think themes will start to become more evident and powerful and it is going to really resonate when translated spatially and temporally. I think that the pool of content that we are pulling from is largely unseen and right now and in many cases the work isn’t even made (theoretical talk for you). That excites me, the possibility of ARC’s life span and collective content, years from now. The larger ideas of supporting the artists’ career duration also comes up, we don’t think of these features and meetings as a one of, but a first acknowledgement and first step in our collaborative experience and growth.
RI/IR: Both of you are from St. Vincent—this makes me wonder who your ideal reader is. Did you start out with Vincentians in mind as your main readership or did you want to target the pan-Caribbean region? Do you feel that ARC will help will establish a dialogue among artists within the communities of our enormously diverse and multicultural archipelago? Do you think that the artwork itself will transcend language barriers or do you expect to concentrate solely on the English speaking Caribbean only?
ARC: There are so many limitations at hand that have restricted our ideal vision. That being said doesn’t mean that we have compromised in any way but personally and I know this resonates with Nadia as well, we really hope for the first year to establish ARC in spaces that are familiar and accessible and then open it up to the entire region. We didn’t think of the Vincentian public so much as we wanted to create a resource for the artists creating there, and in the smaller OECS and southern Caribbean Islands that lack the support and infrastructure. We are hoping that this not only empowers our fellow peers and countrymen/women to show them what is possible through art but also leads them to a greater understanding of the power they hold. Our idea was to foster and connect artist throughout the greater Caribbean region and Diaspora—our initial handle is the Anglophone Caribbean but only until we can find the means and ways to enter the other more complex geographic and culturally diverse spaces.
I think that the artwork in ARC does transcend barriers, not linguistically yet, but that is a matter of economics and economy of means.
ARC is an independent publication made possible by a loan that Nadia and I have taken out. We don’t have fiscal backing, funding or corporate sponsorship from any group or organization so that makes our target market really small until we can find a way to manage our limited finances. We are open to the possibility of finding a group, individual or initiative to underwrite the project but that in itself takes time and a deeper more concerted effort. It may seem as though we are shooting ourselves in the leg by not housing advertising, I cant say that we are adverse to the possibility, however we are sensitive to the fact that the publication has a certain aesthetics, politics and agendas and we would want institutions and bodies involved who share similar ideals and missions- to use the space.
Because of the economic fragility we can’t really extend ourselves and have our eyes in too many places, it will overwhelm us and the process of its conception is pretty much delicate. So we are taking things in stride and I can say that our schematic for the year does switch it up to include Hispanic and French artists and collectives. We are working with the Alliance Française in St. Lucia to see if we can get the word out that ARC exists and that we are looking for artists who want to make their works public—the other battle is getting writers who are flexible to cover practices that they don’t quite understand, or can’t experience. We are working to see how we can have a deeper more relevant discourse built in, but these things take time, planning and patience and again pace is the trick.
Ideally, if we didn’t have the limitations I foresee a quarterly publication where every volume has 5 chapters (each a different language) and how that collision will present itself. Oh, to dream. Beyond all of that I think the greater Caribbean region and its Diaspora is malnourished for a publication like ARC. It isn’t academic, it isn’t commercial, it isn’t strictly a fine art exploration—I think how ARC stands apart is that it has its foot in a lot of different places, ideas, thoughts—and that collision is what makes for a really interesting presentation. We are trying to keep up with the pace of this crazy world and in its wake staying true to the work presented.
RI/IR: I know that in the last two months you had launched in New York, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent. What was your experience like? What reactions did you get at the launches? Did you gather feedback that will influence the direction of the magazine in any way?
ARC: The idea of the launches came up when we were feeling really optimistic and ready to unleash this idea that was gathering a different type of steam from its various spaces of interaction—personal and through social networking. We neither have a sales team nor a budget that would accommodate the type of funding we would need to really get a campaign out there, so we thought, “What if we just went home and introduced it there?;” then we realized that we would both be in NYC and the copies would be here as well. So we began thinking about our first send off.
Being an alumni of the ICP|Bard MFA program means that they remain supportive of my life’s work and I had and have every intention of utilizing them until they tell me no. So I went to Phil Block and told him we needed the museum and he got the ball rolling. January 28, 2011, which was incidentally Nadia’s birthday (so it was all in the back of my mind, planning a very apt celebration), the beginning of the year, newness, big risks . . . and we celebrated it a very established space and had a great event. Kat Griefen director of AIR gallery introduced us and a lot of people came out to welcome ARC to NYC, our featured poet Ishion Hutchinson read for us, Radcliffe Roye, Lorraine O’Grady, Andil Gosine, Florine Demonsthene, Mariamma Kambon and Keisha Scarville were present and it was stunning just to have our artists there with us, for me it was one of those moments where you realize the potential of planning, honesty and need. A lot of people that neither Nadia nor I knew showed up, the energy was crazy and we were able to move copies that night which was a tremendous surprise to me, that people not only stood and spoke about its need but acted in return.
[. . .] The launches at home were overwhelming; the support was tremendous and unlikely. I wasn’t sure of what to expect and I am happy we had the time on the ground to get around and speak one on one about the project; its conceptualization and ideas.
We keep hearing that we are “brave” and honestly we are trying to not hear “stupid.” After all, it is independent publishing, which is a high-risk endeavor, and maybe that is why it has been un-chartered territory. Because of the geographical location of the space, dealing with shipping and each island’s timeline is tricky, but everyday we learn something new, cross another bureaucratic border [and] get into another space and country. I think the main feedback that we have been getting is despite how hard it becomes know that it is needed, to not question and just do it.
We have received offers from various spaces and events to partner with initiatives and piggy back off of larger events to broaden the scope of ARC. We are hoping to do some traveling this year and get our feet in as many doors as possible. Plus moving through these islands we gather a force because the public and artists can meet us, talk to us and have frank discussions about ARC and its intentions.
RI/IR: Any sneak peeks at upcoming issues? [Here, our readers should imagine an enigmatic smile from the editors. RI can’t wait to experience the unveiling of the next issue.]