Andy attends ‘The Medium is the Medium’

Photograph by Charlotte Horn

As people who read Art Feast know I occasionally write for this website, have an interest in art and I’m enjoying being a volunteer for the Liverpool Biennial. I was therefore delighted when I heard the editors of the Double Negative were presenting the first of the Biennial’s weekend events ‘The Medium is the Medium’. It was described as an afternoon of talks and discussions around why critical writing is important in a mature and thriving art scene.

I have always been aware of the gallery aspect of the Biennial but hadn’t really appreciated that an integral part of it is a series of talks and happenings that this year occur mainly at the weekends.

I was not too sure what to expect but saw one of the main speakers was Miranda Sawyer who writes for the Guardian. In preparation for the event I checked out her website and read a selection of her writings. I enjoyed her friendly, narrative style but did wonder how she would relate to the Biennial as the main thrust of her writing is towards the popular music world.

I arrived early at the venue, Camp and Furnace, and was warmly greeted by Laura from the Double Negative and to my delight a friend I hadn’t seen for a while came and sat with me. During the course of the event I was able to meet people I was becoming friendly with. In some ways this was an antidote to what was to come as the discussions centred around communications in our new virtual world where we not only communicate by not seeing the other person, but also can only read what they say.

Sally Tarrant, curator of the Biennial, introduced Mike Pinnington from the Double Negative. He in turn explained to us we would hear from four speakers and the event would end with a panel discussion.

Later I heard from Laura Robertson, the co-editor of the Double Negative, how they selected them. She said “Mike and I worked very hard on the line-up, we researched for about 6 months to find the right balance of people, men and women who reflected writing in the arts across the scale. So from ‘pop’ writing, blogging and online to print and academic. We also wanted people at different stages in their career, and the perspectives of artists, writers, editors, broadcasters and gallery directors. This was because of the audience we wanted to attract. Not just people who were already freelance writers getting on in their careers, but people who had never written, but love to read about the arts in the newspapers and on websites.”

First up was Cherie Federico, who is the director of the Aesthetica Magazine, which is a UK based art and culture magazine. She had changed a hobby of blogging into the business of running a magazine. She explained that Twitter, Facebook, the website and the blog are all part of the overall package which includes her printed magazine. In some ways the viral activity is a way of finding readers for her magazine, as often what is put on the virals are teasers for the articles. For her an important part of critical writing is creating debate by looking at the ‘for’ and ‘against’ of the argument and relating the art work to the wider world in which we live.

Rachel Jones - Photograph by Charlotte Horn

Next came Edgar Schmitz an artist, author and lecturer in critical studies at Goldsmiths University of London. He gave an intellectual take on the subject and looked at how critics, curators and audiences relate to each other. Not having an academic art background I found it difficult to follow all of his arguments, however, my friend found him the most interesting of the speakers.

A delightfully young Rachel Jones gave a talk on the theme ‘no one talks like that anymore’ which mainly looked at the language of Twitter which can often be playful. She is freelance writer and social media manager who uses Twitter as a key way of communicating during her working day. Her argument is that we have to accept this new way of communicating and not to be troubled by the way it truncates the English language as it allows discourse that wouldn’t otherwise happen.

We had a break for coffee and people were enjoying the event while the bar staff were struggling to find enough cups to serve us all with coffee and tea (which is a bit different to the usual beverage served at the Camp and Furnace).  We were then called back for the concluding part of the event.

Image courtesy of the Double Negative

Mike of the Double Negative was clearly delighted to be interviewing Miranda Sawyer, someone he admitted he had been reading all his adult life. Miranda immediately thanked everyone for coming along and continued to charm Mike and the rest of the audience. In many ways it was like listening to a chat show guest as she was anecdotal and clearly keen to entertain all who were there, though she also demonstrated that she was in control of her craft of writing which she has developed over the last 20 years. She explained her writing is based on a loyalty to her readers, not to the people she writes about. This was illustrated with an amusing story of how a member of a leading rock group took offence at what she had written about him and his band. She feels it is important to analyse why you like or dislike something, articulate this and stick with your view even though it may be contrary to other people’s opinions. She is a frequent twitter user and observed it appeals more to women than men. It also allows her to have conversations with a wide range of people she would not normally have access to, which helps to inform her writing.

Image courtesy of the Double Negative

The event ended with a short panel discussion where the four speakers were hosted by Francesco Manacorda, the newly appointed director of Tate Liverpool. Here we heard how in this modern world where many people no longer work in offices, writing can be a lonely existence and that perhaps Twitter is filling that gap. This in turn set me thinking of my librarian days and how in contrast to what has been discussed, there has been the rise and rise of the book club. In some ways this can been seen as an antidote to this virtual world of communication where people are using Twitter and Facebook in an attempt to recreate office communities. Therefore I thought it might be an interesting outcome to see if we can set up some art clubs during the Biennial, where people can meet at specific works of art and have a friendly discussion about them.

I bumped into Sally Tarrant, the curator of the Biennial and mentioned this to her and she expressed some enthusiasm for the idea.

If you would like to meet people in a friendly environment to discuss Biennial art leave a comment in the box below. If there is sufficient response I will put energy into making it happen.


  1. I think the idea of having a book-club inspired way of meeting up to talk about art would be fantastic! I’d definitely get involved and know a few people who would too. Its so important to come together over art and enjoy an experience that involves discussion, as it helps make art accessible and enables people to understand and feel able to lend their opinions in a comfortable and friendly environment

  2. If the art discussion group were to come to fruition I’d definitely try to attend a few – it’s a great idea and having met Andy the other night he’d be a great host I’m sure.


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