Co-writing criticism is a workshop that Brynn McNab and Alexa Mardon have been developing in multiple iterations. We have been exploring what art criticism looks like when the position of the ‘critic’ in opposition to the ‘artist’ is diffused. Time, space, and authorship are concepts that define the way that criticism is written. We wanted to ask what the most discursive form of critique of art can be, and what can be written about within an immediacy to the art work.
The workshop takes place on the site of the work of art. Participants must borrow, or bring their own laptop/smart phone/tablet with access to Google documents. The artist can be present, or not present, as they desire. If the work in question is a performance, then the preamble takes place before the performance begins, and the workshop would be restructured around the duration of the performance.
The preamble is an open discussion as to the structure of critique. We open the workshop up by defining as a group what criticism broadly should be. Some previously theorized ideas have been story, performance, branding, and translation. Often, qualities in the work define what form of criticism would be most useful. Within these, we as a group discuss to determine the methods used by writers to construct the writing as a whole, focusing on more concrete details like poetics, tense, research, and references.
For the workshop itself, each participant logs into the same Google document. The group is given 20 minutes to make observations of the work in the style determined by the preamble discussion. Any writer is able and encouraged to delete, edit, or add anything that they want to the group document. After the 20 minutes are up, we take time to collectively read through what has been written out loud with the group. Then, we discuss what needs to happen with the writing in order to make it into a coherent critique. Sometimes this means making it less coherent. Afterwards, the group is given 20 minutes to make some editorial changes, which may include clarifications, elaborations, or restructuring. These changes are then discussed again, and the group is given an additional 10 minutes to write a conclusion. There is no discussion when writing, and no writing during discussion. The group is given permission to use the finished document as they see fit, with each author having equal rights to its authorship.
So far, one of the benefits of the workshop have been the emergence of a less restrictive use of language. With words being altered and removed by any member of the group, the laying down of them in written form becomes less final, and encourages different levels of discourse. Often, conflicting viewpoints lead to surprising concepts.