New arts magazine with a focus on the Far North
As part of our focus on highlighting the work of arts organisations and how they support artists, we spoke to Ian McKay from ART NORTH Magazine, a new publication which aims to showcase artists working outside urban centres, in particular those in the Scottish Highlands and their Nordic neighbours.
“I’m a writer, art critic and, for over 25 years, I worked as a senior academic lecturing in art history and cultural studies. I’ve been writing on the visual arts, contemporary crafts, and the culture industries generally since the mid-1980s, though. In that time, I’ve seen a great many art magazines come and go, and some were a great loss to us as they supported artists and curators in a way that was quite hands-on and involved. There are still a few that do this, but the business of art criticism has changed dramatically.
Today, the art press can often be more fixated on the celebrity of the artist than it can about ‘the work’, which I think is great shame. It’s the work that I’m interested in. That was one of the reasons why I finally decided to establish our own art magazine, here in the far Northern Highlands of Scotland.
Increasingly I was becoming more and more frustrated in seeing the art being made in our urban centres getting ever wider coverage, and the art made in more remote locations, simply not being recognised at all by the art press, or very rarely, anyway. This was particularly true in locations such as the Northern Highlands and the many remote islands around Scotland’s north coast, but other areas of Britain, as well. I began thinking about how to fill that void, and better represent artists who were effectively working in a critical vacuum.
In short, Art North was conceived as a magazine that would better represent the art of what many think of as the ‘margins’, but the magazine is also about internationalising the work being made, by forging links with Scotland’s neighbours in the Far North; countries such as Norway, The Faroe Islands, Iceland, and further east to Sweden and Finland, where artists can also be found working remotely, or without the widespread recognition they deserve.
I launched Art North magazine in 2019 to address this issue and redraw the map of where ‘centre’ and ‘margin’ actually are now.
The focus of the magazine is very broad. Previously I had been working as a freelance critic and foreign arts correspondent, which ran parallel to my career in higher education, but the focus always seemed to be the same, reporting on the arts of our major cities and with one eye on the art market.
I’d worked as Editor-at-Large for a number of UK arts magazines, I served time as Editor-at-Large in Vienna, as well as Special Correspondent (Eastern Europe) for a photography magazine and, some time back when I was living in London, as Assistant Editor for Contemporary Art magazine. I wanted Art North to do something different to what I was required to do in those roles and get out of the major centres of art and explore new territory.
The magazine focuses on those many talented artists and makers whose work is really hard-won, therefore. With little recognition they keep on going, often in hostile conditions. I’m not interested in promoting one particular take on the world, but more interested in commissioning the writers of Art North to discover the many different ways that artists express themselves under difficult circumstances. That’s not to say that I don’t still maintain an interest in ‘mainstream’ arts and culture, and the art being shown in, say, London, Berlin, Oslo, wherever it might be, but rather that there is so much more that deserves to be measured alongside that, and which is sometimes far more rewarding to engage with for a multitude of reasons.
Working with artists is tricky in remote locations though. Firstly, you have to get to them. Where in London or Vienna, I was never more than twenty minutes or an hour away from what it was that I was writing about, there have been occasions recently when it’s taken me nine hours to get to see a site-specific installation, or an eight-hour drive to do a studio visit or interview.
If Art North is about anything it is about giving due recognition to artists who are truly deserving of it, but who simply don’t have their work seen beyond a close-knit community. While there’s nothing wrong in that, and some choose to retreat to remote locations to get away from the attention that others enjoy, everybody has the right to recognition if the work is worthy of it, and sometimes that involves going the extra mile to make it happen.
As Art North becomes established, I hope that the word will spread that we have a committed team of writers located in twelve countries, covering the whole of the Nordic and Scandinavian region as well as northern Scotland. Our writers are prepared to write about whatever is deserving of the recognition we can give them. If people come to realise that Art North is there as that resource, that will make me happy. That was precisely what Art North was established for, after all.
It will take time, though. Setting up any arts magazine in the current climate is tough. Add to that the fact that you are doing it in the location where we are, and it becomes all the more important to work together with artists to give them the support to meet our needs in covering their work. It’s a two-way thing, and it needs to mutually beneficial."
To find out more about ART NORTH magazine and their work, go to https://artnorth-magazine.com
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