Interview: A Certain Trajectory: A Conversation with Holly Bynoe for AICA Southern Caribbean

By Dominique Brebion Wednesday, October 9th, 2013 Categories: ARC Partners, Features, Updates
 

For the last two and a half years Holly Bynoe and Nadia Hugginsartists from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, have published ARC Magazine, a not for profit  print and online publication and social platform dedicated to Caribbean contemporary art. In February 2012, they were invited by the Ministry of Culture and Communication (DAC) Martinique in partnership with the Alliance Francaise of St. Lucia for a week-long studio tour, and were able to extend support to artists from Martinique such as Charlotte Robert, Jean-Baptiste Barret, Audry Liseron-Monfils, and Elizabeth Colomba among others.

Their second trip to Fort de France in October 2012 was for the symposium ’Revues en Vue‘ which brought together  publishers and editors of several Caribbean journals including Annie Paul for Small Axe, David Mateo for Artcronica, Isabel Perez for Arte Cuba, and Dave Williams for Draconian Switch at the Department of Archives. This conference aided Bynoe and Huggins to strengthen their knowledge of the arts community of Martinique, and more broadly their context in the space of the creative Caribbean.

Due to the upsurge of contemporary art production and openness that ARC has created across the region, it has directly led to Bynoe’s appointment as curator of the local pavilion in the upcoming inaugural BIAC Martinique.

This interview strives to provide answers to every question you might have about ARC Magazine, the objectives that led to its creation, the impact it has had in the region and beyond the borders of the Caribbean, along with the workforce and financial support needed to sustain it and finally, the director’s prospects for the future.

Holly Bynoe and Nadia Huggins, editor and creative director of ARC Magazine. All images courtesy of ARC Magazine.

Dominique Brebion for AICA- SC: What were your main objectives for creating Arc Magazine? After publishing seven issues, do you consider to have achieved these objectives?

Holly Bynoe: The main objective of creating ARC as a platform was to build awareness. We wanted to do that by facilitating exchanges, and opportunities to expand creative culture, especially within the visual arts industry across the wider Caribbean and its diasporas.  As part of that overall mission, we hope to raise the profile for contemporary visual arts, increase local, regional and global visibility for Caribbean art, and expand opportunities for audiences – unfamiliar and existing – to experience Caribbean contemporary art.

After seven issues we are nearer to executing that vision, but you know what they say, the more you do the more there is to be done. Upon inception, both the print and online platforms were focused on specific objectives such as sensitizing the public to the brand and developing collaborations with writers, informal institutions and artists. We have expanded our mission and mandate based on the needs that we have identified across our creative networks, and I think we are now considering criticality in more challenging and motivating ways.

We still have a lot of growing to do, but we have determined that we need to continue to support and foster interaction, exchange and education by linking the development of emerging artists, writers, critics and cultural practitioners with local, regional and international peers. Our recent shift towards programming is especially significant, as it is a more tangible way of giving support to synergistic networks, which provide opportunities to share resources and ideas, and in turn builds solidarity and awareness.

DM: How regularly do you publish? Since creating this publication have you managed to keep up with this periodicity? 

HB: In 2011 we published four issues quarterly in January, April, June and September, not fully understanding the nature of independent publishing in the Caribbean and its difficulties. We soon realized that moving forward at that speed would be detrimental in very intrinsic ways.

Firstly, we would need a much larger editorial and administrative team to keep up with that schedule, and we weren’t in a financial position to do that. And secondly, and most importantly, we wouldn’t have been able to develop programming – the development of launches, film screenings, exhibitions, artists’ talks – that has led to our success and expansion. Engaging actively in a social way in various countries has led to practitioners understanding what we do in more immediate ways. This speeds up the process of trust and engagement, which is crucial for the growth of dialogue, community and, I hope in the end, upward mobility for the visual art industries.

To this end, I feel it was the right thing to do. Thus, in 2012, the directors of ARC- Nadia Huggins and I- decided to increase the content by 40% and release the issues biannually, every May/June and September/October. We have managed to keep this as a constant periodical, but I am hoping that as we develop our capacity and our resources we can think about a more substantial publication, with special projects and unique content produced specifically for each issue. We also hope for a publication that will broach linguistic barriers, making it easier for us to not only do work across the Caribbean but also engage with parts of the continental Caribbean that we have yet to explore.

ARC Issues 1-6

ARC Issues 1-6

DB: How many visitors log in to your site every month? How many online readers do you have? And from what specific areas do these readers come?

HB: Based on the data we have collected, we have roughly 20,000 visitors each month to our website. With that, we have amassed a database of over 4,000 people and we reach out to them on a monthly basis. This outreach and marketing has been quite structured since the beginning of 2013, as our programming and partnerships have increased. On a daily basis we circulate content to roughly 16,000+ people through our social feeds including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Vimeo etc. We are hoping to increase our visibility and viability on these platforms and make the website more dynamic in the coming months.

Nadia has been working tirelessly on a redesign which takes into consideration and envisions the growth of online platforms and where we need to be in terms of interface, usability, security – ensuring safety for sales – and mapping how people interact with video, live content and streaming media.  We are also reconfiguring the template of ARC’s online presence for it to be more inclusive and welcoming. This truly has been one of our biggest challenges, overseeing how we need to present information and what sort of hierarchical constraints we will determine for the platform along with design functionality.

Our viewers are mainly from the USA, Trinidad & Tobago, the United Kingdom, Jamaica, Canada, Barbados, The Bahamas, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, France, the Netherlands, Aruba, Germany, Suriname, Spain, Australia, Curacao, Martinique, Grenada, St. Lucia and the USVI.

DB: What is more important to you, the website or the magazine? Can you explain the specificities of each and are they complementary?

HB: Both are very important to the longevity and survival of ARC. One doesn’t serve a higher purpose, as they both have very specific and separate aspirations.

The aesthetic container that we have carefully created with the print gives the works a visual structure, which sets a tone for the type of work we want to support – its aura, visual cohesion, balance etc. That visual structure involves the consideration of the form and content and how they relate to each other – whether supportive or challenging. Through this, we have shaped the interplay and complementary nature of colours, typography and images – and the visual language we use to communicate with our audiences.

We have ensured that once you come into contact with the publication, the quality stands apart and acts as something truly revolutionary, whatever your exposure to existing art publications across the region. The development of a critical edge to the print is intrinsic to the container, which acts as an archive of ideas and projects, initiating stimulating dialogues, and engaging with artists’ portfolios in immediate ways via its form. There is a connection with, and to, the printed object that parallels initiation into a vast array of information and networks, which we hope will be the outcome of reading the magazine. The reader has to remove him/herself from the wider world and engage with the life and microcosm of this object.

This is a very primal interaction, where you learn to engage on various levels; the design, typography, weight of paper, the smell of the ink and its certain toxicity and the object’s dimensions in your hands.  Once the viewer is allowed to stream through its pages, all at once, there is the realization that its values and counter balances have been carefully crafted, allowing for a fluid and dynamic reading where you can move through content that isn’t based within constraints of place and time; this is a space that is constructed by the viewer. There is a certain freedom to the departments, where there is no jarring change in interface from one section to the other. This contributes to a slower and more contemplative period of engagement with the work, building practices of reading and viewing, and modes of interaction.

Our editorial philosophies and practice take the dynamic of a collective enterprise into consideration; a place for experimentation, interrogation, cultivating and nurturing the spirit of criticality and action. We want to remain focused on the lack of visual and editorial hierarchies, as we hold the belief that the service and information provided to artists should inform them in a way that changes their vision of who they are in their creative communities,  granting agency in their relation to the world around them, creating a domino effect.

ARC online was propelled by social media through its incubation period to become a sort of cult and underground phenomenon, where informal social groups, artistic collectives and those interested in general humanities attach themselves to our information feed as a way to determine what is going on in art in the Caribbean.  Being a practicing artist in the region means that you have to keep up with the pace of the world, or there is the potential and possibility of your practice being timed out of opportunity and placement.  There is also something important happening with the way artists use online presences as a tool for recognition, recording and representing themselves.

Internet based publications, serve a vital role in guiding artists of all media to instantly engage with a wide range of information. We set out to create something beautiful, functional and minimal. Even though it is a critical space, a lot of the information that is filtered through our daily content is centred on promoting opportunities that broaden the scope of the visual industry’s development. This proactive research and gathering of information ensures that artists have access to calls for submission, residency opportunities that may be important to their development, regional and international conferences, granting and funding information, all of which can aid them in developing themselves and opening up their spaces.

In the context of the Caribbean, exchanges between different locations, professionals and realities help artists develop a sense of regional dynamics and histories, and can help overcome a sense of creative and intellectual isolation. We have also begun developing original content exclusively for ARC, and we hope to increase this from twice weekly, as it is now, to daily over the next year or two.

Connecting the Caribbean. All images courtesy of ARC Magazine.

Connecting the Caribbean.

DB: What financial support do you have?

HB: Currently we are able to support the printing of the publication by subsidizing costs with advertising funds that cover up to 15-20% of production. Both Nadia and I work on various projects on a monthly basis and special projects to make ARC possible. We have submitted collaborative grants with various institutions across the Americas and we are hoping to engage in more grant writing over the course of the coming months (years), in order to make production more feasible.

Additionally, we have just acquired an agency that will be controlling outreach to institutions, museums, galleries, informal artist-led initiatives, libraries, universities, artists and foundations in order to build and maintain the working relationships that we have with our existing and envisioned partners. It is our hope to have enough advertising and collaborative revenue to be able to increase our volume over the next five years and acquire distribution on a more formal and sustainable level.

DB: What strategies have you developed to distribute ARC?

HB: It is difficult to consider strategies for distribution when you exist and operate within the Caribbean. Firstly we have to cover the high cost of shipping to distributors and we run the risk of losing packages and having the postal service at times destroy/damage/delay reception of the product. Coupled with custom and import duties, it is often impossible to trade productively. To combat this we ship from the US with freight forwarders to most of our distributors and if we travel to any island we carry on our physical being copies for local distribution.

In many ways, the inadequate and/or inefficient structural support for business in the Caribbean keeps us behind. We continue to struggle to find innovative ways to be profitable and develop our ideas. I am not sure whom we would start conversations with to allow, for example, the swifter and cheaper distribution of products, but we cannot expand the areas which we serve in the Caribbean until foundational things are considered by each island’s government or regional statuaries.  Till then we continue to cut corners to see what our best options are.

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Curtailing Anxieties panel at Volta NY. Image by Ray Llanos.

DB: What is the main role of the Caribbean diasporas for the visual arts?

HB: One of the conversations that I keep having in small pockets is about the role of the Caribbean diasporas in our development, and more so, the role of international cultural institutions that include the Caribbean in their mandate. I often wonder why there isn’t more collaboration and proactive outreach regarding the development of projects. I also speak from a very Anglophone, and in particular a Small Island Developing State experience, where we – artists and cultural practitioners – are often omitted from opportunities and ongoing collaborations. It seems that the bulk of the work I do deals with sensitizing people to the mandate of ARC and the ways in which we want to see the cultural economy of the Caribbean evolve. This involves confirming and solidifying working relationships with the diasporas. In developed countries, cultural products and services have ways of being valued, quantified studied and sold. This developed economic model includes branded artists, collectors, numerous B.F.A and M.F.A programs, dealers, curators, galleries, critics, auction houses, publications, art prizes, educators, biennials and the markets needed to circulate these economies.

This standardized modus operandi provides ways to ascribe value to these types of works. Since this is not fully established in the Caribbean, we do not have similar systems of evaluating works. This makes it extremely difficult to participate competitively in the global art marketplace and within significant events held in the diaspora. Caribbean artists are often left to produce, promote and market their own works with little to no support; this is impractical and hinders growth of the sector.

The larger problem attached to that is the fact that visual arts has a legacy of being underdeveloped, under supported and undervalued. There isn’t an economy of understanding or a critical mass attached to contemporary arts development, and often times the necessity for its genesis and evolution hasn’t been supported in a practical way by local governments. Larger than that, most countries lack the infrastructure of higher education facilities, national galleries and museums, which provide a space to understand creations, artefacts and histories. This foundational lack creates a mammoth gap. Until we identify a strategic way to have these things be important parts of our cultural fibre, there is no way to consider its wider development, implication or expansion.

We cannot speak about the development of a visual arts industry in the Caribbean without a significant buy in from artists, institutions and foundations throughout the diasporas. At the end of the day it boils down to what you can access to become autonomous – funding, material, expertise etc. There is a need now more than ever to involve them in the conversations and make cultural institutions, academics, curators, cultural centres and foundations understand that even though the Caribbean has shifted in terms of socioeconomics there is a burgeoning creative enterprise present.  We need to have qualified experts working within the cultural sectors in their countries in order for us to work more efficiently to develop cultural legislation, formal and informal spaces, scholarship and activities that lead to a more engaged public.

It is not practical for there to be large exhibitions and biennales in places like New York City, Miami, London and Venice without institutions and artists having at least 4 partners across the Caribbean who would also affect and benefit from the programming by housing satellite programs, screenings, workshops etc. It is counterproductive if we fail to reach out to say ‘Yes, we want to be a part of this greater conversation and economy’, or if the idea that we are on ‘Island time’ continues to be affirmed. We have been working hard to challenge this impression and people are beginning to take notice.

We however have a lot to battle with, as we come from a history of hoarding and of fighting to retain power and information, keeping critical data and connections locked away from the public or, from my experience, people who can benefit from it the most. This is why we have never been able to achieve a sense of an integrated Caribbean. It is this type of selfishness and fear that ‘could do us in’.

This type of thinking was generated by and maintained by an antiquated system, which aims to ensure that the status quo is never questioned, interrupted or usurped. A system based on gatekeepers, who are so afraid to lose their power, they’d rather watch the city (region) stagnate and crumble.

This is no longer an operational model; to work within this construct means you become obsolete.

Melanie Archer presenting at Interpretations: Gardening in the Tropics, on the work of Jasmine Thomas Girvan at Medulla Art Gallery in May 2012.

Melanie Archer presenting at Interpretations: Gardening in the Tropics, on the work of Jasmine Thomas Girvan at Medulla Art Gallery in May 2012.

DB: What are the main obstacles to the development of your project?

HB: Well, there are always financial obstacles that prevent us from increasing our working capacity – whether it be hiring someone who we think would be critical to our editorial board, paying writers, affording the print or doing small things, like ensuring that we have developed a certain component of our website.

Larger projects have been put on hold, for example we are seeking funding for the editing of over 30 artists videos that we produced through 2012/3. Attending more art fairs and being able to engage throughout more islands on a regular basis is another capacity that we could consider, but it is dependent on acquiring partnerships and trying to understand the synergies.

Being able to secure more funds would change ARC immediately, we would be able to implement a series of changes that would enhance and fortify our core, our online and print platforms, our programming and outreach.

There are developmental concerns that I also need to address that accompany the growth of our creative communities, particularly how we can deploy mentorship to strengthen these networks. As an editor, artist and creative thinker, it is often hard for me to come to grips with how isolating my experience can be and, greater than that, how much energy I expend to be present for artists, partners, collaborators, writers etc. It is a lot of communication to consider and I am even wary going into this spiel. It would be great for me to have the core team more present, as that can give me the opportunity to interact with the projections and future for ARC, and help me to start mapping out a certain trajectory.

One of the other obstacles is the access to experts in the field of web development. This is something that both Nadia and I have battled with over the last three years, and we are looking for someone who can come on with us on a project basis to execute our vision and help drag some of the more ephemeral things into tangibility, especially given the amount of material we consume online and our knowledge of progressive platforms.

ttff/13 + ARC Magazine New Media 2013 closing event presented Rodell Warner's Li'l Sun, an experimental, interactive installation and performance which used animation to celebrate the human body. It took place at Medulla Art Gallery on the 27th of September 2013.

Image from Rodell Warner’s Li’l Sun, an experimental, interactive installation and performance which used animation to celebrate the human body. New Media 2013.

DB: Technically speaking how do you create this review: printing and graphics? Do you work with a permanent group of salaried workers?

HB: We work with 5 paid employees on a full time basis. Nadia and I have volunteered our time to ARC since its inception and that hasn’t changed, meaning we still subsidize its production and visibility. Nadia produces all of the design and graphic work connected to the brand and development of ARC as an entity, along with all of our supporting events, programming etc. Our core editorial and administrative board is compensated on a monthly basis to develop features and to conduct editing, outreach, research, web content management, marketing and sales. As an operational NGO we employ most of our staff on a 10-hour a week basis. Ideally I would like to have 5 full time personnel clocking in 40 hours a week. We cannot do this until our revenue structure changes and that can only happen with a capital investment.

ARC’s fixed and permanent employees include; Dr. Leanne Haynes (editorial Manager), Katherine Kennedy (my assistant), Pam Ratti (Editor), Nicole Smythe -Johnson (Senior Arts Editor and writer), Blake Daniels (Junior Arts Writer) and our new Media Sales Specialist which we will announce later this month. They are the true reason why this publication is still afloat. Without the ability to bring them on and keep them close to ARC’s growth I don’t know what it would be and I don’t know if we could have lasted so long. Along with them, our greater editorial and administrative board comprise Vanessa Simmons-Rommens (editor and copywriter), Tracy Assing (Editor and Advisor), Natasha Drax (Editorial advisor). Once we have gotten to a point where we are happy about the design, then we send it through to a list of critical thinkers, eyeballs and artists including; Ville Kansanen, Justin Maller and Janyne Golia.

I try to also keep ahead of the game and give credence to those who have come before us and as such I have a close working relationship and sisterhood with Annalee Davis from the Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc, and I consider stalwarts like Christopher Cozier close to the development of our mission and mandate. My family has been instrumental in supporting my lifestyle and passion, without them ARC would not exist.

Of course we cannot forget the numerous volunteer contributors who work tirelessly to produce critical pieces for each issue and online on a regular basis. The fact that we have been able to retain some sort of continuity and hope for regular production means our contributors have developed a certain level of trust and know that we are trying to retain control of our engagement, niche and focus.

It is true that subsidizing ARC and employing the core personnel has taken a toll on Nadia and I emotionally, physically, and mentally. It has offered me some challenging dark days and some days filled with great hope and luminosity. I know however that the people we have chosen to occupy and lay claim to the centre of ARC’s development are worthy of that gesture and more. The sacrifice, importance and presence of ARC greatly outweigh the emptiness that would be left in its wake.

We are still working with our amazing print house, Oddi in Iceland; we love the attention and the very meticulous working relationship that we have created with them. It is beneficial in that we get the project overseen by their experts who have been on the art publishing industry for over 70 years, and in return we get to have this printed publication that is one of a kind and unique to the Caribbean, and perhaps even globally, if you consider failures of representation and the various issues that come up when you start to address underrepresented art forms, demographics and peoples.

Nadia Huggins designing ARC 6.

Nadia Huggins designing ARC 6.

DB: How do you see the future of ARC?

HB: I would like to the see the publication continue to expand and grow its editorial focus along with its social engagement, building new collaborative projects and partnerships. Ideally we would want to have a substantial increase in yearly programming where we are invested in developing and overseeing various residency programs, continuing and expanding upon our investment in film and video art by creating more platforms to support New Media projects, not only with the trinidad+tobago film festival, but with other regional and international bodies, as well as ensuring that we can work with spaces that haven’t had a chance to know ARC as yet.

We have identified certain areas that are a bit of a blind spot for us – the Hispanic and Continental Caribbean along with the northern Antilles, and strong diasporic communities that exist in the US and Canada, the United Kingdom, Paris, the Netherlands and West Arica. Given the scope of what we have been able to produce thus far, we are excited about furthering these dialogues and opportunities to work and build towards that greater creative economy.

One of my true hopes is that we will be able to convince our local and regional ministries that the visual art industry can now be a source of incredible growth in our countries. And now more than ever it is important that artists receive opportunities to travel, collaborate and seek out new means of educating themselves. The alternative to this is one where they continue to be unrecognized and their visions become distorted by the system and its failures. Ideally I would like to see ARC become one of the founding members, working to implement a regional Foundation/Centre for Visual Arts and its supportive market across the Caribbean; a space to nurture healthy creative output while engaging in local development of infrastructure and legislation.

And mostly and above all, I would like to see ARC become sustainable in order to fully execute its objectives in a holistic manner, by developing the required supportive framework to determine what mechanisms are needed to expand the growth of our region.

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Biography:

Holly Bynoe is a visual artist, curator and writer from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. She is currently living and working across the Caribbean. Bynoe is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of ARC Magazine, the premiere visual art and culture publication focusing on contemporary visual art created throughout the Caribbean and its diaspora. She is a graduate of Bard College | International Center of Photography where she earned an M.F.A. in Advanced Photographic Studies.

As editor and director of ARC Magazine, Bynoe and has organized and curated various exhibitions across the Caribbean and the diaspora in collaboration with several formal and informal art spaces including New Media, an annual collaborative exhibition held in conjunction with the trinidad+tobago film festival and Forever Forged, Forever Becoming at the AACDD festival in London. In March 2013, ARC Magazine was invited to present the publication at VOLTA NY where Bynoe directed the production and execution of an exhibitors’ booth and panel discussion on Caribbean Contemporary Art.

Recently, she has overseen production of Caribbean Linked II: a residency program and exhibition held in Aruba in collaboration with Atleliers’ 89, The Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc. and the Mondriaan Foundation and has been appointed local curator of the International Biennale of Contemporary Art: Martinique, scheduled to take place in November 2013-Jan 2014. She has been invited to curate a section of Transforming Spaces 2014, along with a selection of films from across the diaspora in The Bahamas.

 

Thanks to Nicole Smythe-Johnson and Katherine Kennedy for assistance with editing this interview, and all those who have contributed to ARC’s vision and growth. For original post visit AICA – SC.

 

Dominique Brebion
Dominique Brebion

Dominique Brebion is the arts advisor to the Regional Cultural Affairs Board of Martinique. She is also a founding member of the International Association of Art Critics, Southern Caribbean (AICA – SC).