The Critical Fish opens up conversation about the arts

Sunday 28 April 2019

To empower the growing art scene in Hull, East Riding and beyond, a new artist-led journal is launching to support conversation and debate about art and visual culture in the city and beyond. The Critical Fish is a new collaborative and inclusive forum that seeks to connect artists, writers, organisations and broad audiences.

Produced by local artist Lauren Saunders and writer/educator Jill Howitt after recognising the need to continue the conversations initiated by UK City of Culture 2017, Fish centres on Hull and the region but is outward facing, inviting contributions from further afield. Since receiving funding in Autumn 2018, over a hundred people from the region, across the country and internationally have already contributed to getting this participatory project off the ground.

Looking to break down some of the traditional barriers that prevent people from thinking about and enjoying art, Fish invites people to reflect on their own experiences and topics of interest with a critical eye. Discussions around the key themes of accessibility and criticality are explored in a free publication, which will be made available in the coming weeks.

Packed full of essays, real/imagined conversations, poems and artworks, the 72 page journal highlights the work of local, regional, national and international artists and writers at different stages of their careers. This includes a discussion with Sean McAllister (the filmmaker behind A Northern Soul) on his methods and influences and an article about the 50th anniversary of the iconic film Get Carter. With each issue comes an original print; Joseph Cox, the designer behind The Critical Fish, Humber Street Sesh and the ‘Our City of Culture’ bid, is providing the first collectable artwork. Jill Howitt states, ‘in this first issue you will find strong opinions, pressing issues, playful and experimental writing, and beautiful images and design’.

Inspired by Gordon Young’s Fish Trail (1992), the first issue is titled Anchovy; to reflect the idea of looking beneath the surface, to reference Hull’s heritage and to echo some of the intricate and playful ways that Young guides the viewer around new and familiar places. Anchovy has been funded by Hull City Arts and Arts Council England and supported by a number of local and regional arts and cultural organisations.

Speaking about the new journal, Lauren Saunders commented: ‘We are so excited by the opportunity to spark these sorts of conversations, especially between people who make and write about art and those who maybe feel that art isn’t for them. We’re thrilled by the response and support we’ve had from people and organisations alike, confirming our belief that we need an accessible forum to discuss, review and promote arts and visual culture in the region. I’m looking forward to seeing how the community participates in shaping, developing and contributing to this project in future.’

Fish are releasing the flagship Anchovy issue at a free-to-attend launch event between 6pm and 8pm at Humber Street Gallery on Thursday 16 May 2019. As part of this much anticipated event, poet Mary Aherne will also be performing a reading of her submission to The Critical Fish.

Attendees will be able to meet the contributors and receive a free copy of the publication prior to general print and online distribution. From Friday 17 May 2019, the journal will be published at and free copies will be made available at various arts and community venues across Hull and East Riding.

Place To Place – The Double Negative

Thursday 14 February 2019

The Liverpool Biennial touring programme arrived at Hull’s Humber Street Gallery in January 2019 with exhibition Place To Place, which groups together works by Annie Pootoogook, Suki Seokyeong Kang and Inci Eviner. The Critical Fish were invited by The Double Negative to discuss this presentation…

Suki Seokyeong Kang Land Sand Strand 2016–2018

Lauren Saunders: What did you think of the title, ‘Place to Place’?

Jill Howitt: I wondered how the work would be in Hull compared to Liverpool, where the artists were dispersed across different venues. I imagined the work travelling the M62, a transmigration route as well as the site for Artranspennine [a multi-venue exhibition of contemporary art in the north of England that first took place in 1998]. I thought about how culture connects Liverpool and Hull; both ports and cities of culture on opposite edges of the country.

LS: I tend to go into exhibitions knowing relatively little so I can experience the work ‘as-is’ and reflect in the moment, so I wasn’t sure what to expect… I simply went in excited to see work by other female artists who also use drawing in their practice. What expectations did you have? “I could immerse myself in each body of work and then draw connections”

JH: I went in thinking about places and identity. How place shapes who we are and the role of culture to bridge our experiences. These artists come from such different backgrounds. But I’d also seen Annie Pootoogook’s memorable work at the Biennial – so I was interested to see how her drawings worked at Humber Street. I liked the lay out with one floor per artist; I could immerse myself in each body of work and then draw connections.

LS: Yes, I appreciated the distinct experiences on each floor… I needed the space to create responses to each artist, which then allowed me to make parallels between them. I noticed the different ways they used line – from Suki Seokyeong Kang’s theatrical and almost Schlemmer-esque lines that navigated through space, Pootoogook’s careful figurative drawings on heavy paper to Inci Eviner’s metamorphic and energetic brushwork on screen.

Annie Pootoogook exhibition view

JH: And I was drawn to space; pictorial and viewing space. Firstly Kang’s mats, representing the minimum space required for each person in society; spilling off the walls, vertical, draped and laid horizontally, punctuating and animating the gallery space. Then Pootoogook’s flattened claustrophobic interiors, bordering and in dialogue with the larger breathing space of the next gallery room. Finally, Eviner’s fluid ink drawings spaced out and layered along one long white wall and brought to life on the opposite one. I found some of the details mesmerising but disturbing….

LS. Yes, it had a strong Garden of Earthly Delights feel about it, I thought. Except the twerking – I don’t remember that in Bosch’s version! I empathised with the gibbering female voices of the accompanying chorus… Writhing, dancing, catfighting women in heels and restrained sexualised damsels lost along their repetitive, predetermined paths… “Does this reflect a reductive, objectifying male gaze?”

JH. Each trapped in their allotted space endlessly performing their athletic, frenzied, floating, crawling movements….

LS. The black ink strokes are animated: they spring to life.

JH. So there’s a kind of interchangeability between the gestures of Eviner’s mark-making and the women’s movements? For me, this conjured up Yves Klein’s Anthropometries, where he used naked women as human paint brushes. In fact two of the characters were covering each other in something which could have been blue pigment. Does this reflect a reductive, objectifying male gaze?

Visitor with Inci Eviner Reenactment of Heaven 2018

LS. So like a male-dominated heaven but a female hell…

JH:  …both beautiful and ugly? But how do the other two artists reflect on female experience?

LS: In Kang’s work I discovered a rhythmic humdrum of domestic daily life, within the boundaries given to women by their own cultures. The coded language of the mats suggested something about the complexity of a rich, dutiful tradition that, as an outsider, I’ll never fully comprehend. That feeling of outsider-ness travelled with me upstairs to Pootoogook’s floor – the first image I saw was of a family butchering a seal. I became conscious of tension between the familiar and unfamiliar… I laughed at the recognisable playfulness of family life, smirked at the porn on TV and was saddened by scenes depicting domestic violence and alcoholism.

JH. Yes I found the detailed but childlike rendering of abuse heart-breaking. It both reminds us of how children suffer from domestic abuse and how victims are made childlike in their lack of power. “These artists remind us that the ordinary, the marvellous and the terrible coexist in everyday life”

LS. The suffering really affected me. Kang’s work had already got me thinking about traditional expectations of women, and Pootoogook’s unromantic gaze made it feel more real.

JH. Between them perhaps these artists remind us that the ordinary, the marvellous and the terrible coexist in everyday life.

LS. It will be interesting to see what kinds of conversation this exhibition provokes in Hull rather than the Biennial audience in Liverpool?

JH. I hope there will be a positive response – this is accessible work that can be approached from different perspectives. It is issue-based and performative with a kind of technical accessibility that local audiences have experienced at Ground, Artlink and during the City of Culture year.

Place To Place is at Humber Street Gallery until 31 March as part of the Liverpool Biennial Touring Programme.

Images from top: Suki Seokyeong Kang; Annie Pootoogook; Inci Eviner, courtesy Rob Battersby. Sourced directly from The Double Negative online article.