Blogs Media Lab Merray Gerges

Merray Gerges finished her BA in art history and journalism a year ago in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is co-founder and editor-in-chief of CRITpaper, a newsprint publication that has striven to be an independent site for apt critical reviews and essays by emerging critics and scholars since 2012. Merray occasionally posts video selfies and non sequiturs on Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter as @merrayrayray.

Meet Norma Miller, the Woman who Transcribed all 113,361 Words of #Superscript15

Inspiring weekend at #superscript15 everything was recorded A video posted by Lauren Thorson (@laurenthorson) on May 30, 2015 at 6:13pm PDT Employing stenographers has become de rigeur at conferences nowadays. Seasoned veteran stenographer Norma Miller has been transcribing every single word that’s been said at Superscript for audiences following the conference via live stream. “And yesterday […]

Inspiring weekend at #superscript15 everything was recorded

A video posted by Lauren Thorson (@laurenthorson) on

Employing stenographers has become de rigeur at conferences nowadays. Seasoned veteran stenographer Norma Miller has been transcribing every single word that’s been said at Superscript for audiences following the conference via live stream. “And yesterday that included 55,826 words. So I’m glad we’re not paying by the word,” joked conference organizer and Walker Art Center Editor Paul Schmelzer, alluding to recurring debates about critics’ wages. In his remarks, he challenged the audience to shout out artspeak to stump Miller. “Anyone?”

“Recontextualizations.”

“Liminality!”

“Zombie Formalism.”

The words appeared on screen as soon as they were yelled out.

During a break from typing out what would eventually total 113,361 words, I pulled Miller aside to ask her about the practice of stenography and how its increasing employment by institutions might indicate that they’re becoming just a tad bit less ableist.

A Post-Descriptive ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

In his Superscript keynote on “Post-Descriptive Criticism,” Ben Davis posited that the image might supplant description in art criticism today. At one point, he discussed using only images rather than words, citing his (“failed”) Instagram experiments as attempts to “take images and create a form of writing with images.” Here’s my post-descriptive response to his seminar. The Superscript Blog […]

In his Superscript keynote on “Post-Descriptive Criticism,” Ben Davis posited that the image might supplant description in art criticism today. At one point, he discussed using only images rather than words, citing his (“failed”) Instagram experiments as attempts to “take images and create a form of writing with images.”

Here’s my post-descriptive response to his seminar.

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The Superscript Blog Mentorship program, a partnership with Hyperallergic, is presented as part of

Who Gets to Be a Critic?

“Adding any words to this paper would make it less white than this fucking conference,” read an anonymously type-written note submitted at the Superscript opening party, Everyone’s a Critic. This #sorrynotsorry dis prompts the question of who is included in “everyone”? Who is actually here at this conference, and what does a quick glance around […]

(Image via Congrats, you have an all male panel!)

“Adding any words to this paper would make it less white than this fucking conference,” read an anonymously type-written note submitted at the Superscript opening party, Everyone’s a Critic. This #sorrynotsorry dis prompts the question of who is included in “everyone”? Who is actually here at this conference, and what does a quick glance around the auditorium tell us about the state of professional criticism? Mostly white people—on stage, mostly white dudes—and, as we say in Canada, the “friends of the museum” who can afford it. If, according to Buzzfeed Books editor Isaac Fitzgerald, the Internet has allowed us all to participate in this “giant garden party,” why isn’t that reflected here?

The critics and editors who are asked to be presenters and panelists at conferences the size of Superscript are approached in their capacity as professional voices of authority who can dispense pointers from their well of expertise. So, as an emerging critic, I attend these symposia with ears pricked up for their tips and tricks, while also taking note of broad, abstract issues and ideas; events like these helpfully situate the art and criticism that I consume online within a tangible IRL context.

Journalism 101 advice like “don’t be afraid to point fingers” can be casually doled out by a veteran critic whose newspaper column isn’t supported by ads, for example, allowing him to critique whatever he wants without his hands tied behind his back, like so many other critics working today. But as a young woman of color (WOC)—though not without the passing privilege of an appearance that’s ethnically ambiguous and a hard-to-place accent—I could only take this kind of advice with a grain of salt. In most North American institutional settings, the power dynamic is often slightly to not-so-slightly lopsided out of my favor, so that I hesitate to step on toes even when I am encouraged to real-talk.

Other people watching the conference had similar reactions. I e-vibed with Adrianne Russell, a self-described “museum evangelist” and “social media bon vivant” whose tweets were some of the most apt ones I saw throughout the day:

AdrianneRussell-tweet

While the one thing that the panelists of the Superscript opener “Credibility, Criticism, Collusion” concurred on is the idea that the Internet is a platform that enables everyone to be a critic, via Yelp or Metacritic or Amazon (i.e. hot-or-not “service criticism” that is discovery oriented and geared toward readers seeking recommendations and ratings), it’s hard not to ask: What distinguishes the academically trained, “professional” critic? Whose voice is awarded sway and authority, and whose voice is rarefied by a paywall? And therefore, whose labor is financially compensated?

Going forward, I urge you, presenters and sanctioned voices of authority, to consider that the receiving end of the advice you’re dispensing isn’t the universal, unmarked recipient who has at her infinite disposal the means to implement your directions. Please recognize that identities with different intersections of race, class, gender, and ability allow for varying degrees of luxury to effortlessly generate the kind of unrepentant, adverse criticism that you advocate is crucial for the robustness—and future—of this discipline. Marginalized voices are and should be capable of producing robust criticism, but we need more considerate, nuanced advice to figure out how to do so safely.

The Superscript Blog Mentorship program, a partnership with Hyperallergic, is presented as part of

Meet the Bloggers: Merray Gerges, Halifax

In my application for the Superscript/Hyperallergic blog mentorship, I said something faintly melodramatic about having lived in an “Atlantic vacuum” and my yearning to attend Superscript to “[bridge] the gulf between Canadian and American art criticism.” Though the current climate of austerity in Canada means that Canadian critics must weather an economic landscape that is […]

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In my application for the Superscript/Hyperallergic blog mentorship, I said something faintly melodramatic about having lived in an “Atlantic vacuum” and my yearning to attend Superscript to “[bridge] the gulf between Canadian and American art criticism.” Though the current climate of austerity in Canada means that Canadian critics must weather an economic landscape that is just as barren and precarious as it is for critics in the US, the mechanisms of our markets, museums, and money-allocation vary vastly. So since a comparison between the two would be counterproductive, I’d like to take this opportunity to flesh out my opening statement by outlining how my solitary consumption and production of criticism postured me as a wannabe-critic and what I hope to gain from attending Superscript through the mentorship.

I studied art history at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design on the idyllic east coast of Canada (with Montreal being the closest metropolis, at 1,242 km away). Its pedagogy still bears traces of the legacy of Garry Neill Kennedy, who transformed it into a Conceptual Art haven from 1967 onwards. At peak impressionability in my second year, at the New Museum’s Ungovernables Triennial, I saw the Iman Issa work that would decidedly spur the dilemma that fueled most of my undergrad research. There, I found myself caught between three disparate inclinations: my seduction by slick, sleek Minimalist aesthetics; developing anti-oppression politics; and fostering a distaste for textbook-identity-politics work laden with didacticism and tired, derivative tropes. I therefore delved into a research-oriented (i.e. writing-devoid) art history degree, isolating myself in a Brutalist university library to sweat over papers that no one would critique but my art history profs, often fueled by quad-espressos and whatever methylphenidate I could get my hands on.

By third year, I came to be increasingly frustrated with the absence of forums to share, discuss, and improve our writing. After much deliberation, some like-minded colleagues and I established a quarterly newsprint publication that we named CRITpaper. We envisioned it as an antidote to the lack of publishing opportunities for emerging Halifax-based writers and toiled to make it a site for apt critical reviews, essays, and interviews. We wanted to create a tangible document of what writers and artists were preoccupied with, and we wanted to make it structurally sustainable so that it could continue to fulfill a perceivable void in Canadian art criticism. Through soliciting and editing content for CRITpaper over the past three years with a small team of volunteers and support from the Khyber, a beloved local artist-run centre, it came to be a site for me to skirt around the performance anxiety I’d developed towards writing while remaining an articulation of my continual engagement with criticism as a discipline, even if through a medium that is renegotiating its parameters on an unremitting basis. (Past issues are here, but if you’re at #Superscript15 and you’d like to get your hands on a copy, please feel free to approach me for one.)

My art history education was totally at odds with what I learned in J-school, where I suddenly had to haul ass to keep up with a relentless deadline turnaround, and was called out for my cavalier employment of the International Art English that I’d gotten so accustomed to speaking and writing. A year after graduating, I still find myself in a liminal space;) where I’m struggling to reconcile the clashing principles I was shelled with in these two disciplines that ought to be a tad less contradictory.

I originally intended to attend Superscript to bask in discussions of what it means to be a digital-immigrant art critic in a digital age and to fan-girl over critics whose work I’ve admired from a distance for years. However, as a participant in the mentorship program, I’m thrilled for the opportunity to be more than a flâneur-scroller, to dive into the deep end of the pool to hybridize art history + journalism, to learn from you how you do it the way you do IRL. 

The Superscript Blog Mentorship program, a partnership with Hyperallergic, is presented as part of

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