Artist-Centered Conversations

Greg Swiger’s Final Friday podcast shifts focus of critical art discourse back to artists

click to enlarge Painting by Michael Stillion, who spoke to Greg Swiger on a recent episode of Final Friday.
Painting by Michael Stillion, who spoke to Greg Swiger on a recent episode of Final Friday.

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ecause we live in an art historical moment in which it seems just as normal to see art critics like Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz in Jay Z videos as it does to wonder whether or not Drake filmed his music video inside of a James Turrell light installation (spoiler alert: he didn’t), it is easy for us to literally see the ways in which art discourse and popular culture are intrinsically (sometimes incestuously) linked.

Talking — writing, blogging or otherwise creating a critical conversation — with artists about their work involves a tricky pas de deux between getting at the proverbial thingness of their art (i.e. what is it all supposed to mean?) and knowing that any easy answers might suddenly make the magic disappear.

Fine artist and podcast creator/host Greg Swiger began just such an endeavor in early August 2015 when he embarked on his Final Friday artist interviews with a simple online announcement: “For a variety of reasons, I’ve decided to start a podcast in which I talk with artists,” he writes on his website. “I want a better, more connected art community. I want to learn about people who do what I do — what many of my friends do. I want to create a space for artists in the area to share experiences.”

The idea of talking to artists about their work certainly isn’t new.  To the contrary, there are scores of institution-affiliated podcasts put on by the likes of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles — medium-specific podcasts and others that focus on the ever-fluctuating art market.

But by setting aside a public, albeit virtual, space for the voices of other artists — something that works contrary to our traditional view of the artist as a solitary genius — to discuss motives, process and inspirations, Swiger pushes his own work into realms of “dialogical aesthetics.” In other words, an artistic approach that prioritizes the experience of connecting with others over the creation of any tangible art object.

New, accessible audio media like Skype and voice-recording apps allow Swiger to connect with guests via smartphone or PC and post his interviews online with minimal technical paraphernalia involved. Each online Final Friday episode posting includes images of the works discussed, a brief blurb and links to their sites. Shows range from 20-35 minutes in length, and Swiger seeks out the work of artists he connects with in terms of his own aesthetics. “I’ve only interviewed people I really respect or admire,” he says.   

Creating Final Friday was a way for the artist to access the kind of critical conversation around art that he had been missing since graduating from school. “When you leave grad school, there’s this real sense of lack of community and I was really thirsty for it,” he says. Therefore, building a community of artists who lead the conversation about their own work is central to this current project.

The idea for the podcasts, which came to Swiger “fully formed” in a dream one night, was for them to be monthly discussions with area artists, but they’ve grown to be bi-monthly conversations with artists from as far away as Vancouver.

The serialism and evolution of the podcast over the last six months and 14 episodes bind his work to a fine-art practice. In fact, Swiger’s own work has been continually evolving since moving to Cincinnati five years ago.

Growing up in West Virginia, he went to undergrad at Fairmount State University in his home state before moving to Cincinnati in 2011 for graduate school at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, where he eventually graduated with an MFA in painting. But like many painters, Swiger’s 2-D work often acts as a springboard for other more collaborative projects and ideas.

Even before graduating, Swiger was engaging with the work of other artists and employing mundane mediums — for example, in his 2012 Found in Translation exhibition at semantics gallery with sculptors Christian Schmit and Cynthia Gregory. Swiger’s work for that show was — like the artists he curates in his podcast — playful, colorful and centered on a call-and-response approach. The podcast interviews share a similar characteristic.

Swiger typically starts off the conversation with open questions, asking the artist to describe the look of their work. This simple gesture prioritizes the eye of the maker long after French theorist Roland Barthes declared the death of the author, which so shook the contemporary art world nearly half a century ago.

Whereas many contemporary art theorists have subsequently dismissed artists’ intentions, Swiger turns the focus back to creators, allowing artists agency over their narratives and giving them a platform to add layers of meaning to their work.

But it’s not even heady stuff. When Swiger’s guests inevitably go off on tangents about the specifics of their research, he provides a stand-in for the audience, asking for clarifications and explanations on their behalf. Deferring to his guests’ whims, the conversation usually meanders from formal concerns of medium and process to helpful hints about applying for residencies.

Much of the show’s time is spent listening to guests talk about the work, and Swiger is good at allowing his subjects aural space for answers. “The goal of the show, as I say every episode, is to hear about an artist’s life and work in their own words,” he says. “It’s a goal that I try to accomplish through sincere and simple questions.” 

When asked for clarification on a question in an episode from last October, he says, “I’m always thinking about who’s listening to the show, potentially.” And this past November he started a Patreon account, which allows people to support and help fund this creative project on a regular basis.

While it is not typical for an artist to set a place for their peers at the table of public art discourse, it seems to be a refreshing trend among artists who seek out collaboration and social engagement.  If URL has truly become fused with IRL sites of artistic creation, then it behooves artists to find new ways of shaping the conversation about art.

“Ultimately, my aim isn’t to be a critic,” Swiger says, “but rather a kind and curious voice in a conversation with a friend. I’m thrilled for anyone to listen to that conversation, but if no one is listening, the conversations will still happen. In all, I just like talking about art with people.”

This writer knows the feeling.


FINAL FRIDAY episodes are available at finalfridaypodcast.com.


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