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Dissolve is a volunteer-run online arts publication and project. Its mission is to be an open space where arts criticism and commentary is collaborative, personal, performative, unexpected, and divisive.

This interview with Dissolve founders—Kathryn Barulich (MA, 2015), Harper Brokaw-Falbo (MA, 2016), Christopher Squier (MFA, 2015), Jackie Valle (MA, 2016), and Julian Wong-Nelson (MA, 2016)—delves into the publication’s founding, focus, and editorial process.

How did you all meet?

Christopher Squier (CS): We all attended the graduate program at SFAI and became friends when we’d get together and decompress over a much needed cocktail after seminars—this is when we learned we were kindred spirits.

When did you first have the idea to create a publication?

Harper Brokaw-Falbo (HBF): Starting a publication was one of the ideas a few of us had been thinking about while at SFAI. There was all this great energy leading up to the end of graduate school and the driving question was, “How do we keep this work and creative thinking going?” We loved discussing potential projects, both image and text-based, that approached artwork differently and wanted to create a space in which it could exist. There were so many ideas thrown around, some farfetched that couldn’t actually be realized, and this one we knew we could develop.  

Jackie Valle (JV): Many opportunities for online arts writing dictate the content, length, and form of work submitted. We wanted to step outside of that and produce a creative platform that allowed us to write and think about our own interests. Dissolve has become a generative space for holding us and our extended community of artists, art thinkers, and friends together. 

What is Dissolve really about?

Kathryn Barulich (KB): It’s about holding a place for uncertainty, quirk, and criticality. For us, Dissolve has become a non-commodified space for interdisciplinary arts writing and a way to highlight art research and practices.

The cooperative editorial process is very important for us. We rarely accept finished work and prefer to think collectively about a topic and develop ideas through discussion. From a collaborative conceptualization of a project to copy-editing, we and the contributors are involved in every piece that is published. To think through the ideas together and push each other to go further—whether this results in formal aesthetic developments, or clarity in writing—we are all attempting to reach further into uncertainty and the unknown, and push the level of criticality in the process.

CS: While we write typical art reviews and criticism, we actually have a fairly small collection of the kind of writing one would expect. Instead, we try to highlight visual culture analysis and critical essay forms that think about artwork differently. For example, how do odor and particulates in the air influence the art experience or what do medieval practices around touching holy objects have to do with contemporary models of viewership? Overall, Dissolve lets us explore new modes for thinking about art, art writing, and collective spaces while connecting a local and international community of writers and artists.

Interesting name, what is the inspiration behind it?

JV: We chose our name to remind ourselves to pay attention to the traces and absences in the art scene and to look for content in unlikely places. In general, we are interested in experimenting with the temporality of art and writing—time-centered trends, political situations, objects—the idea that there is something inherently finite about laying any interpretation or synthesis of artwork, that context and meaning are always shifting, transforming, and escaping clear definitions.

KB: Dissolve is interested in the “dis-”, the anti, the “non-” and the strike-through in writing—these actions are critical to our creative and analytical process. To “dissolve” is also a reminder to lessen our own egos and create alternative modes of collaborating, thinking about, and approaching work in a manner that is cooperative and horizontal.

The magazine was launched in 2016. Looking back at one year of work, what can you tell us was really successful?

KB: In the first year, we have published four theme-based issues with six to ten articles each, as well as over a dozen pieces on Trace, our non-thematic page for more-frequent releases, including reviews, interviews, and local criticism. We’ve also organized several writing workshops and hosted four issue launch parties.

One of our most significant successes has been the formation of a community of non-established artists, writers, and thinkers who have each become invaluable to the project. We bring a group of different works together, from experimental video to formal essays. Since we are all putting in our time and love, it’s been rewarding to see the projects that do not necessarily fit elsewhere come to fruition because of Dissolve.

What’s next for Dissolve?

HBF: A big impetus for Dissolve was for the publication to be responsive to the community of artists and writers we work with, so in a lot of ways responding to their work and concerns is what’s always next for us. We continue to look for new partnerships to support programs and the overall culture of arts both here in the Bay Area and internationally—writing that brings work into shared space. We’re always interested in meeting new potential contributors, collaborators, and supporters. Visit our website for more info»

For Issue 5, we’re partnering with an editor in Bogotá, Colombia to produce an international publication. We’re also in the process of producing our first material publication for this summer’s SF Art Book Fair (July 21-23). We’re working with themes that include deterioration, burn marks, and foldouts.

Look for more programming this summer and check out our Issue 4 release on The Screen, published earlier this week! The issue launch celebration will take place at FraenkelLAB on Thursday, June 8 from 5-7 pm.


Catch up on Issue 3: Touch, or past issues»

For even more insight, read Trace, the Dissolve blog»



Image credits: 1) Image of Dissolve: Harper Brokaw-Falbo skyping, Jackie Valle, Christopher Squier, Kathryn Barulich, and Julian Wong-Nelson; 2) Harper Brokaw-Falbo discussing the inaugural issue with an audience at the Issue 1 launch celebration, Adobe Books & Arts Cooperative, August 13, 2016; 3) Christopher Squier welcoming guests at the Issue 2 launch celebration, R/SF projects, December 2, 2016; 4) Kathryn Barulich, Julian Wong-Nelson, and Jackie Valle with Anička Vrána-Godwin of R/SF projects at the Issue 2 launch celebration, December 2, 2016.

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