Variable Voice is our online journal that features exhibition reviews, interviews, Love Letters, and essays.
We’ve received a flood of outstanding writing from all over the US and international contributors, and put together the below Pitch Guidelines to help all writers. Want to write for us but not sure what to pitch? Sign up for our monthly Art Writing Assignments email!
WHO: Amelia Rina, Variable West Founder & Editor, email@example.com
WHAT: A concise summary of what you want to write about including any pertinent information (exhibition dates, location, related programming, etc.)
WHEN: Anytime! We accept pitches on an ongoing basis
Include links to artist(s) work, website, exhibition information, etc.
Include links to your website and/or clips of relevant published writing
Check out our past publications to get an idea of the tone and style we’re looking for
Consider your identity and how it relates to your subject. Be sure you can accurately and considerately analyze and tell the stories of your subjects. If you don’t have shared experiences, consider pitching an interview to allow your subject to speak for themselves.
Send a full/complete draft with your pitch
Include multiple ideas/topics in one pitch
TIMELINE: We do our best to respond to all pitches within two weeks. If you haven’t heard back from us by then, feel free to follow up.
We are thrilled to announce that Justin Duyao is Variable West’s inaugural Editorial Apprentice for the spring 2021 semester.
Justin is a writer, editor, and student with a BA in English Literature from Harding University. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and is pursing an MA in Critical Studies from the Pacific Northwest College of Art. His interests include studies of consciousness, sociolinguistics, and gender.
The VW Editorial Apprenticeship is a semester-long paid program that allows emerging writers and editors to learn how an online journal works while expanding their art writing practice. In addition to assisting with daily tasks such as website and social media management, apprentices receive reading and writing assignments, participate in discussions, and will take ownership of Variable West’s Love Letters column.
Over the past ten years, my life as an art writer has only been possible because of the support and trust of mentors and colleagues. Editors took chances on me, professors encouraged me and helped me make connections, and I swapped editorial feedback with my network of peers. These interactions were absolutely essential to my growth as a young writer, yet they feel like an impossibility in today’s new world of cascading closures, cancellations, and social isolation.
The media and publishing worlds have been in trouble for a while—years before the pandemic—with countless magazines, newspapers, journals, and blogs shutting down, often abruptly, citing a lack of financial sustainability. Two of these recent deaths hit me particularly hard: The Village Voice in 2018, and Art Practical earlier this year. To me, both publications represent environments where emerging writers could learn about the business, develop their voice, and build their career. Their absences leave a palpable void—one I am determined to fill in whatever way I can.
With that in mind, I’m relaunching Variable West’s editorial venture as the online journal Variable Voice. You can expect exhibition reviews, essays, interviews, Love Letters, and other series that try to find a balance between generous, accessible language, zealously researched topics, and experimental prose that challenges the conventions of each format.
Of course, I could never replace these two publishing legacies, but I am deeply inspired by what they both did for art criticism and writing. No other art journals have dedicated as much care and passion to the West Coast art ecosystem as Art Practical. No other newspaper—alternative or mainstream—compares to TheVillage Voice‘s radical, celebratory, razor sharp criticism and journalism. I hope to infuse the essences of both these publications in everything we produce in Variable Voice.
You might be thinking: Sure, great ideas, but how will we stay afloat when so much of the publishing world is drowning? That’s where our incredible community comes in. By becoming a monthly subscriber or making a one time donation, you can help reinvigorate, sustain, and expand West Coast art writing and scholarship. Plus, I’ll be hustling everyday to find new funding opportunities. We’re extremely fortunate to have received a grant from Critical Minded, which will help us start with some real momentum.
Head to the Variable Voice page to see what we have published so far, and stay tuned for more!
I’m so excited for this new adventure, and can’t wait to share it with you.
“Between [depression and acceptance],” writes LA-based artist Patty Chang, in a short letter inviting visitors to her multi-media exhibition Que Sera Sera, “I would add in no fixed order: repositioning, integrating, shapeshifting, imagination, enchantment, trance, transmogrification, invocation, mystification, and bewilderment.” Pain is a single rupture, she seems to say, but healing is a thousand little threads quilting repair.
Illness, now, enforces isolation. Many of our loved ones have visited hospitals alone, or even died, in quarantine. It’s heart wrenching to watch Chang stand beside a hospital bed in the video In Gait Remains (2017), holding her baby, singing to herself, the child, and to the resting body—her father on his death bed. You can see the pathos of the body, how it can be consumed, loved, or lost. How parts of it leave us all the time. Chang summons something akin to an image-memory, an impossible present. She reminds us of what life once was in a foreclosed other time, in the past.
The works on display in the two-venue show at San Francisco galleries Cushion Works and Friends Indeed were taken between 2001 and 2017. They wear 2020 well.
Nancy Lim, the shows’ curator, hesitates to say that this October was a good time to show Chang’s work—good being an inadequate word. What Lim means is that Chang’s bravery when looking directly at death, or grief, or fear, almost generates what Lim calls “an anticipatory grief.” The work suggests a way to grapple with loss in a year when so much death—by the police, by Covid-19—has happened so unfairly and avoidably. “Chang’s work prepares me for the deaths I myself will have to face,” Lim reflects.
A photograph from Chang’s 2017 series “Letdown,” which makes up a substantial portion of the shows, hangs perpendicular to In Gait Remains. Chang photographed cups of a thick, yogurt colored substance, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of the disheveled remains of food. Each image shows breast milk, which Chang pumped and was then forced to discard while traveling to the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan without her baby. Breast milk in a sardine can, breast milk colored by a saturated tea bag, breast milk next to a crumpled paper napkin.
Between the video feed of Chang singing to her father in the hospital and the photographs of milk, doomed to be discarded, you see a proximity of generations.
Living requires the body to constantly shed waste, Julia Kristeva writes in meditations on the abject. She defines the word not as a lack of cleanliness or health, but as that which “does not respect borders, positions, rules.” It is “the in-between, the ambiguous, the composite.” Chang’s work approaches abjection by refusing clear divisions. It’s mindful of the body, its fluids, but refuses to sterilize waste.
A street-facing window, like the one at Friends Indeed, has become essential. How else can we peer at art from the perceived safety of the outdoors? Through a sheet of glass, the demarcation between the spectator’s reflection and the photographs, also sheathed in an additional pane of glass, gets messy. Chang further troubles this layering by returning attention to reflections, the matrixial space of overlapping images she carefully attenuates, that unsettling in-betweenness.
A photograph can be a performance. Ariella Aïsha Azoulay characterized the camera not just as a technology, but the “invention of a new encounter.” For Azoulay, viewing an image with active attention can reanimate the moment it commits to permanent stasis. The photograph begins to move, discontinuities thaw, and the still past creeps into the present. In this way, Chang’s work extends beyond the moments she has collected and suggests continuous processing, inhabiting a cascading grief, and activating a path towards healing.
In On Love, 2013, superimposed videos of a man and a woman, both wearing the same starch white button down, play simultaneously. They speak over each other, but harmoniously. Chang’s mother, the woman, says “he is a good father, he repairs everything for the children.” The video bleeds into the man, Chang’s father, making an equation out of love: “introducing person A, person B, having B act upon A, A react to B.” They are intensely in their bodies, hyper-exposed in the act of being—for themselves, for each other, and for their daughter with the camera. It’s a portrait of companionship, the way it feels to pass time in the company of another person.
Chang’s work displays a longstanding preoccupation with the boundaries and trace appearances of the body. In Que Sera, Sera, she honors the materiality of family, motherhood, existence, and death. All the strings that bind one to others—through sight, taste, song, memory, and loss—are taut with feeling.
 Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror:An Essay on Abjection. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 4.
 Azoulay, Ariella Aïsha. The Civil Contract of Photography. (New York: Zone books, 2008), 89.