It’s in the air, particularly these days, and it feels a lot like spring, but we are talking about the Post-Internet. Here, Kunstkritikk presents a survey on Post-Internet Art Criticism. Approaching writers, critics and editors, working in a wide range of magazines, newspapers, journals, and blogs, the question was this:
– Are we witnessing a generational shift in writing on art-related subjects akin to the Post-Internet generation in arts? Or do we need a new generation of writers to do justice to a new range of subjects/crises?
Writers responding to the survey: Ana Finel Honigman, Carson Chan, Cedar Lewisohn, Christian Kobald, Kolja Reichert, Georg Diez, Gesine Borcherdt, Jacob Lillemose, Jennifer Allen, Jörg Heiser, Kenneth Goldsmith, Matthew Burbidge, Pablo Larios, Pernille Albrethsen, Power Ekroth, Raimar Stange, Róza El-Hassan, Stian Gabrielsen, Timotheus Vermeulen, Tiziana Casapietra, Toke Lykkeberg.
– The new and most exciting writers that I can think of are in the main the artists themselves – when it comes to this “DIS generation”, at least. Though there is a role mix-up between the different agents in the art world, artists still stand out as the ones pushing new ideas, a new mindset. Probably because they have to be original. They are from the ‘school’s out’ school. Though they are networked, they have to “do you”, as artist Jayson Musson a.k.a. Hennessy Youngman puts it. Art historians, curators and critics tend to do the opposite. They efface themselves in order to do others, maybe because they think of themselves as mediators. And mediation easily becomes this game where you try to grasp and evaluate the new by revoking the old – where, maybe, you can’t even do others because you lost the you you didn’t do. Mediation can be very conservative – a way of exiting current conversations…
So do we need a new generation of writers to do justice to a new range of subjects/crises? Yes, though all these new materialist, object-oriented, speculative, ecological, network ideas are spreading rapidly, they are still oddly invoked to reignite old ideas of critique, resistance, utopia and the like – invoked to save what’s lost. Not that I personally subscribe to all of these new ideas, but at least they should serve to challenge, if not debunk, the latter. The imperative of resistance, for instance, does not just hark back to ‘68, but even to World War II as pointed out by philosopher Michel Serres. So if you’re not into resistance, you’re a corrupt “collaborateur”.
Well, these old ideals survive for various reasons. One is that they fit some old formats that also survive. Art criticism found in art reviews supposes a critical distance that ought be rethought in light of ideas of networks, ecology and so on. If you think that the subject-object divide is problematic, why cling to a rigid artist-critic or producer-consumer divide? A new magazine like DIS shows the way. They develop new multiple-author formats where sound, image and text merge. Such formats suit a worldview according to which art, music, fashion, lifestyle, activism, philosophy, poetry, whatever are mixed up – or as new lingo has it: “entangled”, “enmeshed” and “imbricated”.
– I would definitely say the Internet has affected the aesthetics and ethics of a new generation of writers, just as television influenced the generation of novelists Foster Wallace famously described in his essay on irony in literature. Over the past few years, writers such as Roberto Bolano, Zadie Smith and perhaps above all Adam Thirlwell have adopted new strategies of storytelling focusing on what we may call 1. a «linked narrative» (epic tales at once coherent and disjointed, often through different POVs); 2. suspended contemporaneity (the happening of too many events at the same time, which manifests itself in Bolano, through unfinished sentences, whilst as Alison Gibbons has pointed out, Thirlwell often begins sentences with a «while», suggesting two events taking place simultaneously, but then only describing one of them); 3. utopistics (Wallerstein’s term for achievable alternatives); and 4. the return of an alienated yet repositioning subject.
– Even in my very cursory observations, I have noticed a trend towards higher quality writing online. Of course there is no shortage of the usual drivel, but as more of us spend more of our time online, its great to see that the desire for thoughtful, researched, well edited, and reviewed texts isn’t divided along technological lines. Serious writers and academics, like bloggers, enjoy the immediate gratification of seeing their work disseminated – and why shouldn’t they? For the humanities, Triple Canopy has been around since 2007, Eflux journal since 2008; Uncube with editors in Berlin and London is well liked; ARPA Journal and Aggregate both rigorously present current topics in architecture; and just this year we see the appearance of The Avery Review, out of Columbia University, and Momus, from a conglomerate of North American writers. Extra-institutionally, critics Brian Droitcour writes art criticism on Yelp, and Christopher Glazek annotates and scrutinizes texts on Rap Genius. And this is just the English language. Yes, information wants to be free, and yes, information wants to be good.
– I think we haven’t seen a new generation of Post-Internet art writers fully unfolded as of yet. But I see signs of it – such as the writing appearing in and around DIS magazine. Central to this writing (and art making) is a preoccupation with how we communicate after the Internet. As I see it, few writers have the capacity, surplus energy or overview to distance themselves from this all-encompassing investigation to treat the Post-Internet art expression in terms of more old-fashioned critique. Someone like Brian Droitcour is an exemption here. The majority are still trying to grasp the moment – trying to be part of the next vocabulary-in-the-making.
As the possibilities of the Internet – as overall discourse and tool – are far from fully uncovered, we are witnessing a lot of art making marked by what I refer to as the “Portapak syndrome” – where the new media briefly dominate, taking precedence over the ideas and overall direction of the art making. Like in the late 1960s when artists were blown away by the possibilities of the invention and accessibility of the Portapak and would spend hours recording boring videos. The real landmarks of the new tool only came after the artists had experimented with it for some time. Today artists are experimenting with the effects of the index-finger touch experience, the perceptible flatness of smart TV, the eternal instantaneity of everything, the multiple presence-ness of everyday life, etc.…. And, as far as I see, so far the writers are just trying to follow pace.
What I’ve noticed most is a return to what I call “art writing” – an affirmative position where you don’t really perform a critique but write with the artist, ranging from the subtle summary to creative, investigative essays where the writers really try to write themselves into the matter itself. You write to become part of the language and of establishing a new discourse – which can be extremely interesting to read. I’m very much in favor of what I refer to as “embedded criticism”: art criticism executed by writers who are “aboard the ship”, very close to the field (know a lot of artists, directors, gallery owners, etc.; people who know what it takes to put up an exhibition – for the artist, the institution or gallery; who know about the gallery system, the channels money flows by in the art world, etc., etc.) However, this “embedded” approach is only interesting – as far as criticism is concerned – when the critic is also capable of taking that important step back, letting go of all these strings attached, when a review is to be done.
As far as the modus of art writing connected to the Post-Internet generation is concerned, it sends me straight back to the relational aesthetics of the 1990s. Then, there was a lot of jumping in trampolines and open-air cooking which had an equally strong focus on the social scheme of things, and which at the time also seemed to defy critique. Similarly today, it seems as if the self-imposed blasé attitude (vast use of irony, e.g. emoticons, as if to say “it’s all just for fun”) performs a social Morse code that defies criticism. Occasionally, I feel a little tired of the tongue-in-cheekness and jargon-heavy tweet lingo that characterizes this kind of writing, but I also acknowledge that it simply has to do with defining a certain attitude which is a concept seen in all kinds of different art milieus through different generations. You want to communicate that you are part of the gang – the gang with a particular codified language.
Stian Gabrielsen, artist and writer, regular contributor to Kunstkritikk, based in Oslo:
– Both for art and art criticism, what has partly legitimated these practices for some time is the idea that we need art as a kind of vital supplement to the spectacle of mass culture. As an art that used to boast its criticality is giving way to practices of a more affirmative bend, a side effect is that the discipline of art writing has come under pressure to legitimate its pursuit. There seems to be a kind of fallacy with art writers; we have difficulties imagining art disengaged from a critical mission, so we tend to assume one for it, even when the artist is clearly just pandering to whatever forces will help circulate his product. A common reaction to Post-Internet art is to lament this apparent waning of the old antagonism between art and the market, I think. So, to address your question, I don’t know if the change will be generational, but there are issues at hand in art writing that calls for fresh perspectives – one of which is to find ways to distinguish artworks without simply positing them as necessary critiques of more popular forms of entertainment.
– Contemporary art has been lethargic about digitisation. Where is the Tavi of contemporary art? How come e-flux persists when so many other digital entities have come and gone? It’s even older than Myspace… Art already survived mechanical reproduction – Benjamin was wrong, it does make sense to ask for the original print of a photograph, just consider vintage prints – so art will survive digital reproduction. But not art criticism – insofar as it’s part of the dying mass media: film, literature, music, journalism or photo-journalism. Art can be expected to become even more intensely driven by social bonds. «Communities» are the new cliques.
– Writing about art seems to be in constant crisis, not matter what the genre. This maybe has something to do with how art is perceived in society and the function writing about art is supposed to fill. In terms of the Internet and generational shifts, yes, things have changed. The main thing is, and I am stealing from Žižek here, that there are no experts anymore, just people with opinions. This is certainly true for those who write about visual art. I mean, I look at something. I write about it, you disagree and make a “comment” below the text. I’m wrong, you‘re wrong, who can say? Well, everyone.
– I’m always shocked at how narrow the discourse around contemporary writing is as compared to contemporary art. Contemporary art has long staked a space in hybrid practices, ones that are both conceptual and identity-based, ones that at once reify and question notions of identity, destabilizing and deconstructing them in compellingly complicated ways. Think of the practices of Adrian Piper, David Hammons, Jimmie Durham, Kara Walker, Gran Fury, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Martha Rosler, Tania Bruguera, Jayson Musson, Sharon Hayes… the list could go on and on. I can’t imagine that any one of these artists would self-identify as ‘avant-garde’ nor do the critical discourses around their work invoke that term. Why does the discourse around contemporary writing still feel the need to cling to binaries like ‘mainstream’ and ‘avant-garde?’ Somehow upholding such binaries in a critique of binaries only serves to reinforce those same binaries.
Conceptualism was not prescriptive. While the discourse surrounding such a predominant mode of writing appeared hegemonic and canon-building, the writers involved in the movement had no such agenda; ours was a response to technology and offered one way of framing language and its new modes of slippage in a new landscape. As Sol LeWitt so elegantly wrote in 1967, «I do not advocate a conceptual form of art for all artists. I have found that it has worked well for me while other ways have not. It is one way of making art; other ways suit other artists.»
The form remains open to reimagination, reinvestigation, and reframing (I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women, for example). In the end, conceptualism was another tool in the writers’ toolbox, no more, no less.
– Art is always a struggle, or at least conflict. Otherwise there would be no reason to produce art with meaning. Art that is consensual is superfluous. Art is in time and before its time. That is why it doesn‘t matter how old the artist is, and where he or she comes from. The view on the world is different. Same applies to those who write about it. They should be accomplices, they should take sides, be abrasive and cruel in their judgement, and adoring, nurturing, whatever. But never tepid. They should form alliances. They should be partisans in this most peaceful battle, the continuous triumph of sublimation. That‘s why we‘re human.
– At some point you’re not exactly the youngest anymore. Others have taken over, with completely different skill sets, or the same, and suddenly you feel old. And then you have the opportunity to become younger again. Writing offers you a location to become younger as you get older. Now, this sounds very old.
Something else. One can’t just complain about the lack of critique, when there is no economical incentive (in money or acknowledgement). Your generation gave everything away to the rich. And now you make yourself comfortable in self-righteous anti-attitude, feeling sorry for yourself. If today we struggle for language and criteria, no-one will pay us. If we do so anyway, it‘s only because we don‘t want to be bored. So, boys and girls, don’t take yourselves too seriously. And stop writing things you don’t feel. We thank Africa for inexpensive raw materials.
– Like the precocious child of the psychotherapist, art criticism has more or less always defined itself in relationship to some emergency. The word “criticism” contains “crisis”, after all. It’s hard to speak of a generational shift in criticism responding to a new crisis in art, since the fire alarm has always been sounding, and these crises are never new. In the best cases, art criticism – now as ever – is just good description: as practical and disposable as a napkin.
– There is a generational shift but I don’t believe it is intentional or positive. I think the cause is financial, not ideological. Writers cannot sustain themselves, so they get aged-out. Students start writing because editors package non-paying gigs as «opportunities» but nothing viable evolves from countless additions to a writer’s CV. Good writers keep pushing because they are passionate, but – around age 30-35 – they realize they need to find supportive work. There are few ways for writers to earn a living; PR and gallery work can, sometimes, become escape routes. However, these careers cancel out critical writing because of perceived (or legitimate) conflicts-of-interest. The few writers who remain either see it as a hobby, have independent means of support or suffer – and anxiety and feelings of failure can color their relationship with the work.
Personally, I enjoy writing about art but I am at the age when I need to be realistic and start looking elsewhere for my next move. I do it much less because I view it as my creative outlet, not my career. I guess that I see it as a hobby – but one that I care about, passionately. I cannot imagine abandoning it but I am selective about the platforms where I publish and I no longer writer for free – I just realize that I can’t support myself as a writer. I tell my younger friends and students to view criticism as a fun adventure, for the next few years, but make those «model years»! So, I expect to see a quicker turnover with writers and a consistently young voice because the industry allows fewer and fewer Kate Mosses to work steadily past 35!
– A generation shift is going on, of course, as in real life. Sadly the young colleagues are increasingly less critical and more compatible with the market, hardly anyone does proper hatchet jobs anymore. This is due, I believe, not to generations, but to which part of a generation is given the opportunity to articulate themselves.
– Yes, I believe there are some changes. A good text remains a good text, and the narrative and argumentative toolbox has not changed in its entirety. But the keyword “networking” plays a big part, and, in a positive way, it creates a higher sensibility for seismic shifts in this domain. I also notice, regarding colleagues of the digital native generation, a certain sense of reserve concerning polemics and confrontation that is related to an emphasis on networking. But colleague Pablo Larios has shrewdly addressed this as “Network Fatigue” in frieze d/e. Criticism goes on.
– The last years it has become increasingly difficult to get writers to make judgements regarding exhibitions – this has many reasons (the emergence of descriptive reviews in Artforum and frieze, dependencies caused by multiple roles, general doubts regarding the classical idea of criticism). And writers preferably write about friends and their own network, sometimes explicitly so.
The generation shift is a given anyway, a change in seeing, the attitude towards life. And also a conflict with an older generation of critics, who were socialized before the neoliberal conditions we experience in our work today, and that will increase for the younger ones. Or so I hope, at least. The result we will see.
– I’m afraid that I don’t think there is a generational shift going on in criticism. I would love for something new to come up! There have been signs and fata morgana, pinpricks of light in among the darkness of overwhelming timidity and conformism. A major reason for this is that art magazines and other forums for criticism and curatorial know-how rely on the commercial gallery and museum sector to make them bankable. These advertisers have a whole shared canon between them and an unsaid (but hinted at!) code of conduct, and they agree 100% on one issue: that negative criticism of the artists they show or curators they work with is not to be tolerated.
As a critic, I must ensure that the reviews that I pitch to various magazines are about shows that I truly found to be good. To communicate a negative feeling immediately activates the sub-editor, who proceeds to destroy your hard work. Like a classic liberal, I decide to toe the line when there’s a chance of being cast out.
So generally speaking, there’s a climate of stupid fear amongst our critical community. Stupid fear is that fear that is so omnipresent that it de-evolves your very brain. Obey all the rules, written or not. The surge of interest in academia is a symptom of journalists and other critics looking to secure their lifestyle with a good job at an art university, instead of actually doing criticism: because you really cannot say anything! Criticism in visual art is thus in serious danger of dying out. You might say that criticism is migrating to Scandinavia, where the best jobs are to be found.
In this way, Berlin’s position as the global capital of art production is also jeopardized.
Incredibly, a more moral stance for Texte zur Kunst would be to receive advertising money from the likes of Nestle, Unilever, or an oil firm: because though these companies have awful records on employee management, pollution and human rights, they do not have a direct conflict of interest with the people running the magazine.
– I don‘t see a generation shift among art writers. Nobody comes to mind who is opinionated and knowledgeable to relate certain topics or state theses. Maybe this fits with the notion of a “Post-internet” generation: young authors write as affirmatively as artists approach the intricacies of our society. In my eyes, you can only make a name for yourself if you, at least from time to time, and in a substantiated way, say more than what you see, without fear of courting controversy. A lack of opinion in favor of descriptive writing is widespread these days, even if we live in times that require something else. And this offers an opportunity, not only for the up and coming, but for all authors.
– I do not see why writers should change their approach today because of the Internet or Post-Internet era. The beauty of our profession is that it exposes us to continuous challenges, it forces us to keep updated; I do not think it is a generational issue. It really depends on how good we are at surfing (the net) our times and the complexity it implies.
As an art journalist and curator, what I have assimilated are those timeless rules that have been cornerstones for all writers in the past, and still are now, and always will be in the future. The only keys to vividly interpret the present, its essence, and its ongoing transformations are: constant research and updates, in-depth analysis, and accuracy. With these keys in your hand you have the tools to understand our present times and its representations, no matter what generation you belong to.
– I have thought a lot about it, and yes, I can sense a change. I have the impression that it is not necessarily about age, but rather about “hipsterification” (seeing how the hipsters can be at least 50 years old), where some of the context matters over content. A cool gallery and a tattooed artist making decorative art because it “looks and feels great” gets a writeup about just this, and not a word about what or why, why does this matter or how this makes you reflect intellectually (thinking of course about Post-Internet art and “crapstraction”). Surely this is also related to the art market being so overriding and strong. I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I have noticed the surge of interest in academic research related to art: really? But this might just be me coming of age, engaging in bitterness and revelling in the descent of the West, hehe. Somehow I long for texts that have the ability to not only contextualize the art work in the multi-faceted art world but also draws upon the «real world» and why it matters.
– We need to consider that the Internet is an unstable media and the servers can be turned off, shut down any time. So the objects, museums, libraries are still very important. It is more difficult to destroy paper than a file. On the web everything can be undone.
We need support for ecological projects for sustainable development. Otherwise the globe will not survive. To survive, we need to work on our body and mind. We need to reduce consumption. Internet is an important tool to bring this new spirituality to the broad masses. The main point is not the content of the Internet, but the control of the Internet. Who builds the structures?
I have a favourite story: there was a simple farmer in the Sahel region, the southern border of the Sahara. He invented new very simple method for how to stop the desert and after a decade or two a nice little forest grew, a green belt, which he planted. He became famous, an American filmmaker came and did a famous documentary film. He was invited to India and ended up celebrated in a big UN conference in front of all the many cameras.
But when he went back home, the well-off leaders of his country decided to build nice houses in the green belt, which he created and which was his farmland. Two decades earlier it was desert, had no value and it was not even registered as farmland, suddenly it was valuable land and he no longer had access to it. He would have needed 10,000 or 20,000 dollars to buy it, but after all the UN celebrations he had of course still no money. So he died soon after this event.
The question which arises is: What can we do in such a case? I do not think that immediate armed fight against the rich urban settler would have succeeded or been right. We have to face the fact that we are forced to survive much more grave setbacks than we would have imagined earlier in our life. The main question is how to survive these setbacks.
The key can be lifestyle change: doing a lot of sport or yoga to relax, reducing our consumption, having good friends and family. And having no excessive drug habits, give our intellect work through reading, trust in the people and believe in the principle of the good, positive things. All this does not seem to be very intellectual… but – beyond the notion of justice and objectivity – distributing day by day the message of the new lifestyle and the deep belief that good principles will win, is one of the roles of pictures and texts today. It is also the key for survival. And it does not make a big difference, if you blog with texts or images.
– I guess we are witnessing a shift in writing, I would hope so! I think there is a need to move on from the theory-heavy form of art writing that has been predominant since the 1990s towards more nonconformist and entertaining formats. Formats that are less concerned with institutional recognition and more focused on exploring the realm of the visionary imagination. I see tendencies pointing in that direction – often inspired by the cultural and social economies of the new networked media – but I am not sure if they come together to qualify for the label of a generation. Time will tell.
And we always need new generations of writers! I am a strong believer in the rights and voices of the new kids on the block. They are the natives of the present era and to some extent they know it better than anyone. However, I do not believe they are the only ones who can adequately address the topics of our time. Hell no! That is such a romantic misconception. The new kids have their blind spots and limited scope, just like “the old boys and girls.” In my opinion, it is a matter of developing (art) writing – as a critical, yet inventive sensibility and vocabulary – in response to the contemporary world rather than sticking to the formats used to engage with the world of yesterday.