Foreword by Jenna Jauhiainen
In March this year the meme above triggered a potentially revelatory process here in Finland, with art critics and other cultural commentators rushing in to defend art critique and ‘splain why criticality as we know and define it is absolutely necessary. What struck me in this discussion was the apparent misreading of the critique posed by @pikakahvimemegirl’s meme – in my reading, it is only suggesting that perhaps art critics would be better off focusing their attention to things that, for whatever reason, excite them rather than arguing for the shortcomings of particular works of art.
This is absolutely relevant critique, and as such this same idea has informed my own, very sporadic writing of art critique for nearly a decade already. I aim to write one piece a year, and the piece I write is always about something that truly excites me. And that is not to say that my idea is to recommend that particular work or artist or anything of the sort, but that I have discovered something intellectually and artistically stimulating that I want to share with others. For me, critique is about creating discourse, sharing knowledge and experiences, and about providing necessary contextualisation or sometimes even just textualisation of art. For me, critique is not about value-judgments, evaluations, comparisons, estimations of relevance, or any other type of gatekeeping.
Having followed the discussion here in Finland around art critique and its dwindling relevance for more than a decade, it was easy for me to understand that this meme hit a nerve and that the response was perhaps more a reaction to this long progression into irrelevance than the meme itself.
But, then again. In my own artistic work, I have recently been working with a particular concept pair for the past few months: incompetence and intention. My hypothesis is that we are, for some reason, prone to assume incompetence over intention. It is somehow easier and more palatable to assume that people don’t know what they are doing than seeing that they are doing it intentionally.
Here, it feels easier for me to think that the critics and other cultural commentators who responded to this meme with fervor were doing it out of incompetence, that they did not really understand what it meant or called for. But, when seen as intentional misreading and misrepresentation, a wholly different picture emerges. It is a picture of gatekeeping, of academisation of art and culture, of upholding the hierarchies of patriarchy, at worst in the name of feminism.
Let me make my point. If art criticism, in this age where the media space reserved for it is dwindling before our eyes, focuses on works of art created by professional artists in institutional settings, it is not feminist. If art criticism, in this age where neoliberal policies of governance drives more and more people into economic and social precarity, focuses on works of art created by white cis-het people, it is not feminist. If art criticism, in this age where the climate catastrophe is misplacing hundreds of millions of people, focuses on the individual genius artist instead of collectives and social movements, it is not feminist.
I could go on, but I think you get my point. It is not enough that art critics announce that they have done their gender studies, that they are members of important feminist organisations. We need action. We need art critique focused on socially, politically and economically radical artworks and artist collectives. We need art critique actively dismantling heteronormative white supremacist patriarchal structures. We need art critique that refuses to use its little resources to write about what is on display in the major museums, galleries and other established artistic and cultural institutions. These usually have people working for them who are creating this content on payroll already. Small artist run spaces, precarious artist collectives, working class artists without academic background let alone gallery representation, they do not. We need to be conscious about this and put our energy where it is actually needed.
I of course am not saying that this is the way we are to do art critique from here to eternity. Hopefully someday soon we have smashed capitalism and have endless resources to publish, to distribute and to debate art critique. Before that, in order to be feminist, we need to be very careful and choose wisely what we write about. Like, for fucks sake, at least stop going to the Venice Biennale.
Now that I have that out of my system, let’s get back on track. This piece is the Doing Differently, the theme of this edition, embodied. Instead of a text, it is a collection of memes by @pikakahvimemegirl that are commenting on the theme of Doing Differently, chosen by the artist, and translated by me.
I hope the reader can appreciate the memes of @pikakahvimemegirl as a form of art. The artist is quickly becoming a voice of a generation fragmented into news feeds and livestreams. With no gatekeepers besides the multinational Meta Platforms Inc. in charge of Instagram, it is able to publish and distribute pretty much what it wants, inspiring, triggering, failing and learning, all in real time, building community as it goes. The artist has inspired hundreds of fellow mememakers in Finland, and in just a couple of short years this revolutionarily leftist content is evidently breaking new ground for our cultural self-awareness and political memetics, the meaning production we rarely think about but nonetheless can feel in our bones.