PRIMAL SCREAM 95 (feat. Crust Demon)

The cessation of Gawker seemed to provoke a similar wary-awkward but ultimately not mega fussed afterglow effect, like the Snowden leaks. The US legal system was cannily dealt as a weapon to the defendant, crushed under a lawyer body phalanx only a tech billionare could muster. Regardless of how you feel about Gawker, the sheer insouciance of Peter Thiel sinking a news outlet is not a massive dickslap away from the pharmo bro price gouging school of philosophy. A high-grade Trump supporter propping up a fondly-remembered but actually quite rank wrestling personality to crush Gawker, an idosyncratic scandal press is just another 20xx eyeroll. Perhaps it was actually performance art, as many white dudes who make regrettable media decisions tend to claim and substantiate by turning it into an easy sideline career — spectacles willing.

Tom Scocca of Gawker wrote an editorial ‘On Smarm’ in late 2013. It touched upon many things including the nature of criticism in the literary world and the practice of smarm against negativity, which may be symptomatic of a creepy stirring within the bedchamber of artistic production, global and capital ideology. Reading Scocca’s text, it does uncannily apply to the contemporary art environment. The dearth of bad exhibition reviews, the nutritionally vacant but calorie rich art so self-assured it’s at the bleeding edge. Nature is no longer our basin of veneration, the digital global network is now the catalytic fluid of our future thought! No, discourse is shuffled along in linear progression by a deluge of queries, built upon queries of other questions and pseudo-discourse. Sure, it’s interesting how the internet has changed our lives and our distribution of visual culture, but what next? What’s the plight?

Bad exhibition reviews still exist, as evidenced by the consenual shitstorm of the 2016 Berlin Biennale curated by vaporhuman collective DIS. Their appeal endured as many of the ‘creative classes’ who feel that acknowledging how weird our post-modern apotheosis in noeliberalism is by essentially replicating it in forms beyond is just, so worthy, or something. Exploring, exploding, nuance, thinking about it is such a rewarding experience, post-irony coming home with a Pizza Express pizza carved in the shape of an Apple logo alongside some bags full of clothes from an Oki-ni or Mr Porter sale. There comes a point where the anticipation for a wrench to be thrown into the existing works just calcifies, and all but the indebted apologists or co-opted friendientele get sour. Generally though, most critics withhold any negativity because they are either friends with all the people involved (and art people take absolutely everything 100% personally) or they have some sort of “trolling” concerns, desiring all criticism a sort of good faith assistance to be welcomed, curiously. Social media makes it very easy to connect the nepotistic/incestous/desperate nodes of invested interest.

It would be all too sad if the best alternative to post-internet art is physical incarnations of digitalia peppered onto the insane amount of art fairs or purposefully hackneyed artisan craft methods subverted from purpose — which are meaningful because it subverts idea “x” or is funny & serious because of “y” + the lies you tell yourself at night to hide your class shame. Emphasis on the ‘alternative’ because ‘opposition’ is something you don’t let on. The more corralled schools of painting still trundle along with the occasional flairs of graphic flourish prior to being subject to art market flipping and all that bullshit. Photography’s place in art is still more or less the same as inviting the housemate of the person you fancy to your houseparty out of proxy politeness, though with the photobook explosion a whole new subchapter market & community has emerged. Powered by thirsty randos. Never under-estimate the power of thirsty randos to fuel a platform. Anyway, Scocca’s essay:

“The old systems of prestige are rickety and insecure. Everyone has a publishing platform and no one has a career.”

Indeed, participating in an initial fine art degree show, you are catapulted into the realisation you must network, publicise and magnify your prowess using any charm, wit or carnival smoke you can employ. It’s part of the game and isn’t inherently bad. Unless you have a famous artist mum who can help open those doors, you have to play bon vivant at least a little, yet it isn’t only networking that leads to more tactile progression. Making sure you have a website to display your artistic achievements is now a given, for proper measure don’t use a deviantart account. Record shows for posterity. People will want to know what college you’ve been to and your age, birthplace etc. as it is the laxative that cuts into the coke of the promotional screed.

As much as I’d like to ascribe social regulations onto the immediate art world Tom Wolfe-style, dealing with those fish who poke up above the coral crust, you have to take a case-by-case view. In regards to the purely technovore internet artists, Scocca’s phrase rings true. The internet has given us a social platform that has more infraction into our real lives as time goes by and this platform is exquisitely malleable to anyone; regardless of inability to order pizza over the telephone. The more reality osmosis the internet gains, the more attention is paid to it by media — some medias even being set up purely as gatekeeper to internet culture (see DiS or Rhizome).

DiS is essentially to Post-Internet what the “Sweatshop free” mantra was to American Apparel. Like “accelerationism” is the “Keep Calm and Carry On” of contemporary isms, a practically useless but seductively fabulist concept that can be invoked when convenient. It’s fun to use in pontificating how to end the capitalist system and cross-pollinating a fashiony net art with sci-fi notions. Writers peddle these thoughts for cash or tinder smalltalk, that kind of thing is requisite. All part of the validation system, so you can’t just dismiss these machinations to a sophist’s corner of the internet with Gwenyth Paltrow’s ongoing pitch for a new visions video bar clubnight. It would be refreshing for writers to divorce themselves from such entrenched positions and the practices of using literary pipedream™ but it seems that a consequence of digital networked culture is an erosion of accepting grey areas in discussion.

What is it about post-internet art as a co-genre subculture hybrid (bypassing any naturalistic “art movement”) just becoming a selling out without any directive of ethics? All heads are pointed towards some linear progression like some Pynchonian rupture of natural time, nobody is actually bothering to look at eachother. That make very little sense, but I just wanted to type ‘Pynchonian’ and hint at the summit of meaning that we’ll cast aside as an ethical valuation over a personal advance as if ‘choices’ are incense.

We can’t all be cool like Chto Delat, who seem to remember that refusal can actually be powerful too, unlike the perpetual acquiescence to power currents favoured by the prosumers.

The faux-web-democratic intellectuals are looked upon as paragon(s) of cultural electronic participation. Kudos gained without ever having to leave a computer or smartphone! But the net is vast, one can never truly say they’ve reached a comfort zone no matter how much money the New Museum pumps into their exploits. The net is also hungry, so relentless content production or participation is required to sate the (imagined?) perpetual audience.

The criticism against snark, a soft-trolling without good faith, most often bemoans the use of sneering, cheap shots and of failure to promote constructive criticism. See: The Hatchet Job Awards, Razzies, Bad-Sex Awards… from reading the comments on the Guardian website it seems that people don’t want this kind of stuff because society is too full of “snide cynicism” as it is. But I’m reading the comments on a Guardian article, maybe their audience think “snide cynicism” is a silly joke about Jeremy Corbyn’s geriatric prefs they heard on the Today show. Any critic has to understand that it flows both ways, criteria set out for ‘good’ have to equally apply to ‘bad’ within your own writing and the subject. It’s easy to get swept away on gusts of hot air to the unimpeachable plateau known as ‘assumed moral high-ground’.

In the spirit of the global networked interweb, we are endowed with the opportunity to either harass feminists on Twitter OR engage with a multiplicity of voices. It’s important to have a critical negativity, much like the importance of horror and deviance as a zone of discovery — because a cavalcade of beauty teaches us nothing. If you’re the kind of person that dismisses a deconstruction as ‘hating’ or ‘jealousy’ then why don’t you just follow that logical train of thought and call Stuart Hall a hater and fashion a roast pork and cauliflower Theresa May effigy to fuck.

About those multiplicities of voices… well, in the art realms at least, they’re mostly endorsements. Or some kind of lofty ‘progression of ideas’ prose piece. I’m referring to writing primarily here,not the cheeky projects by Jayson Musson or William Powhida. Here is where Scocca offers up a v apt passage:

“The idea of success, or of successfulness, hangs over the whole subject of smarm. It is not true, after all, that the crisis of postmodernity has left us without any functioning system of shared values. What currently fills the space left by the waning or absence of traditional authority, for the most part, is the ideology and logic of the market. Market reasoning is deeply, essentially smarmy. We live, it insists, in a world that is optimized by the invisible hand. The conditions under which we live have been created by rational needs and preferences, producing an economicist Panglossianism: What thrives deserves to thrive, be it Nike or sprawl or the finance industry or Upworthy; what fails deserves to have failed.”

When writing about the market logic of literary criticism et al, Scocca actually sums up a lot of the machinations behind the art we see in many gallery spaces. The big ‘respected’ magazines will primarily endeavour to review exhibitions from galleries that pay them PR fees and because there is transactional market behaviour involved it is far less likely a negative review will be published. Gagosian lackeys who freelance (and actually for free) at this.is.tomorrow will write a nice review of an absolutely shit exhibition to curry favour with the curator or artists. Couple that with a fetishisation of youth & newness, art-market flipping,boom behaviour in a slump, new opportunist mentality ingrained in artists slithering over our western late-capitalist cultural sector — you’re gonna be looking at a bizarro clusterfuck that Laurie Anderson couldn’t even put into song. Luckily fashion magazines have a wild promotional remit and they find artists cool now, if it finds the work fits in with an accepted paradigm and probably is based in Peckham. The mere existence of creatives doing ‘things’ was enough to start their indiscriminate raging erection, probably starting with the nearest dinner mates of the arts editor before moving out to other pastures. The Legacy: it left a phlegm oyster of gentrification in Peckham that spreads outward. Thankfully, most clout in the artworld is minor trendsploitation. Arts editors’ ‘dinner mates’ and their dictum of mutually assured progression will open the door for you to bathe in the m8ey culture network of incestuous taste-makers and validators. Mutually assured progression is a big theme, one that resonates with Scocca’s notion of the late-capitalistic invisible hand optimising content, producing what Scocca calls an “economicist Panglossianism”.It’s tricky to work this concept into art, because art is less directly sales driven than publishing and each echelon of the artworld has it’s own praxis. However, newer generations of artists are being presented to us, the apparent interested audience, and we are being told this is what is good and we must accept that. The rationale of ‘why’ can be fabricated in an immense number of ways, anybody who has had to endure the pain of an artschool group crit can conjure a simulation. The audience is not always even an issue, as sometimes the engagement of the public is just a smokescreen.

If it thrives within the select circles for whatever reason then you’ll be allowed to enjoy it during visiting hours — even if you have to be a fucking lunatic to enjoy some weird coloured goo in a Slazenger tennis ball bottle or some kind of collage that not even Timmy Mallet would contemplate making. But you might just be able to grift on that medusa raft built from your professional friendsploits and cosseted practice, which I guess is the natural evolution of what Tom Wolfe called the ‘Bohemian Dance/Consummation Dance’. Linear achievement in art can be earned in a myriad of ways beyond humble talent because it isn’t a typical industry based on supply & demand, the channels of success are far more twisted. Winning a spot on Neu Contemptaries has never been an indicator of perpetual success, but it can’t hurt. The more your name appears on things, the more viable you are to be condoned by the arts intelligentsia as their endorsement benefits all parties involved. That crew isn’t even the classy New York bourgeoise group of Andy Warhol’s era anymore. They’re surprisingly sensitive to bad press (see the Whitney’s PR team trying to strobe the accusations of institutional whitewashing away, or Creative Time’s sad puppy routine about rubbing up against Israeli arms dealers). Scocca often refers to statements by Dave Eggers as cases of smarm, particularly in rebuke of criticism. This is a case of a notable individual, but the art world can function like a bullshit-fuelled Eggers en masse. These symptoms, I believe, are down to the fait accompli of overriding precarious ideology. The Jackdaw magazine function as the closest thing the London art scene has to a Private Eye newspaper (including the culturally conservative but socially liberal mandate) but it refutes any real integration with the digital world. I think that’s because The Jackdaw sees it’s own newspaper form as honourable, a thing with integrity much akin to their ethical questions about the Serpentine or Tate’s peculiar financial arrangements. On the flipside, Rodrigo of taboofart.com uses his blog as repository for his occasional takedowns of art individuals, but because it is just one blog and a singular identified voice, what impact does that make on a hydra-goliath-lich king?

If you’re far enough “beyond the wall” you’d vouch for your career over anything else. Cathedral of Shit decided to stop gossiping, sell out and its “anonymous” crew became absorbed by the institutions it once gossiped about, can’t bite them while employed by them. Though a hand is oft tempted to stroke one who looks bitey. Whomstve once seemed bitey, once stroked droppeth all teeth. Time-sensetive hypocricy.

Scocca’s other line about the crisis of modernity can be interpreted into the arts environment neatly as well. Post-modernism hasn’t left a wasteland of values, but it has totally usurped any idea of linearity in artworld narratives and movements. The internet, as a coalescence of globalisation and exchange, allowed us all to access a historical experience with unprecedented speed and a legion of morons to re-hash Walter Benjamin’s chart topping essay at any opportunity. Experiential parameters aside, we can all access references of all the previous art cultures and movements no matter how disconnected we physically are from them and in that expanse genres lose their strict connotations. It becomes dazzling and yet reductive. It begets listicles (that’s short for list articles, not list testicles FYI). It begets vapid sucker magnets like Paddle8. Wonderment is not where we find discovery, nor is it in prefabricated academic handjob irony art objects.

which one is a piece of art fair distraction and which one is a meme-worthy image? it’s increasingly hard to tell with all these ‘critically fashionable’ artists

String theory and loop quantum gravity enjoyed brief times in the sunshine as scientific theory du jour, super-hybridity became the closest the artworld came to grasping at an encapsulation of what contemporary art could be filed under. The hybridity as such was obvious, it allowed artists to extract cultural signifiers and appropriate them in ways that result in something purposefully Frankensteinian. I guess the problem with super-hybridity (apart from the fact it doesn’t end in ism) is because it followed on too logically from Post-Modernism. It was like the next step in that ideological process and encompassed earlier ideas like Derrida’s hauntology. Relalalalational. In this quest to find out what the fuck to do in Life PM, which Fukuyama proclaimed would be the end of history, the values of taste and qualitative judgement went into the blender. Aspects of (bad) taste could be a thing to use within work and not something outside of it’s control, this could only be achieved after globalisation was incubated proper, a phenomenon that falls under the shadow of Post-Modernism. These reconfigurations were of course best accessible to those invested in manufacturing culture and the rest of us not praeternaturally keyed up could only wait for the trickle-down, dripping through the sediments.

You, the interested audience will marvel on the sidelines as you bathe in this resplendent wonder of contemporary art. Yet he/she who says otherwise be a simple naysayer, for this art is all good, otherwise we wouldn’t show it to you. We only unveil the good art in our warehouses and project spaces, your bad opinions don’t matter because Martin Creed just bought one of the pieces, Amnesia Zabz is here with her armoured missile dog, Todd Lemsip got that residency and some guy from RatForum is giving this show a review. For shame, naysayer, drunk on the rancid vapours of fomo!

Like what you read? Give H R B L G I F a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.