THE WHITE PUBE
year in review
by gabrielle de la puente / sun 18 december 2k16
Facebook showed me my year in review this week an i was like, ok my life is fine but i wanna white pube one. so i wrote 1 myself.
It is a vague review of ourselves, almost/ maybe more a story so far? it’s so good to b self aware and it is good to take stock in order to b ready for 2 0 1 7.
I think about the magnifying lens on one side of my cosmetic mirror, think about harvesting blackheads and blushing on my own, remembering my eye colour and - yeah. It is good to know yourself,
The White Pube, from the top ~
there are two of us: I am Gabrielle de la Puente (22, b. Liverpool) and i work with Zarina Muhammad (22, b. London). We both did Fine Art at Central Saint Martins, n graduated this May. 2 weeks into third year, Zarina brought a copy of The Evening Standard into the studios. It was a Monday, i remember. She pointed at the Jon Rafman review and said to me, ‘gabbb, you said this show was really good but they’ve given it 3 stars.’ It was then we realised that neither of us everever read exhibition reviews. It always felt a struggle to even go to an exhibition, and that’s odd too - cause *weird when you are being trained to be an artist, and you don't ever feel quite right in an exhibition.* And with reviews, we thought them boring, tangled and essayistic, equivocal, innocuous, and tired. We also thought that using stars to quantify art (or food, films, whatever) was a reckless system.
Over lunch, we spoke around this blockage and figured it was more meaningful to hear what your friend thought of an exhibition, 2 get something like a personal recommendation. (Art Review describes exhibitions rather than reviewing them, n i don't get that, still). For us, it would mean more to give an exhibition an emoji summary instead of a number of stars - it would be closer to our own literacy, allow for subjectivity, be poetic rather than a measure of quality. Simply and quickly, we decided to take matters into our own hands: to write what we wanted to read;; to start an art criticism website, write and publish a review every week. the texts would be lighter and easier. Zarina said we should call the website the white pube and I screamed into the air and very frantically bought the domain and hosting incase anyone else thought of that exact pun at that exact moment and was racing us to GoDaddy.
iss ok we got there 1st.
Over the week, I wrote up how I’d felt at jon rafman @ the zabludowicz, zarina wrote a few reviews, and we published both thewhitepube.com and @thewhitepube twitter on the saturday.
Our first reviews were short and curt. We were just saying very obvious things about exhibitions and art, but we found that some people were excited about that, just as much as we were. We started to get followers on twitter and our page views rose quickly. instead of the 2 of us in the studio, we had an audience. this felt very lol and also very wtf. We had support even though we didn’t look for people to agree with what we were saying. People told us that we were good writers, and they were grateful we were throwing our voices into the mix
- - - and in this self-aggrandising, we found enjoyment. We were writing in reaction to white middle class men and their established art criticism, to broadsheets writers, old names. There is adrenaline and power in re-democratising identity in the art world class system/ which in the white pube is respectively working class and woman of colour. Of course - our success cannot just be the value of our identity. Our writing has to be hi hi quality, too. we have to do it all dead good.
And Funny cuz we thought the things we said were obvious - but I remember speaking to Laura Morrison in a studio visit in February, who said that Zarina and I write about exhibitions like they are a weird hole in our day. We are pointing at the hole and telling people to be careful if they go near it. we built the website around it. Laura reminded me that for the white man art critic, art is a normal privilege, a laminated floor. She said that TWP works in a different mode/ on a different, distanced level. So,, it’s no wonder it would be encouraged and followed. There are many people like us for whom the exhibition visit is an academic, abject ordeal. people who are tired of walking carefully all the time.
We were writing about exhibitions like aliens
and writing about art like we were recording an encounter with something new and undocumented. Going into the exhibition space and hardly ever picking up the press release, the texts that came out of us had an immediacy because they were about discovery. We wrote about art without expecting the reader to rely on an MA in critical theory, etc. Too often is the exhibition visitor expected to mind-read. We were walking into the gallery like we knew nothing and expected everything, bein v yolo. And this rejection of histories and essays and conservatism means we sometimes ignore curatorial context to a fault. And I love that. It has given me sum power bc I can walk into a gallery and not feel I lack the authoritative historical references I assumed were required of the audience, forever and ever amen. I know there are many problems with this and we don’t do it in every text we write, but: earlier in the year, we posted a review of Jesse Darling’s show at Arcadia Missa and JD tweeted that, 'Not facetious or ironic, this might b the harshest most true review bc @thewhitepube channels somatic currents not jus fuxxin w dyscourse.’ TWP is walking into the exhibition, picking up the art and sniffing it. Holding art thoughts in our mouths until the flavour runs out, not knowing if this thing is poisonous yet. lying in the hole until we are warm.
This can work well with shows like JD’s, and it can totally undermine others, and show us up, too. But I am attached to it. And I continue to wonder if this process of encounter is a part of our feminism.
My uncle is a prison guard n he read some bits on our website last christmas. He said he liked it but he wanted us to write about things he knew about, too. So so so <3 I am glad that between art reviews, there are texts on Disneyland Paris, Suicide Squad, Thorpe Park, Kabali, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, our friend Rene's and Maggie’s wedding, Mustang, and Beyonce’s Lemonade. I regret there aren’t more cinema things, restaurant reviews, and t b h Idk how we haven’t reviewed greys anatomy or How To Get Away With Murder The Greatest TV Show/ shondaland in general;. but thats okay, we got next year. We got the rest of our lives, too.
As we continued our schedule of one text a week the shape of The White Pube changed beyond something that meant just the two of us in conversation online and in front of everybody/ as we had been in the studio in uni. We started to be invited to exhibitions, and this meant we left london on trains to the north and it was good. expanding. We were meeting people across the country. our twitter became conversational. we got instagram and our instafollowers quickly outnumbered our twitter galdem. We started a web residency that invited one person a month to showcase or intervene on the website in some way. And we put a call out for Art Dates bc we wanted to know who our followers were. To make those numbers more meaningful, we met people in galleries and pubs and found new, important friends. ;in contact with lots more ppl,
we had a soft, brave image around this time, I think. we posted videos on our instagram singing you raise me up. Our writing was narrative and poetic. And The website was learning to walk until it grew stronger and we ran into things that made us put our foot down. We used our twitter to rant, slammed institutions for token exhibitions, called out broken curatorial promises, held an event that criticised Fine Artists for sidelining other artists, and most recently staged an art bro intervention on Instagram that got messy, then sad, then funny: pls refer to KFCgate.
These moments are hard but they make me so proud.
The White Pube means we have carved out an important position for ourselves within discourse. a small freedom for our bravery. Ye, we often write pleasant, optimistic, ambling texts that relate an art experience or u know, a theme park - but sometimes the exhibition visit is like the moment the lights come on after a gig and you walk through a crowd of sweaty bodies, over a sticky, littered floor. Sometimes art is offensive and naive. it can speak so violently. Sometimes, down in the hole, you hear things like, ‘if it’s okay for there to be all female shows, there should be all male ones, too.’ ‘Underrepresented art is underrepresented because it is usually shit.’ Art bros capitalise on capital, on identity, on their own social capital. Violence echoes on and on - but we have our DIY soapbox and we can get above it and shout about this bullshit
- - - > While we raise people up, we also deploy our responsibility to make the art world safer for more people. this is the feeling The White Pube was borne out of.
I think some people shit themselves when we say things that aren’t sunshine-happy affirmative because we are young women who write precisely, and who do not bend their knees. In August we curated a screening of moving image work by South Asian artists at Lewisham Art House. afterwards, Zarina said that it felt like activism. It is effective to write but it is also necessary to hold events and interventions. It was around this time we both thought about TWP as a service, as having a duty of care. But the duty of care attached to The White Pube is to our ideology/dogma/however u see it - by which I mean, we are obliged to make and affect the change We Want 2 SeE iN The WoRld, but when it comes to making friends, we are not about going round making people happy. Fuck that. We are not going to be polite smiley girls all the time and - good: we protect and uphold our ten commandments. ah. I wonder what percentage of exhibition reviews are majorly thumbs up bc art writers don’t want to piss ppl off; want to be invited to the party; to the panel. I cant b fucked for empty relationships and I’m not going to be nice to dickheads. life is too short and I am not going to b wasting any emotional energy on polite lies
good day sir
I say this because after we have called people out, we have had messages like ‘I’m really disappointed in you two’ as if we have been badly behaved. This is gendered. and also probs cause we are young. And tbh it only eggs us on
and these politics are why the press on Huck, Kajal, and Paper have made us happy (cause they are representative) ; ; ; and also, actually, why this review of our show Live, Laugh, Love is literally, awkwardly mistaken.
But mistaken-ness at any point in an ongoing public art thing is a given. The White Pube has become so much. besides writing, we began to curate, and we also got invited to exhibit (and then we had to figure out what it meant for an art criticism website to exhibit. Our 1st show was Live, Laugh, Love and we were critics in that; for waterdropletdarkmoonbrownangel we were artists; and most recently, in the leaf of pablo, we were artist-critics, and found a good balance between the roles we occupy and share).
We are so much, though, and it is important that we are - n are real people. In our time together as The White Pube we have graduated, worked arts jobs, restaurants, retail. at the beginning of the year, Zarina fell in love. I did too in the summer :). In June, we both turned 22. We have done art things separately and independent of TWP. I worked for AIR all summer as their assistant producer, and then came home in September to be a director of The Royal Standard. Zarina is in bloomberg new contemporaries. I'm glad I moved home. and I’m glad The White Pube is now based between London and Liverpool. it feels good to have more of the world covered on our journey to art world domination (ammmmm messingggggggg ish).
It’s good to respect what we do as a job, and to say ‘I have to work today’ when I’m going to an exhibition or writing or FaceTiming Zarina for a business meeting. We can call in sick, too. The White Pube is an ongoing part-time self-employed job that occasionally pays us little bits of money,, that we normally have to split because there are two of us, which is sad but tru. Recently we wondered if we should get funded - or get events funded - and the option that made most sense to us was to start a Patreon account where anyone that wants to can sign up to give us £1etc a month. it is such a nice scheme and it means the support is local, and like nice faith
we are at the end of 2016 now and The White Pube has grown beyond itself as a website, it has grown closer to a platform/facilitator for art criticism, with us as its directors. and as we are in touch with lots more people, we have come to realise how much we value conversation. its important bc The White Pube should never be a unilateral objective authority. this was very clear to us when we we were visiting lecturers 4 LJMU’s fine art department last month. we gave an artist talk (saying pretty much what I've written here) and then had smaller group talks and finally crits. We thought we were going to talk about ourselves for a bit, and then talk about the students’ practices and what they were working on. but literally, we spent the entire day talking bout TWP (and then we went to nandos). The day was a crit for us. it was amazing. The students were so vigilant and ready to challenge us and ask things like: do we remember life before the internet? we don’t. is TWP exclusive to people who are good at using the internet? yes it is, and maybe we should remedy and share this form by doing more events or even a publication at some point/ think about other ways of presenting our voices. Do we care about how many likes we get on instagram? we do if the piece is getting attention for the artist or art-thing, but not if it is just a measure of attention. The most ‘successful’ image on our instagram I posted this week, and it was a picture of the crisp aisle in Tesco. Literally doesn’t matter, it’s just funny. We spoke about how we do not like big audiences at our own exhibitions, and people challenged this and wanted to know why and it is because we write very individually about the exhibition visit, about being a baby alien in the space and figuring it out and articulating ourselves - and so we know that it feels cruel to overcrowd that thinking space with people, where the art becomes neglected and the exhibition becomes a social moment instead. Someone commented that they tried to go on the website but it was very pink so they felt like it was for girls tbh if you get stuck at that, you definitely need to read what we are writing.
and the most important question we took away with us was from the programme director Rory Macbeth who asked us if we had a strategy to protect our identity and our relative-radical power when we are cool?; when we are interviewed for things like Paper, when institutions want to work with us; when we are good at the internet and young and female and CSM alumni and i die at all of these italics. I know this is a super cringey thing to talk about but i’m going there. we have to keep our integrity, we have to be cautious. And I think it is going to mean working with people we trust, associating ourselves with organisations we support - unless other ones allow us to maintain our criticism. It is going to mean turning down work sometimes, isn't it. Ah well. i will make my money from retail forever if it means maintaining my art-political conviction. I honestly hand-on-heart enjoy selling shoes
So Thank you everyone. 2016 has been all the good emojis. it has been sunshine and smiley moon and sapling and two girls dancing and tango dancer and champagne popping. It has also been fiery and emotional and we have worked so hard to keep up this schedule n reply to emails and h8 fuckbois with all the side-eyeing we can muster.
Thank you also to Zarina. <3 <3 <3. we were okay friends before TWP and now we are art sisters. We are so chill together and honest and I love being in this relationship. It feels so big. We are a perfect collab match. it is honestly the best
We are just working on our PROGRAMME for 2017. get us, having a programme. and we will announce bits n bobs as and when we feel like it :p
and and and, of course,
We will continue to write. I hope we are blessed with a year of strong, healthy, thoughtful, weird exhibition reviews and art thoughts. I hope we meet lots of people and do some good and cause some troublez when its needed.
The world is no good at the moment, so the art world needs to step up
Be a good person and make good art
love from The White Pube xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
HAVE A GOOD ONE