neljapäev, august 29, 2013

Artishok Leaks: Artishok in Art Criticism Online Helsinki

The face of Artishok February 5th 2013
Artishok leaks a presentation given in the Nordic seminar on Internet art publications organized by the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts on February 7th 2013 in Helsinki. Participants included writers and editors of various Nordic online art journals: (Denmark), (Sweden), (Norway), (Finland) and Artishok (Estonia).

 „Everyhting that happens, happens when someone has a need for that to happen, so all in all our operational pattern is characterized by unstability, suprises, disjointedness, experimentation, constant changes – and by somehow still surviving it all,“ Maarin Mürk  

How it all started?

Artishok was brought to life by Maarin Mürk and Margus Tamm in 2006 as an art blog to cover things that were happening in the contemporary art scene in Estonia, but also share inspiring art related stuff from all around the world. It was the time when art criticism was at its lowpoint – today already cited James Elkins`s 2008 book starts with a sentence: "Art criticism is in worldwide crisis." – so not only in Estonia were moods really pessimistic when it came to writing about art, its lack of strenth, ambition, and possibilities. In Estonia, the last art critic had been fired a few years earlier by one of the biggest daily newspapers.

However, 2006 also happened to be the high time of blogging, at least in Estonia common people were blogging about their lives and enjoying huge amounts of visitors on their sites. So there was suddenly this do-it-yourself media boom, publishing as such was suddenly very accessible, plus Estonia was building up a self-image as an e-land where Internet was concidered human rights.

Artishok started out on this self-publishing wave as a blog that was kept up by a couple of art and art history students who had extra energy in the evenings after their schools and day jobs to do regular blogging about what they had seen, offline or online, in Tallinn or while travelling places abroad. These people were inviting other people and these other people were inviting other people, so the art criticism section of Artishok pretty soon worked pretty well on crowd sourcing, on people who sent us their texts for publishing for free.  

The good and bad sides of being budgetless

If you open then what you see first is the motto that says: „Artishok is an experiment that explores the possibilities of art criticism independant from capital circulation and state institutions. Art criticism for art criticism. Jeunesse oblige. Everyone who feels like contributing, e-mail us“ So, yes, Artishok has never had nor applied for stable funding to keep the blog active, no state budget, no private capital, and – no flashing exhibition advertisements that we try to fight off on the right side panels of art criticism sites.

There are good and bad sides in being budgetless. The good side is it keeps the layout calm and clean and clearly opposed to the yellow media websites that are flagships of aggressive online media and marketing. The good side is also you can be more anarchistic in your content production, cause you are acting at your own risk, at your own responsibility. The bad side is you cannot really keep up regularity nor guarantee stable quality. The latter in turn has good and bad sides. The texts that have been published in Artishok throughout these 7 years have not always been edited nor translated - though we do have an English section for selected posts - they have been very different in length and quality, but they have also been free from the standards of a traditional newspaper art review that starts with the description of the exhibition, goes on with poetic connotations and a little touch of critique and usually ends with a suggestion to go and see yourself. Exhibition reviews in Artishok have sometimes been fully pictorial or fully problem-centered, sometimes they have come in the form of a radio broadcast or a TV show, and sometimes they have been written by fictional characters who do not act on any institutional loyalty and are therefore free to point out problems and call out for discussion.  

Civic journalism and reliability?

So yes, Artishok could be labelled as the so called "civic journalism" or "we media" that does not hold claims for professionality in the strict sense. This kind of media is the kind that assumes the reader to be smart and active, as there is no guarantee for the quality of the information that the reader gets. But then again – perhaps there never is, just that "we media" is open and out about it, being directed to the audience that is aware of the internet jungle and ready to find its way there. As they say: „We media puts the reader on the driver`s seat“. I really think the habit to analyze info-feed is pretty essential when it comes to surviving the postindustrial info age.

What we could call the "civic journalism" is by the way quite lively in Estonia, a good example is Memokraat, a collective blog of a circle of civic society supporters who write sharply about politics and society and have become popular also among big media readers as the polemical or critical content is at times hard to find in the private owned daily media. The weakpoint of "we media" is that it doesn`t as if guarantee reliability, but then again, that might not necessarily be a weakness. As the most visited art related online sites like Arch Daily for architecture and Dezeen for design seem to have that reliability, but the result might be that they produce consumers of pop culture rather than critical readers.  


However, Artishok is not only a blog for art criticism. The initial rhizome like logo of Artishok has become more and more of a prophecy of what we have come to do today when we are an open platform for different art and criticism related activities rather than an online art criticism site. There is the section of art criticism, there is the section of photo reportages that cooperates with artists who provide us with photo posts from exhibition openings, there is Artishok Records that gives out music made by art related people and organizes live music events, there is Artishok TV for low-fi audiovisual productions, and there is Artishok Radio for audio broadcasts and different event recordings (we would by the way be very happy to publish the recording of tonight`s event).

But besides that Artishok has also become more and more of a platform for raising questions about art writing. We have organized art criticism reading groups where everybody could join in to get their copy, read at home and later come and discuss together the latest publications on art criticism, be it James Elkins or Sven Lütticken, Frieze or October roundtables. Artishok has by the way organized similar roundtables on art criticism itself in Estonia by bringing together the artworld and media representatives.

And last but not least: since 2008 there is Artishok Biennale that is a travelling biennale of contemporary art and contemporary criticism. An exhibition format for 10 artists, 10 critics, and 10 very intsense exhibition days with a new show presenting one art project and ten reviews opening each morning. Saara Hacklin can tell you more about it as she was one of the participating critics in the III Artishok Biennale that took place in Tallinn in the autumn of 2012. Or you can check the biennale catalogue that comes out in a few weeks in Lulu and archives the whole project - it by the way contains one of my favourite texts about online art writing from last year which is International Art English by Alix Rule and David Levine.

Liisa Kaljula

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