The system is pushing criticism towards marketing
Members of the Critical Interruptions collective talk about the new forms of experiment and collaboration in criticism that develop beyond the traditional concept of authorship.
Critical Interruptions is a migrant writing cooperative interested in exploring nonconforming and experimental critical practices, founded by Diana Damian Martin and Bojana Janković.Their work is based on an examination of the processes and politics of contemporary critical practice, and it is motivated by a revolt against the traditional understanding of criticism as a space for judgment and evaluation of a work of art. In contrast to the critique of "authority" that reinforces existing power structures, Critical Interruptions build practices that open critical discourse to artistically and politically underrepresented positions. Creating at the intersections of critical practice and performance, their goal is to create new and more fluid approaches that rest on collectivity and collaboration.
We talked with members of the collective about the models and strategies they develop and the challenges that experimental critical practices face in the current cultural, political and economic context.
Your work in Critical Interruptions is based on examining the processes and politics of contemporary critical practices. When discussing the status quo of criticism, you pointed out that while it satisfies no one, there is little agreement on what that status quo is. What is your view on the current state of affairs in critical practices?
It’s two fold: on the one hand we are seeing more people and practices stepping away from traditional models of criticism, and repositioning writing (and other critical processes) as artistic practice. On the other, it is all but impossible to live off criticism and critical writing, especially outside of traditional models (dwindling as this infrastructure is), and there is a lot of reluctance for change. Critical practices need new models and modes and methodologies – including economic ones – but the working conditions of critical practices leave little space to work on those.
It is clear to us that so many cultural workers are working critically outside of what is often recognise as criticism – for example, major newspapers or specialist publications. From zine-making through to graphic novels, dramaturgical processes and podcasts, there are critical communities for performance out there less interested in reproducing the often colonial and patriarchal politics of "established" criticism. That being said, there are so few resources for critical cultures – financial and otherwise; and there is a lot of resistance to new models because of the ways in which so much mainstream criticism is seen to be entangled with audiences and ticket sales.
In opposition to the monolithic, evaluative approach which is dominant in mainstream criticism, you experiment with the form and space of criticism, trying to establish different discourse around artistic practices. What have been the processes and strategies generated by this exploration?
A lot of our questioning comes from investigating how criticism can dislodge its norms. We start from asking what happens if we give up (or happily abandon) single authorship or the idea of writing in value judgements or the notion that criticism’s primary function is to evaluate or create an archive or serve as a marketing tool, or the practice of writing at a short but compulsory timelapse from watching? Our processes can mostly be traced back to these questions: we experiment with collective authorship (and question how collectivity relates to agency and responsibility) and temporality (we practice live writing, especially in relation to durational practices), approach criticism as an autonomous practice (that can be read and exist alongside a piece or not) and try out different forms (digital or visual for example). Our inspirations emerge from artistic practice, from histories of collectivising and collective processes, from alternative conceptions of criticality outside of "arts journalism".
You’ve experimented with critical forms and strategies within a context of a live art festival Stakehouse, which you recognize as an important place for the development of inclusive critical methods and practices. How does the cultural infrastructure itself condition the development of new and more fluid approaches to criticism?
It doesn’t. There is so much pressure – from political to financial – on everyone working in the cultural sector, and experimentation is the first to go. Criticism has been incredibly slow to change, and many continue to see it as an after-thought or side-line of artistic practice – there is little investment in criticism, despite its ability to really contribute in many different ways to thinking alongside performance – politically, culturally and publicly.
There are always individuals who are both invested in and willing to invest into critical practices, but structurally speaking the system (at least in the UK) is poised towards keeping criticism somewhere in the corner of the marketing department. It’s usually the artists and curator-artists who want to dig in a different direction and for whom critical writing is a method of creating communities around a piece or a festival. Most of our work happens through projects and collaborations – and that also means we can think anew the place of criticism and its relationships within performance.
Your work develops at multiple intersections: between academia and noninstitutional and alternative practices, and between research and artistic positions. How do these intersections shape your work?
Maybe it’s not intersections as much as interplay: it’s true we both work, on our own and collaboratively, across all those fields, but it’s more and more tempting to think of them as different modes of a single practice (that revolves around migrancy for example) than as separate work-loads. With Critical Interruptions, it’s increasingly difficult to differentiate clearly between ‘criticism’ and ‘art practice’ – and I’m not sure that’s a difference that is important to us. It’s institutions that generally impose these delineations,, but for most artists working across performance, experimental and radical practices, they are neither an economic nor a functional reality. Even jumping in and out of institutional spaces is not as big of a switch anymore: some kind of institutional support (however precarious or unstable) is usually needed for long-term existence in non-institutional and alternative spaces. It’s a tension however that we are also interesting in confronting – and one that has also to do with legitimacy, knowledge and resources – the more porous, the more all of these can shift and move.
Crossing the territories and repositioning in "foreign" contexts is not only a formal but also a thematic and very personal determinant of your work, as you are both members of Migrants in Culture network. To what extent is the discussion about privileged and marginalized positions present in the critical and artistic structures today?
It tends to be present as long as people from less privileged positions are present – so some inherent problems there. The UK for example has employed a policy of creating a "hostile environment" for migrants in the country for a decade now and one of its main achievements is how border controls have been exported to every aspect of (institutional and public) life. Labour restrictions, perceived labour restrictions and xenophobia mean that there are very few migrants actually working in theatres or performance venues or in publications which still feature reviews or criticism. In other words, there is no one on the inside to notice how migrants are represented, or our absence (from offices or stages), or to write about the frequently problematic ways of programming, curating and representing migrants. Artistic infrastructure has itself become a hostile environment – with the added problem that it also thinks of itself as a space of progressive thinking. While the situation is obviously different for different communities, the self-congratulatory thinking is an ever-present problem. Voices of dissent and resistance are there – but they are also underfunded.
Spaces for collaborative explorations and collective reflections are often only occasional and temporary, and the current crisis has pushed them even deeper into a precariousness. In your new project Temporary Works - COVID-19 Update you examine different local responses to the global crisis. What are your findings regarding sustaining those spaces and what developments do you foresee for the future?
At the risk of being a bit too optimistic – but as a counteract to the other answers – there is power in temporary encounters, as long as we accept that creating old-school models for new ways of writing is neither possible nor the goal. The sustainability is in relationships, embedding mutual aid and empathy and community-engagement and social engagement into how we work, wherever we work. And if we persist in doing that we might just create forms of resistance too.