Squabbling, Scholarship and Self Promotion in Cyberspace: What Art Blogs Can Do For You
by Linda Stupart
On ArtThrob last month Carine Zaayman featured 'ArtHeat' on Website of the Month, stating, perhaps a little unfairly, that their subheader 'gossip, art, truth' is 'probably in order of importance and relevance', and in the same month ArtThrob published Malcolm Payne's response to what he calls Mario Pissarra's 'private website' - 'Africa South Arts Initiative'. In addition to this, in ArtThrob's April issue Zaayman named Nathaniel Stern's new 'SAartsEmerging' her Website of the Month.
All of these websites function in a new and exciting arena in South African art journalism, that of the immediate forum space offered by the 'blog' where posts are instant and often daily and readers' comments appear instantaneously as they click the 'submit' button.
On 'Africa South Arts Initiative' Pissarra cites his aim as 'to promote a vision of post-colonial, post-apartheid transformation that privileges critical and constructive engagement between artists' and his 'forum' section functions as a home for his convoluted criticisms of various racial and hegemonical instabilities in the South African and African artworld. Readers are free to post criticisms, corrections and comments; ostensibly allowing for an open academic forum.
In many cases, Payne's description of Pissarra's website as being just that - Pisarro's - demonstrates one of the most important aspects of internet-based media, and blogs specifically, that of blatant subjectivity and singular-viewpoint journalism. In this line, veteran blogger Nathaniel Stern's new project, 'SAartsEmerging' cites nepotism as its tagline, proudly stating 'No Pretense of Objectivity' as their site's header. This new blog is run by Nathaniel Stern, Bronwyn Lace and Simon Gush and 'preference is not only given to Gauteng locals and friends, but also to early-career non-stars working conceptually, and across disciplines'. The aim of this site is to gain exposure and encourage swift discourse around up-and-comers in the Johannesburg art scene.
Stern's other long-standing site, 'Nathaniel and the Non Aggressive' keeps its form much closer to that of a traditional blog, or web log, where the proprietor keeps a daily diary of events in their lives - often mostly for the benefit of their friends, family and fans. Stern writes pretty much daily and though he features news and, usually glowing, opinions on almost everything that happens in Johannesburg, he also has a disproportionately large number of photographs of his baby. Stern's site too is blatant in its self- promotion and bias - which is unsurprising when you consider his header reads 'Nathaniel Stern [artist]'.
The Artheat crowd, who function largely as an art tabloid (think artrumour.com), clearly come from a very cliquey Cape Town art school crowd - and their views and 'news' can come across as exceptionally provincial, cool kid ranting. Unlike Stern and Pisarra, ArtHeat is authored and edited anonymously so that while there may well be some self-promotion going down, it is at least mildly veiled. ArtHeat's anonymity also allows a level of honest criticism and political-incorrectness that is often refreshing.
Though they get a lot of shtick for being purely a gossip site, those kids at ArtHeat have also written some interesting and fresh reviews which, though lightheartedly colloquial, begin to level some important criticisms at the South African (or Capetonian) artworld. More importantly, some of their content, particularly the newly introduced cartoons by Lizza Littlewort, has encouraged actual debate amongst its readers, with some posts having as many as 30 comments. Updating daily since they started a month ago, ArtHeat, like Stern's site is a good way to keep updated on what's happening in the contemporary art scene, if you can trawl through the inane gossip. It is also a good place to vent any frustrations you might have - if you start a heated argument here it's likely you'll find someone to fight with.
All of the blogs I have discussed cite their potential for discourse and debate as one of their chief aims. In combination with their immediacy this makes them a valuable resource for South African artists and critics. Whether you're into high brow intellectual fodder from Mario Pissarra and Malcolm Payne, the goings on of technologically aware Johannesburg artists, or pictures of Ed Young and Matt Hindley in the bath together, the insurgence of art blogs can only be good for art criticism in a country that only really has two official art publications, one monthly and the other quarterly.
See this month's Feedback for responses to Malcolm Payne's abovementioned Opinion piece from Mario Pisarra and Gavin Anderson.
Nathaniel and the Non Aggressive
Africa South Art Initiative