The White Pube
Interview by David McLeavy
Published March 2017
The White Pube is an art criticism website and research project run by artists Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad.
Image by Eleni Samra - Feb 2017
Could you tell me a little more about your collaboration together in the form of The White Pube and why you set it up?
We were both studio regulars studying Fine Art at Central Saint Martins, and it was the second week into third year when we had the conversation that started the website *so dramatic. cute.* Zarina brought a copy of the Evening Standard into the studio on a Monday and was pointing at their review of the Jon Rafman show at the Zabludowicz, confused about the discrepancy between their 3 star ‘review’ of the show and how I’d spoken about it the week before. We spoke all through lunch, and decided: a star system to measure exhibitions was ridiculous; most reviews just describe shows or if they do say something, it’s tangled with academia and some tired history; most writers are old white men and we really don’t want to read what they have to say; and the urgency n specificity with which I’d recommended this show to her, a friend, was more meaningful than anything we’d seen from Established Art Writing. So, we decided to do a lil bit of DIY and form something closer to what we wanted from criticism. We would be an intervention maybe, a solution. We would write on a new level and react, offer emoji summaries as a gesture against the bored 1-5 star thing, and use language and grammar athletically. Bc we are children of the internet, a website was the very easy big-reach way to do all this/and give all of this. Zarina said we should call it The White Pube, I screamed, and v quickly bought the domain name and hosting. Through the week, I wrote up my Jon Rafman review and Zarina had some lil art adventures and wrote things too. Aaaaand We published the website on the Saturday :) (we followed lots of people on twitter who we thought might be interested). et voila. 2 became 1. le white pube. this thing we co-created and now co-direct. our voices, image, politics.
And we had to do it. reading art reviews felt so painful. We had to start writing what we wanted to read.
Video still from HELLO OLIVER LARIC - piece in Flatfield film screening, May 2016
Along with the critical reviews and pieces of writing that you produce for your website, you have also been involved in exhibitions at various venues across the country. Do you consider the work you produce for the exhibitions to function along the same lines as your writing or do you consider them to operate slightly differently?
mmm this is a tricky question bc this is very much a sharp pointy stick we r still tryna manhandle: how our practice as artists & writers interact, are they symbiotic, are they the same, are they separate - WHO KNOWS? we don’t aahhahhahaha.
And as well as that, all the shows we have done have operated very differently in relation to our identities as artists&writers&sometimes curators. Like we’ve done shows (like Live Laugh Love @ Muesli) that are us as explicitly just critics; shows where we are just artists (💧🌚👼🏾 @ A Small View); and shows where we are critics and artists (🌱 of Pablo @ HUTT) and we have reconciled those two practices. But also shows like: Zayn Malik Zindabad, where we are functioning as curators, but explicitly, those screenings were centred on a very specific activism. So like…. ye. When we exhibit it operates differently a lil bit, it’s not entirely just tied to our writing; it’s bound up in other things too. But then, our writing isn’t just cut neatly out, it doesn’t have a clean defined space in our lives. TWP’s writing is informed by our experiences & that, it’s all tangled up in a multitude of other things, but like… idk, it’s not really useful for us to examine it in that way. U get me? Like. we are interested in examining our roles in these things, just for our own rationale. But… maybe assessing where our writing stands in relation to our exhibition & display isn’t helpful, bc of course it’s relevant, Just not in a clean, definable way.
Solo exhibition Live Laugh Love at Muesli in May 2016
To take your writing as a sole example, what was the decision behind making your writing public via the website? Was/is it a way of expressing your opinions or was/is it a way of aiming to inform the opinions of others through your thoughts? I say this as in some pieces of writing you act in an assertive manner and in others you take the stance of saying that people should trust their taste and use it as a marker of personal quality.
like.... does it have to be either/or?
ngl this is kinda a super trite question, it annoys me in a weird non-specific way. it feels kinda patronising, or weirdly framed...
we express our opinions freely bc the voices of WOC & working class artists are spoken over literally consistently - yes, this is an important part of our politics. we won’t be spoken over. & does hearing our opinion make other pal’s opinions shite? (hint: no) (ppl read Jonathan Jones’ opinions n don’t take any notice if the disagree) (criticism is a start point for discussion. it is discursive. u get me?)
by raising up our own voices doesn’t mean we’re shouting down other ppl?
our criticism lauds subjectivity - just bc we write from our subjectivity doesn’t mean we r right & u r wrong?
nothing wrong with 2 yung gals being assertive yo, and us being assertive doesn’t negate what we say about other people being able to trust their taste & opinions.
like, this question feels abrasive in the way it frames our politix, tryna turn it to face itself, like it’s at odds with our own identities.
it is not.
it feels like u questioning our role as assertive women, pointing to it as something exceptional & possibly contentious - yo fuck that noise. It comes off gendered af.
feel free to publish our answer tho, maybe this is something ppl frequently think n we r happy to let u know why we aren’t at odds with our own politics.
Photo of Zarina next to poster advertising our talk at the University of Reading (we didn't get to keep it)
I think it doesn’t have to be either/or. I think it can operate on both levels like you said. Apologies if the question seemed gendered in any way, this was not my intention, nor did I intend the question to be read as patronising.
Are there certain sections of the White Pube’s content that you prefer creating (such as Art Thoughtz, Reviews or your Podcasts) or do you find that you enjoy working on them all? Personally I am very interested in the podcasts that you produce as they not only help to place yourselves as people behind the critical content, which is often a difficult thing to grasp elsewhere – you used the Jonathan Jones example earlier - but they also allow listeners to experience you two grappling with difficult and often overseen questions within art (I think of IS IT ART? as an example). Have you found from feedback that people respond more to particular aspects of your writing/output?
Mhhhhhhhm the podcasts were very interesting, to think out loud n be brave like that. and to reserve the right to change our mind. All played out in that IS IT ART? recording. i luv it. But the podcasts and art thoughtz are moments alongside the reviews, which are constant 1x-a-week productions. I don’t think about preferring one more than the other, just that the thinking and conversation come out in different ways as and when they need to. Sometimes that will mean a twitter chain, an Instagram provocation, a lengthy whatsapp session just between the two of us (that i then might screenshot and share with instagram anyway lol).
I think that the readers who get the most out of the white pube are the ones that read that weekly reviews, follow TWP on twitter and instagram, but also follow us on our personal accounts. As you recognise, our own experiences are a conspicuous part of where our criticism comes from. i can moan about working in retail on @gabrielledlp for example, and the white pube readers that follow both accounts know that the writing on the website is done on my lunches, or at the end of a long shift. It’s important u know the whole story, because then you can get to know what good and bad means to that person. I was at Open Eye Gallery the other day for their current exhibition and there is a SHOWstudio interview with Christopher Shannon about how Liverpool might have put certain limits on his tastes, too. like he wouldn’t do anything unwearable or OTT bc someone would tell him to do one. It is v honest and i relate to what he says (esp because he also left Liverpool to study at CSM, lived in Hackney. i literally did that too). I wrote about this recently in the Benedict Drew review, about what good and bad mean to me. i articulate it much better there but i gotta stop writing this email reply bc haha guess what, i am going 2 work.
Invitation for Art Dates
I like the honesty of your writing and podcasts, and I also agree that providing a full context to your production is important (like how you mention moaning at having to work in retail and how you balance that with TWP and your own practice).
I think that rounds the interview up. Before we conclude fully is there anything else that you want to add?
I would add that we have been thinking a lot about interviews, becoming suspicious of them in the arts. The other week a student invited us to the ICA for an interview and we set aside 2 hours of our morning to speak to her, but she released that she just wanted to take photos and planned on sending us the questions in email after. This is bad bc it takes hours and hours to respond like this. Gritted our teeth n asked her to skype us instead and she never made it to the phonecall, and tried one more time out of the goodness of our hearts and she never replied to our email. it was literally a waste of our time.
Interviews can be useful for insight but how much of it is fodder for content? the interviewee is doing free work and like, giving u the answers under the desk. With the case above, i wondered how should interviewers compensate people of interest for their time n words? And that is what I would throw back to u. Do you ever compensate the people you interview? if so how/ and if not, why not?
That is a great question and something I think about regularly and your right, it does take a lot of effort for artists and interviewees to give their time to answer questions that, in some cases, do not just require straight forward answers. When setting YAC up I was conscious of this, being an artist myself I was aware that in most cases asking for things for free isn’t sustainable, isn’t a good example to set and also it meant that some of the artists that I wanted to interview may not want to be involved unless they were compensated financially for their time. However the way that I look at it in the case of YAC is that nobody is paid myself included. The project requires hours and hours of time on everyone's behalf in order to allow the content to exist online, not least the amount of time it takes myself to orchestrate, edit and publish the interviews. People benefit from being interviewed in different ways and to varying extents. For some people being interviewed is the perfect way for them to add a written context to their work which they may not have had the opportunity to explore previously, whereas for some artists it just exists as another interview in a long list adding similar content to what has come before. The proposition of an interview exists and the parameters are clear, it’s up to the artists if they want to engage or not. It sounds like unfortunate circumstances in the example you gave from the ICA.
The White Pube is regularly updated with reviews, Art Thoughtz, Podcasts and hosts online residencies. The White Pub have also participated in and hosted a number of exhibitions, most recently ZAYN MALIK ZINDABAD 2, ICA, London, This Is It, Isn't It?, Workplace, Newcastle and The 🌱 of Pablo, HUTT, Nottingham.
If you like this why not read our interview with Megan Broadmeadow
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