Sep 6, 2022 Metro Arts
Has critique run out of steam, again?
Arts criticism in Aotearoa is in its flop era. In place of historically informed evaluations from so-called critics all we’re getting is personal disclosure. In place of a rigorous synthesis of what is happening in the culture at large we have a litany of takes and soundbites.
If opinions in my (perhaps narrow) social and professional spheres are anything to go by, these are some of the problems facing our critical culture. My circles are awash with complaints of the all-too-prolific cultural commentator who charges forth, paying little attention to detail, running roughshod over “nuances” — a word favoured by many who, admittedly, never stoop to specifying what exactly these nuances might be.
I find myself agreeing with these sentiments for the most part, if not with the exact ways in which they are expressed. ‘Whatever happened to close reading or visual analysis?’ I can be heard muttering under my breath on the bus as I flick through the latest review. I’ve long wondered which writers, nay critics, in Aotearoa are throwing themselves into an artist’s entire output to give the reader a wider view of a practice — a view which, undoubtedly, the average time-poor reader can hardly be expected to furnish for themselves. If few critics are doing this kind of homework, the question remains: why not?
Terry Eagleton, one of my favourite literary critics, once argued that it wasn’t theory that killed close reading – that dying art of granular, sustained interpretation – but neoliberalism. With academic institutions hollowed out and their long suffering workers deprived of resources, time being the most significant one, we’ll no doubt witness the reduction of the critical attention we desperately desire. Which is to say nothing of the freelance writer who is even harder pressed to find their often meagre fees a worthwhile incentive to spend weeks on a commission, attending to the finely confected details of an art work.
What they become instead is a high velocity commentary machine, churning out tired descriptions that are littered with cliche. Hard for us — the editors, the readers, the artists — to insist on finely crafted prose and the cultivation of literary sensibility from someone barely scraping by to make ends meet. The alternative to harried and careless commentary has so often been the whittling down of critical voices to just a handful of people either in salaried positions or with independent wealth. It should be self-evident that we ought to guard strongly against this trend.
In a recent Op Ed, the musician, artist and writer Coco Solid took to task the idea of the career-critic as an authority on all things. (At the Writers Festival she offered an even more withering take on the figure of the public intellectual: “its corny…it’s giving colonial prestige.”) Beyond her prognosis of the establishment critic’s dwindling power (true) and the waning of celebrity as a source of escapism (also true) she makes a call for commissioning venues and editors to find the right critics to speak on the work in question. I note, thankfully, in light of the recent anti-critical turn among artists who feel their work is unimpeachable and beyond reproach, that Coco’s is not a plea against criticism altogether but a challenge to the cultural imperialism of ‘the one’, the tastemaker, the authority ruling from on high.
Some will feel chastened by these claims; others will respond defensively. Some, who are less attached to being imperious little culture czars, will respond in more sober and open-minded ways. What we need is more than a few cultural critics but a culture of criticism in which we all value how spirited and judiciously researched and edited writing enriches our lives. And this valuing must, to be sure, include money. Evidently we all help create the culture we want to be part of and as a reader your support of Metro magazine and your valued responses help writers, editors, and artists do just that.
I’ll return next week with a review of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki’s Gilbert and George exhibition — a trojan horse of conservatism disguised as some kind of radical critique of the establishment, something anti-elitist and for ‘the people’.
We have three double passes to Muru’s nationwide release to give away.
Muru, which opened this year’s New Zealand international Film Festival to much acclaim, is a gripping action drama by Tearapa Kahi (Poi E: The Story of our Song; Herbs: Songs of Freedom; Mt Zion), and a feast of local talent (Cliff Curtis, Jay Ryan, Simone Kessell, Manu Bennett, Roimata Fox and the inimitable activist Tame Iti).
Muru takes the 15 October 2007 police raids on Tūhoe in the Ureweras as its starting point. But fifteen years on from the violent incursion, Kahi takes the narrative somewhere else. This is a response, not a recreation as the opening intertitles tell us. What ensues is a journey into one of the most charged episodes of Aotearoa’s history, performed largely in te reo Māori and set against the backdrop of the stunning Tūhoe native bush.
Muru is in cinemas now. Email firstname.lastname@example.org before Friday to be in the draw!
Trust Arena, Henderson
Silo Theatre (presented in collaboration with Q Theatre)
1 – 18 September
Edith Amituanai, Martin Sagadin, Ukrit Sa-nguanhai, Pati Solomona-Tyrell, Sriwhana Spong
02 September – 22 October 2022
Walls to Live Beside, Rooms to Own: The Chartwell Show
Auckland Art Gallery
Sat 3 Sep 2022 — Sun 26 Mar 2023
Benjamin Work To’a Motu
August 27 – September 17, 2022
Kete Aronui film club: VIDEOGRAMS OF A REVOLUTION
Gus Fisher Gallery
Thursday 8 September, 6.30pm
SAMOA HOUSE TALANOA
Gus Fisher Gallery
Saturday 10 September, 12-2pm
in cinemas 8 September
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