Anders Härm, curator, art historian and essayist, how has it come about that the dating-format Facebook has become an important platform of information and exchange of views for Estonian art criticism, and what does this say about our institution of criticism?
I think that one of Facebook’s advantages is its spontaneity. Available technology has directed flows of information on a larger scale, it is no longer a problem to make your own television or radio programmes and put them up, and all this is happening at the grass-roots level: there is no direct institutional guidance. The success of Facebook also, of course, reflects the decreasing art criticism in traditional media, and here the blame lies with the traditional media: the dailies do not have art critics on their payrolls, except for the weekly Sirp. I’m actually not sure whether I mourn their demise. I probably would not bother to storm into battle to get 3000-character exhibition “reviews” to published. If there is no more space – and there isn’t and won’t be – I’d prefer a brief comment by a professional instead of a text with pretentions of being analytical and critical. Facebook offers exactly such tips, and there you find people whose opinions you take seriously. All the best people in the art field I know are on Facebook. Without exception. What characterises the field of today’s Estonian art? Total over-production in conditions of total under- financing. A great deal is being produced, but mostly relying on people’s own means, using family contacts. The natural economy, just like during the Middle Ages. Father builds you an installation, and you help him to fix the roof in summer. And still there is so much art that nobody can consume it all and nobody keeps an eye on it consistently. This used to be the task of art criticism: to observe and select. Nobody fulfils this function any more. Nobody is able to get an overview, including myself; it is just impossible to be everywhere.
As for the view that Facebook means trivialising or withdrawing criticism, I certainly do not agree because, after all, we had nowhere to withdraw to anyway. In the 1990s, the reviews in papers tried to be more theoretical, aspired to the analysis of phenomena by means of some theoretical models, but this has totally disappeared today. Various discourses are afloat, whereas theorising has become rather problematic and the view prevails that readers are not interested – the end result is hopelessly vague. Who were the writers before? Professional art historians who knew the scene inside out. Now we have people loosely connected with art, not professionals with wider knowledge outside their narrow fields, and they don’t write regularly, but quite occasionally. Criticism used to fulfil an apologetic function, emerging through certain groups and art movements. At some point, it became professional: being an art critic became a job in its own right. Neoliberal politics has caused the profession to vanish: art is being written about by people who are not connected with it on a daily basis. There is unsystematic emotionalising. I do not care if someone is clearly biased, but when I don’t see him or her constantly writing, or publishing pieces about random things, this is of no help to anyone.
Criticism has several functions: communication with wider audiences and with col- leagues, and providing feedback to artists. Ideally, a critic would fulfil all these functions. The professional criticism that lasted in Estonia until the 2000s did all this. After
that, the space allocated to criticism gradually diminished, and editors demanded increasingly brief, hard-hitting and understandable articles, which were hardly more than recommendations. Most professionals obviously wanted more. Papers, too, were not keen to have critics on regular salaries: the distancing was mutual. So far, only the media have been blamed, although what we lack here in Estonia is the skill to write about art comprehensibly, but at the same time cleverly – as, for example, Matthew Collings does. The central problem in today’s Estonian art is how to get the average citizen to relate to art. We can have blockbuster-type exhibitions, packed with visual candies, which might be massive hits elsewhere (e.g. Everything Is Going to Be Alright), but in Estonia – nothing. Nothing. No excitement, no reverberations in the media. I am not only blaming my colleagues: we behave like other institutions in the cultural field, but the media are simply not interested. Not one bit. For several years we tried to get NU Performance on the Morning Television programme, but they feared that someone might crack eggs over their heads, and the interview never happened! We planned to organise this year’s performance festival in a hotel. We started negotiations. Everything was quite bueno, until we used the word “performance”. That was the end of it. Irrational fears of contemporary art are strongly rooted. If Facebook can change something in that sense, I am certainly all for it.
Having spent an intensive day at the conference, I expected to track down
all the hottest art news on Facebook. No such luck – it is totally dominated by
the Venice biennial. Hey, you out there, I don’t want to know what’s going to happen next week; I want to know what happened today! Where are you, what’s up?
/Entry of Maria-Kristiina Soomre, at that time a curator of the Kumu Art Museum, on Facebook at 11.28 p.m. on 27 May. By 9:00 the next morning, she had received over 20 comments./