Episode 1: Origin Story
Download transcript here or read below.
We start this new era of lockdown podcasting with the full origin story of how we came to begin our little website and why, again wtf, five years later it is still our actual job. Covering uni, values, audiences, writing, travel and the move into games, we go through every little step of this journey in detail. Most of our freelance work over the past few years has involved doing a 1 hour version of this talk in different art schools and galleries, so reaaaally, we are shooting ourselves in the foot a bit by putting the ultra deluxe version online. Oh well.
Transcribed by Michael Lacey
Jingle by Toynoiz
G: Welcome to The White Pube podcast, my name's Gabrielle de la Puente…
Z: I’m Zarina Muhammad.
G: …and we are art critics / game critics / sometimes Zarina writes about food as well.
Z: Very rarely…
Z: I've gotta be in the mood.
G: We used to have a podcast, back in the day, when we were students together. But when I moved back to Liverpool it all kind of fizzled out. Now that we've got too much time on our hands and everyone's making a podcast, we're going to do it as well. Why not? I made Zarina buy a mic, we've got to now.
Z: Can I pick it up and show the camera? Or do I have to not disturb it?
G: I mean, this is an audio medium only, Zarina. They won't be able to see it.
Z: But I can see you! I put on make-up! I'm determined that this is gonna end up being a video because I've got eye-shadow on right now look, I've got on the Glossier mascara.
G: You could just describe it. So people can enjoy it.
Z: So I'm wearing like a dewy foundation base, my skin looks good, glowing, I'm sat in like, full sun, so… yellow undertones are poppin'. It's very like, no make-up make-up, except for a little bit of lilac shimmery eyeshadow that I've got directly on the little bum-crease of my eye, right at the corner of… you know that corner where it goes into your nose? That li'l bum crease.
G: My lovely fiancée calls it the "eye armpit".
Z: That one, mm-hm. What's the other side?
G: Erm, I don't know! That's a good question.
Z: I want to say elbow.
G: I was going to say elbow!
Z: There you go, that's what I'm wearing. I'm also, like - we both use the Glossier mascara, right?
Z: Not sponsored. I really like it, I think it's really nice. I wasn't a believer until I literally bought it because Gab keeps going on about it and her eyelashes always look fit. But I think that's just your eyelashes, it's not the mascara, the mascara just helps.
G: Yeah. I'm just naturally blessed.
Z: I'm not! I've got short and stubbies… but it makes them quite like, long and wispy, so there's that going on.
G: Well this is off to an excellent start. On today's episode we're going to go through our origin story, just in case people haven't got a fucking clue what's going on, or who we are, or why we're called The White Pube. Because I forget that people don't know. So! Who are we? Where are you from, how did we meet, what's going on? What's The White Pube?
Z: Stop asking me questions, I feel very attacked! So many rhetorical questions.
G: How do you feel attacked? These are the easiest questions.
I don't know!
G: How old are you? What's going on, where do you like, what's your horoscope? How tall are you?
Z: OK. Alright. Let's take these one by one. I'm Zarina Muhammad, I'm 26, I live in London. I grew up in London as well, I'm actually from London. I have a cancer sign, aries moon, Sagittarius ascending.
G: Jesus Christ.
Z: I'm vegan, I think I have two fillings and my favourite colour is orange.
G: Oh god, what's mine. OK. My name is Gabrielle de la Puente, I'm from Liverpool, I live in Liverpool. I did go briefly to London for University and then fuckin' ran back. I'm not a vegan, I'm about to finish couch to 5k but I am not at 5k. It is very worrying. I play games almost every day, and I do kung fu.
Z: Oh wait, hold up! I didn't list my hobbies!
G: I'm 26 as well.. me and Zarina were born seven days apart. This is why this is like, some spooky chaotic energy when we chat.
Z: I think if we were born on the same day, it would have been too much chaos. I think we have like, a nice balance.
G: We do.
Z: You have a Capricorn moon and an Aquarius ascending, or the other way round as well, don't you?
G: It was the right way, yeah. That's why I'm great!
Z: Yeah, no, this is honestly- this is why Gab is the most organised person in Europe. Because she's got that Capricorn placement. Your Aquarius placement as well makes a lot of sense because you have these like, all Aquarius' - I don't know if you've noticed - but they're all like that.
G: Like what?
Z: You're like that as well, kind of a little bit.
G: Like what!?
Z: Just like that!
G: But what!
Z: You don't know, because you're an Aquarius. I don't know if you're self-aware about it. But I don't think you are. They're just like that.
G: I feel like I've missed a sentence, or you've missed a sentence.
Z: Just- just like that. If you know what I mean, please write in.
G: Anyway. We met when we were both on the Fine Art course at Central Saint Martin's in London. Uni was like, we were in the small gang of friends who would come in and be there all day. Like we would come in with enough food to last us the whole day, until the security guards came round at 10 and were like, please get out, I want to go home.
Z: It was literally like camping. I was talking about this the other day with Seema, another member of our studio friendship consortium. She was like… it was just mental that we did that! We'd go in, at some stupid hour in the morning when no other art students were awake, and we'd go to Waitrose for the free coffee, because that was back when if you had a Waitrose card they'd give you a free coffee. I think now you have to buy something. But they'd give you a free coffee and it bad and it came from a machine and that's the only reason I have a Waitrose card. We'd go in and there was that like, packet of dried mango…
G: Oh my god! That was so nice.
Z: We'd eat an entire…
G: I forgot about it!
Z: Right? It was so good. I just started buying dried mango again.
G: But the thing about that dried mango, it wasn't dry… it was slimy.
Z: It was like mango jerky.
G: It was mango jerky! Oh my god my mouth is watering. Oh my god, Waitrose! Please sponsor us! My mouth is watering!
Z: That was like, make or break for our day, if that mango was in stock at Waitrose. Because sometimes it wouldn't be and that would throw my plans off-kilter.
G: Do you know there isn't a Waitrose in Liverpool? Because we're not… dickheads?
Z: That's the only time I've ever shopped in Waitrose! Don't get me wrong. There's one in Brent Cross and I do go in there and have a look…
G: It's bizarre that there was one directly next to University. But it also wasn't bizarre…
Z: It makes sense.
G: …because, like, St Martin's, which has this reputation of being some edgy fuckin' cool slapdash school for artists and creative musician fashion people, had moved - just two or three years before we started - into King's Cross, and the area is very strange. It's next to the Guardian building, it's by Google…
Z: All of those things as well - the Guardian were there when we got there but Google arrived in our second year, and after we left all of a sudden there's an & Other Stories, across the road…
Z: There's a Carharrt, there's a Nike town. It makes sense but I think we were there at a time when it was getting did up.
G: It was very interesting that there were like, King's Cross staff around the area? Like, it was policed public space. Because it wasn't public - it was all very well manicured. Suspiciously so. Fountains that lit up, it always felt a little bit uncomfortable.
Z: Now it's like, one of those regenerated public spaces where there's a really nice set of flowers in those stupid planter boxes and you know, are-they-policemen-not-really, but they can probably give you eyeballs and be weird about it. Like, it's such a weird blend of public and private space. More so now, because round the side there's a Dishoom and Coal Drop's Yard is this place where people who never fucking…. do you know what, I realised that King's Cross was gone when my boss from my day job was like, oh it's really nice round there! We went for cocktails round there the other day! And I was like, what?
G: If you're not familiar - there's loads of restaurants and fancy shops, nothing you would associate with an edgy art school. Except now it's like, an edgy / not-edgy art University that is just a moneymaker. And that's the way of the world.
Z: It's a far cry from what it was in the 90s when you imagine like, Alex James, Blur, Pulp, Jarvis Cocker, Steve McQueen…
G: All of that conversation was like, given to us or we inherited it. What does it mean now for students to try and learn about art and you know, culture, in a space that is so institutionalised? They would always repeat to us - what does it mean to be in an institution? Like, think about the fact that you're in an institution. For years, for the first two years of the course, I was just like - what are you on about? I don't care. Then it all just clicked. I've described it to Zarina in the past, of being that moment when you finally look at a clock and you can tell what the time is. When you're little. It was like, ooh shit, we're in an institution, paying out of our arse to try and make art in a building where we can't get paint on the floor or drill into the walls.
Z: Or open a window!
G: We couldn't open a window, the air conditioning was so strange. It would give us static electricity shocks all day because it was just recycled air going through it like a giant aeroplane.
Z: And with the neon lights, it'd give you this weird feeling. If you stayed in the building all day, like we did, I think it would make you feel really weird. Like you were a little bit high. You know when you're on an aeroplane and you feel a little bit woozy and out of it? I think it gave you this weird feeling, an amplified vibe of like…
G: We'd be in the studio all day but we didn't make that much work? We would just eat food, watch First Dates, watch Scream Queens together…. we'd just chat shit. I think we were all very scared about what was going to happen next, like after we left. Because what do you do after you leave an art course? We shit ourselves.
Z: I think that post-Uni clarity was so opaque to us. We didn't understand what we were meant to do with it. We didn't understand the logistics of what it took to be a practising artist, like the steps to take after you've left Uni. Between that and like, having shows or being represented by a gallery, what were the steps you took? They'd have Monday Night Lectures, where artists would come in and talk about their work and their careers, but nobody would talk about that part of their career where they'd left Uni and were just figuring it out. It was just straight away, this is my first show - yeah but how did you get that first show! What happened! What did you do? Did you pay for a studio, do you know how expensive they are?!
G: Who found you? How did they approach you, did you approach them, did you submit, did you- what was the process? Everyone was so quiet, so hush-hush about it.
Z: I still don't really know, how do you afford to pay for a studio, and for rent on a flat - however much that is, in London…
G: Especially in London.
Z: …as an artist, do you have a part time job? What is it? How much do you make at that part time job? When do you do your art, around that- I have so many questions!
G: So many. But this is the type of stuff we were thinking about. That was the anxiety underpinning our hours spent in the studio talking to each other. We say all this to explain that we were quite a chatty group and we were thinking a lot about like, how the art world functions, and maybe doing that a bit more so than the art itself. I can imagine the conversations in other art schools being very much about the tradition of painting, and you know, the digital… we were just like, how do we get money?
Z: I don't understand what people in other art schools spoke about, or like- if it could have been different, I don't know what that would have looked like because that anxiety, of like what the fuck is going on what are we doing, art-school existential crisis, was so under the skin of everything, every conversation we had.
G: And we'd go to so many degree shows in other universities and be like yeah, these people were a little bit more- they had more focus than we did, compared to the CSM degree show. Which is good, but it's scatty.
Z: I think St Martin's isn't good at teaching students how to care about making things, if that makes sense.
G: But it's good for the discourse. It's good for like, hot takes.
Z: We always say that St. Martin's produces a lot of gobshites.
Z: Which I think, if you look at the alumni, it does. People that have come out of St Martin's, there have been some gobshites, and people that have set up things that do things in a very specifically different or altered way to the normal way of doing things. Auto Italia were on the BA Fine Art as well, weren't they? And Arcadia Missa came out of St Martin's… it produces people that are good at talking about art and thinking about the ways it can be different. But it didn't teach us how to fabricate things, or how to care about fabrication.
G: This is all to say that I went to a Jon Rafman exhibition at the Zabludowicz- it's kind of funny now, because both of those things are cursed! I won't go into why in too much detail but I wouldn't go to the Zabludowicz any more and Jon Rafman just got cancelled on the internet.
Z: It's worth saying that as a studio gang, Gab and I had this relationship where we were both the internet kids, we'd both been on Tumblr at the same time. We both were interested in making art in proximity to the internet, so we'd have crits and we'd also understand each other's work separately, and specifically, in conversation with each other. So Gab went to the Jon Rafman show and recommended it to me, she was like - you should go! For this reason and this reason I think you'd like it, have a look at how he does that, it would be applicable to you in these ways. And I trusted her review, because that's what it was, it was a review. It was anecdotal, word of mouth, but it was a valuable review because it had this sincerity of a person whose opinion I trusted. So I went. And then, third cursed item in this, went round the show with Gab's review in mind and on the way back I picked up a copy of the Evening Standard. So, that's a holy trinity of cursed art objects. The Zab, Jon Rafman and the Evening Standard Arts Section.
G: It's funny because this is like, not to call us superheroes, but you know in the beginning of a superhero film when someone falls in like, a vat of strange-coloured, bubbling liquid and then comes out of it as something else? That is the potion, those three.
Z: We're not Spider-Man - this is our villain origin story. This is how the Joker got made.
G: That's true!
Z: The Evening Standard arts section, it was that time of the week where they did a double spread, and they had a review of that Jon Rafman show on the double spread. I remember reading it, it was like a collision of all these things happening at once. I think it might have been fate, right, because what other broadsheet newspaper arts section publishes reviews of the Zab? It's always National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, like Tate, maybe the Photographer's Gallery if they're feeling edgy, but that's about as edgy as it gets. So this is why I'm like, it must have been fate. To have had Gab review that show, I go to that show - I didn't go to galleries at the time, that was like the first time I'd been to a gallery in like a year as well. And then, the fucking review of that same show. I read it on the bus back from Chalk Farm to King's Cross, I just remember being a little bit angry at it because it just kind of described what was in the room and then went, three stars, shrug.
G: I remember it also being really little, I think it was tiny, like the smallest review. But anyway Zarina came into the studio - it was Monday the 12th of October 2015, and she like, slapped the newspaper on the table and was like, what is this! That was the context I was giving before - it was quite normal then for us to go on and talk about it for the next few hours. Like, why do these people get to write about art in this way and decide it is three stars? Why don't they have to justify it? Who is writing this? Why is it in the Evening Standard? How come all of the other stuff the tutors tell us to read is just boring and not relevant, how come all the writers of those texts are either dead white Frenchmen or living middle-class London white man who are old and a bit past it? What is it, why is that? Why do we feel so pressured to trudge through finishing these texts when we don't even enjoy it? And if we're all on an art course, shouldn't we enjoy it? What was the disconnect there, and if we're about to graduate into this art world, how come the fan-fiction around it isn't any better? Why is it not more interesting? So that's what we spoke about for a while.
Z: I remember as well, obviously I think you're a clever person, we wouldn't be here if I didn't think that. But at the time I was like, Gabrielle is committed and clever, because she- like you had a subscription to Art Review, as well.
G: Yeah! I had a subscription because the tutors had said, and because we had a student loan as well, so I was like OK this is what I should do! This is gonna be me being very well behaved, and I just look back and think I really got conned. It was pages and pages of Cartier adverts, like Vogue, and then a similar approach to reviews that Zarina's described. But longer. Just more descriptions.
Z: They'd use four syllable words in their descriptions.
G: And maybe not a star rating, but it would say - ends 24th July.
Z: It's in Hong Kong.
G: Yeah. It would be in like a special Sao Paolo gallery and I'd be like - do I even need to know that this exists? I don't know.
Z: That's for someone, and absolutely we exist within an international art world - there's definitely stuff going on in Sao Paolo that's valid and important. But the problem is, I think Art Review's readership, or assumed readership, obviously you're not part of that assumed readership. Because you're a 20 year old with a student loan and a Tesco meal deal addiction. You don't match up with their imagined, assumed ideal readership, which is like, an international gallerina socialite darling that wears oddly-cut silhouettes and Yohji Yamamoto trainers.
G: Yeah, that's fair. But the type of writing we would actually appreciate just didn't exist in a form that we would spend time with. We joked that we should start our own website and write about stuff in the way that we'd want to read about it. I said to Zarina, what shall we call it? And she said, The White Pube! It was divine intervention. I don't know where it came from…
Z: Neither do I.
G: But the name was so funny to me, and it's still funny, because first and foremost it took the piss out of the idea that art is best viewed in this perfect white space. Like the name is a piss-take of the White Cube. There is a White Cube gallery chain in all these major cities of the world - I think there's like, three of them in London? Giant monoliths of galleries in London that are just completely bare inside, and then there's like a bit of art just thrown in like seasoning. We were able in one foul swoop - one fell swoop? I don't know what that saying is! We were able to take the piss out of the White Cube format, take the piss out of the gallery, take the piss out of the older generation who had white pubes, take the piss out of the professionalism, because we should have started a website with the word pube in it… and take the piss out of whiteness as well. It was just, it was great! Well done, you smashed it.
Z: Our entire politic in a few words. What's double-funny to me as well is that even to this day, now, people will be like, are you from… are you erm, from the white… and they'll get confused and won't know where to place me, and I'll be like, yeah! From The White Pube! They'll go, oh wow, oh oh oh! So the White Cube, is it? And I'm like, no, I wish! I wish The White Pube was affiliated in some way with the White Cube because I imagine that would involve us being obscenely rich. So we'd have access to quite a large amount of money, which would be nice. I'd like that.
G: I know. Well, we had the idea, we had the name, I legged it to Wix.com to try and get the White Cube- oh my god, I've just made the mistake! The White Pube, dot com. We used Tumblr and stuff but I think we thought, let's just pretend to be slightly more organised than we probably are and let's get an actual web plan. It was around the time…
Z: It was you, you were googling. It was around Black Friday and you were like, what if we just did a wix? And I thought you were crazy but like yeah fine.
G: Yeah. And I was trying to get the name, The White Pube dot com, before anyone else did. As if someone else had the exact same idea, at the exact same moment, somewhere else in the world and they were racing us to get there. We got it obviously, no one else fuckin had it, and that was the Monday. Over the course of the week we both tried to write a review. I went back and wrote about the Jon Rafman exhibition that had started this whole conversation and you went to some random stuff.
Z: Some weird ones at like, Blain Southern… I haven't been back since.
G: I've never been there.
Z: It's kind of… imagine the White Cube but just off Oxford Street. I think it's off Regent Street, actually. It looks like a weird cross between a Georgian Town house and a shop front but it still has that like, pretension, of slickness in the high ceiling, long wall architecture. If you've got floor to ceiling doors, and you've got really high ceilings, then you're fancy, sorry.
G: No that's true. So we threw up a few random reviews, and we tried to write them in a way that was like, how we speak to each other on Whatsapp. They were very short, punctuation was like, an option we did not check the box on. We swapped out star ratings for emoji summaries because to be honest, it's just more accurate.
Z: I remember that was one thing we were really fucking caught on, the way that star reviews mean functionally fucking nothing. That review of the Jon Rafman show in the Evening Standard, I remember the thing that enraged me about it was it didn't say anything about what that reviewer thought. It didn't make any attempt to justify that three star. That was an empty, completely vacuous value judgement. It made me angry because it felt like a value judgement that was masquerading as an objective truth, and I got quite caught on the hypocrisy of that. Who gets to make objective truth? Who gets to pretend that their subjective opinion is like, this universal totalising statement? Who has the authority to presume that your experience predicts yours, whoever you are? Obviously that's tied up with identity and socio-political position and all these things, experience…. there's no such thing as objectivity of course, there's no such thing as fact. There's no such thing as solid, real, understandable Universal Truth. So philosophical, of course, but it embodied itself as this baseless anger. I remember thinking, we should just say fuck it, because emojis are a language outside of this formalised language that art reviews take. They are more expressive and relative than actual stars. If those ratings out of five stars are completely bizarre, abstract and arbitrary, then emojis have got so much discursive potential. Just within the three of them you can be descriptive, you can be emotional.
G: Listening to you now, not to get too sentimental about it, but it reminds me of the Alethiometer in His Dark Materials.
Z: That's a reference, ooh.
G: Because of the symbols and how each one holds so much below it, you can connect it in all these different ways. For me that was our approach to, we're going to put three emojis down for each review.
Z: It's interpretive! That's one of those things I've never thought to connect our emoji summaries with His Dark Materials, but that's what it is, right? Emojis have these mutually agreed upon meanings, but like, they're so specific! And they're social, right? Those mutual agreements of, what does this mean.
Z: There's a lot to be said about the linguistics of emojis that is probably better said by someone that's not me.
G: Ten minutes on emojis…
Z: But that was our main sticking point at the time, we were just like, fuck the star system! It's corrupt! We're going to use emojis!
G: Fuck the star system but also like, fuck people dancing around their own opinions. Let's just say, this was fucking great, or I hated this, I was bored shitless.
Z: I think still, to this day, the meta tags in our homepage, the little description that comes up when you search for The White Pube on google, underneath the link it says, whoa! Wanna know if that exhibition that just opened is worth city mapping your way…
G: To Instagram it, yeah.
Z: I think that came from the first set of reviews, that were so obsessed with- was it worth the journey there? A really early review was of a show at Chisenhale that my tutor told me I should really go to, and I was like, OK fine, I'll go. It was nice, it was a good show, I liked the artist and the work I saw there has really stuck with me - I've seen it again since. It's good work. But I just don't think the Chisenhale is well-placed, strategically. It's such a long walk from Mile End station, at least 15 minutes if you're not power-walking. It's an amount of time that's longer than it takes to roll and smoke a cigarette, which is a really long time. That felt really important to me! I remember my review of that show was like, it's good, but I had to go on the Central Line for it, so was it that good?
G: Was it worth it? It feels like no one talks about this stuff but at the end of the day there are nine million billion things you could choose to do with a Saturday, and we need to know whether this is a priority, should we put our friends through the drama of getting to the Chisenhale or not. Is it actually worth it, when you get there, or are you gonna pretend it was worth it because you're like, ah shit?
Z: You're in East London, there's so many different things you could be doing with your time. You could be eating a vegan chicken burger that's got five stars on yelp.
G: You could get some tonkotsu ramen, you could go the park…
Z: You could play mini golf at one of those Junkyard Golf places…
G: You could go to see a film…
Z: … with someone that wanted to hold your hand.
G: Yeah! You could spend time with other people, why would you go and see all this weird shit in a room? Anyway, that was our approach. We go into a routine where we were like, do you know what, let's post one thing every week. Shall we take turns doing it, yeah OK. That is it, our pure commitment. Let's make it a Sunday, let's post the thing on a Sunday, is the reason we are still doing it.
Z: I don't know at what point we decided to publish a text every week, but it was just this agreed-upon schedule. Part of me is like, we should speed it up or slow it down, either one. But in that I know every week is a good schedule.
G: It's a perfect schedule. I think for the first few months we just thought what we were doing was the funniest thing we'd ever done. We'd tell people, oh my god, we're art critics. But just as a pure piss-take, because we weren't. We were, but we weren't. It felt like when little kids dress up, they put on their like, mum or dads big shoes, heels or something, and put a shirt on and toddle around the house. That's how it felt to be like, ha ha, we're art critics, lol.
Z: Also you know that thrill you get when you lie to a lad in a club? You're just lying to him like, what do you do? I'm an accountant. Where are you from? Stevenage. Like, that's what it felt like, that thrill of you don't care, you might believe this or not but I'm getting a thrill out of creating this narrative. It had that kind of thrill.
G: It was cool because also, as much as it was a joke to us - we'd had that conversation on the Monday, written all week and then on the Saturday the 17th October 2015 was when we "went live". By that, we just told a few friends and shared it on our own twitter accounts, posted it on Facebook to be like, ha ha we've started a website, no big deal…
Z: That dates it. That's so 2015 - the fact that we posted it on Facebook.
G: That does date it! Immediately though, people that we respected in the art world were reading it and were like, they can go the whole way, this is what London's been waiting for.
Z: The whole way where?! We were baffled by it, really confused. But it was that same thrill right, there's something completely thrilling in being regarded much higher than you regard yourself, by other people. The validation
G: Oh yeah, so encouraging and so… maybe the adults can see something we can't see? They can see how this is gonna pan out before we even can. Because we just thought as I said, it was a joke, with a funny name and silly writing on it. It wasn't until six months into it that I published a review of Jesse Darling's exhibition at Arcadia Missa, which- Arcadia Missa is a little gallery under a railway arch in Peckham? Is that right? I don't remember London any more, I'm over it. I'd gone with two friends… shall I read it out? It's only a short review. Also I'm going to live-edit as I speak because I don't love…
Z: You say this every time you read it but I really love that review and I think it's really well-written.
G: OK, thank you.
Z: Like, rate yourself.
G: It's very short, I'll read it out. It was published on April 1st 2016 and the emoji summary is a circle within a circle, a wiggly line and an orange diamond. The exhibition also, before I get into it, is called The Great Near. So.
"I remember a party last year where I was just not having it. A friend turned to ask if I was OK and it wasn't that I was upset about anything, but I wasn't happy either. I said, I'm comme ci comme ça. And it was the most focused stability, this stiff middle ground as I was stuck among chatty people, and coke, and depressants, and music. I really didn't want to speak to anyone, or to myself. I didn't need to. I didn't like this exhibition, but I didn't dislike it either. I was fine. Even as my body shifted through this awkward, soft, apocalyptic fantasy set. I didn't have to speak again, I was just fine with the decisions and arrangement, that particular and insular rationale of ingredients and appendage. Fine going about witnessing formula and wanting a better word than formula. It's what I want the orange diamond emoji to mean - the insideness of the person, and what they bring, and what they lean into. The two friends I went to the exhibition with thought that the three gatekeeper sculptures were ominous, and that the train that went over the roof of Arcadia Missa was intermittent music, aggressive. I missed that reaction, I was levelled. Even as I recognised upset in the pieces, in the crutch protrusion, the burny burny skin skin, the wood offcut supports and the poking horse heads. I thought that maybe it was a good thing that I'd missed affect, like, my satisfaction meant that I was safe and OK. I haven't made my mind up about this ambivalence yet because I don't want know what I want. Like, I know my body, like how after I've been sick, I'll play it safe and have a piece of toast. When really I want coke and lasagne, even if I think I'll throw it back up. Kind of a drag, inoffensive, safe. I think this exhibition is like a stomach settling."
…Ooh. I do like it now, now that I've remembered it, it's OK. I posted that review and the same day, the artist had tweeted, and the tweet if I can remember it from the million times that I've said this in lectures where we talk about our origin story… is "not facetious or ironic, this might be the harshest, most true review, because The White Pube channel somatic currents, not just fucking with discourse". Honestly it was like, such a key moment in all of this, and I'm so grateful that Jesse said that, because something just clicked. It was like what happens on an art degree, I think, where you make something and then you post-rationalise why you did that thing. For us, we were able then to start to process everything. Maybe what we're doing, as Jesse identified, was we're not necessarily writing or experiencing art against a very visible canon of art history. Maybe what we're doing is going into the exhibition and experiencing it in reference just to our self. Like, we're having an encounter with something, figuring out what that's like, like when a baby tastes a lemon for the first time and then going to our silly little website and writing about that. And we're being very careful how we write about that because we want to be honest. For me, this exhibition just didn't really do anything, I felt very ambivalent about it. Or we go to other stuff and we're like, this just moved me so much, I almost started to cry, but then also saying why that reaction happened to you. We started to become really careful about explaining why we have our own compass points for good and bad. Those are decided by our own life, our own experiences, our identities, and what is happening that day. If we're not well or we're tired, or we're having a really good week, or something. All of that is always going to affect how it feels when you walk into a space to try and have an aesthetic experience. It just clicked.
Z: That probably happens to other critics - I imagine if Adrian Searle is having a really shit day, he won't like the stuff he sees. It's just that the way he writes about it won't include that experience, it'll just be vaguely dismayed but not really explain it. I think it's more honest, or more sincere, to reference the body and the life that body experiences, within the space of this writing, as a kind of… maybe not a justification, but a context? You can cite the body and experiential histories, as well. God, that's so pretentious!
G: No, but it's true. Maybe Adrian Searle, who if you don't know, is one of the long-standing Guardian critics, maybe he should admit… I mean, we're guessing who he is as a person… maybe he should admit that he really likes a certain moving-image work because he's like, a big Question Time fan and he loves that middle class chat. It'd be so freeing for people to bare all and talk about it in that way. I understand why they don't but I agree, I just think it's dishonest. You're holding too much back.
G: Hi, it's Gabrielle from the future editing this. I did not mean Question Time, I meant University Challenge. OK, back to the episode!
Z: I kind of don't understand - I've got way less sympathy for that. I think if everyone did it, it'd be less weird that we did it, and I think we do a lot to make ourselves incredibly vulnerable in front of quite a large - at this point - audience, that likes to make a lot of assumptions. They think that this heightened, vulnerable state within the space of our writing entitles them to a heightened, vulnerable state in the rest of our lives. And I think if everyone else did that it would be fine, but Adrian Searle pretends that he doesn't watch Gardener's World, or doesn't mention that he watches Gardener's World, and so that's why he really likes this particular piece. I think what's quite telling is that when we speak to people that work in galleries, high-up curators that deal with press from newspapers and newspaper critics, they come in and they've written 80% of the review on the train. They've received the press release, they've got the vague layout of what they're going to say already pre-planned before they see the show. And I just don't think that's doing your job very well.
G: I totally agree, it seems like the most honest way to write about art, or anything, really. It's also just been very fulfilling for me, to understand why I do or don't like something. To not just throw away these quick opinions, but be like - but why? Why is this something that I want to spend more time with?
Z: I think that's because going to art school taught me a very specific skill, and I'd be like this if I didn't go to art school but art school really encouraged it as a thing I'm capable of, and honed it within me, which is the best thing about it. That's why I'm like, art school's fine, because what it did for me here has improved the rest of my life exponentially. It made me think about thinking critically as a valuable use of my time.
Z: Like, questioning, why this? I'm waving my phone at Gab, now. Why this works in the way it does, and how I feel about how it makes me feel. Thinking about how I feel about a thing in relation to the thing, it's a really specific skill. I go round galleries with my Mum and she just kind of like… it's not that she doesn't have that, she absolutely has that skill, but it just takes a bit more prodding and questioning from me to make her feel confident in her ability to ask these questions. Because she thinks that the questions that she has are silly. We went to a gallery last weekend and the artist was actually there, in the gallery like, chatting to visitors about the work. You book a place and there's only three people in the gallery, it needs to be invigilated, so the artist is gonna do it! That was the best thing for her, because she could speak to someone who'd made the work and was willing to have these conversations. Before she spoke to the artist she was like, I'll take it or leave it, you know how I think about art. And I was like yeah, fine. Afterwards we walked out and she said, do you know, that made so much sense. It was such a fulfilling experience for her to not have that barrier of like, I have to ask these questions to myself. Or like, to the wall text. These things were like, the information that she'd normally feel stupid for asking about was there, delivered to her, and she could have these moments in conversation. And that feels like a massive barrier for a lot of people that didn't go to art school, or aren't already familiar with being in a gallery. People who aren't comfortable with that. It's a vulnerable thing, right? Asking these questions? Art has this tightly bound, opaque… it has a tight logic where it moves to its own rhythms of theory and 20th Century European History, but only in these small tightly-knit clusters of middle class people that lived outside of society, or whatever. These things happened and they inform art so specifically in some cases. My Mum doesn't give a fuck about like, Cedar Bar in New York, and like, what is it? It was a thing, right? Where all the abstract expressionists hung out? I don't know.
G: I don't know.
Z: I only know about it from Gilmore Girls. I'm also using Tumblr now so I get loads of weird bits of information from other people. I don't know where that came from.
G: It's funny because what you're talking about is why sometimes I think we get messages from people saying, I didn't do an art degree and I don't really go to galleries but I read what you write. It's like, so nice that it's a way in for other people to think.
Z: Yeah. I'm saying all this and I'm aware that the canon exists and we are familiar with it, maybe we don't know where fucking Paul Klee used to drink in Greenwich Village but like, I think we're familiar. We've read some chapters from Jean Baudrillard's Simulations.
G: You have.
Z: Have you not? You took it out the library.
G: I don't think it stuck. It's gone.
Z: I don't really know what he was saying. I think he was saying that like, society is a simulation or that we… we find the simulation more engaging than reality, or that reality is a simulation… or one of those things. He said the word simulation a lot, and then the word landscape, I think.
G: Everyone just gets off this podcast now, they've had enough of this.
Z: Yeah, fuck this… but like, we are familiar with the theoretical history, so it becomes easier. We know what we're rejecting when we say we don't want to engage with that. So I see the value in it, even if it's just that. But then other writers write very sincerely about abstraction, like, there's value in that, just it has to be done well. And I don't think it's done well by a lot of people. I think a lot of people use that particular way of writing as a way to churn stuff out.
G: It's interesting to compare what our writing does compared to other people, and I know that artists have gotten in touch with us or we've had face-to-face conversations about the fact that before The White Pube had given them a review, like,they didn't quite know how it felt as a visitor, to walk into the exhibition space. They know maybe what the work is worth, because of a review in another publication, they know why it's relevant, because of general art discourse chat in our review but they don't know what it was actually, literally, in real time, like to walk around the space. That has always been, since we've heard that, really motivating. It serves such a good purpose for people. Because in the game industry, you have quality assurance and you have… Zarina's just burped.
Z: You're going to have to cut out my burp!
G: We'll leave it in. You have games testers and people as they are making the game will have other people in another room playing it bit-by-bit, finding bugs, issues. They're often being recorded, all these different things. I've heard game developers say they really like people who emote - who are really excited or scared, being really demonstrative about how they're feeling when they play. It really helps them to develop the actual game, and if they don't have that, they've got no feedback, they've got nothing, then what's the point? They need to know! At the end of the day, people are going to buy these games and play them in their houses, and without that, it's like… it's such an important, formalised part of the games industry but it isn't in art. I wonder why? I also think that in a small, one-to-one way, that is what you do when you go to an exhibition or what I do when I play a game. It's just another part of that feedback.
Z: My theory is, right, I think I know why…
G: Because artists are scared! They're little scaredy-cats and they don't want to know if someone doesn't like it, or might be bored by it, and, ugh!
Z: There's this way of making that's quite insular, if you buy into this pretentious white European idea of what art is, it doesn't really exist for anyone outside itself. Art that buys into that theory, it's a choice, you opt into the idea that art is for an exclusive group of people that understand all of these theoretical requirements, they've done an MFA or whatever. The idea that art can be for the market, as well, that too buys into certain requirements to engage with historical canon. It doesn't exist for the public, it just exists for an audience of specific insiders. That was Whistler, right? Whistler…
G: You're dropping some knowledge on me!
Z: I feel like I'm secretly an art history person, but only in these tiny anecdotal nuggets.
G: That's good though.
Z: I think Whistler was the first artist to kind of say, fuck the public, I don't care, I'm going to create a clique. And then everyone was like, that sounds fun, I want to have a clique too. Then it became this insider logic… it might be wrong, please tell me if I'm wrong. That feels like a compelling narrative to me, and I don't think games are like that because you kind of have to…
G: You work together to make them. Maybe that's it.
Z: And you enjoy them as well!
G: So what ended up happening was, everything we've said so far was like, the foundation for what the website is, The White Pube, as it exists. What ended up happening was people read us.
Z: Which we weren't expecting! It feels important to say, we weren't really thinking about being read, we were just writing for the sake of writing to put it out there. Not thinking about an audience beyond each other.
G: Yeah, I think that is so important to stress. Because now that we exist online quite visibly, it's purely against our will. I honestly mean that. I watch so much YouTube and at the end they're like, please subscribe, please like, please share! We've never done that, we've not hash-tagged a single thing, we've not promoted anything, sponsored posts, like, press, adverts, anything. It's all happened to us in a really strange way. I don't wanna sound like a dick when I say that, or that we're ungrateful, I'm just saying that is the order that it happened in. Because what also happened after that was, when we started to get thousands of followers and readers, importantly - I call them readers first - we felt like we had then a responsibility that we didn't think we were going to have, because we were just trying to chat about the Tate. Then next thing you know, people are getting in touch with us about mistreatment in a gallery they work in, or an artist has done this really bad thing and is getting away with it and would you be able to talk about it. It's interesting because people saw us as, not a news outlet, but the shade room type, calling things out potential platform.
Z: I see how that happened.
G: Oh yeah, totally.
Z: It makes sense, if we're writing about an experience of a work, honestly. That can translate so easily to OK, what does it mean that it's in this particular institution that does this particular thing to their volunteers or their zero hour workforce? It's such a small jump. That political position, to write about art in a specific way, was so attuned to the politics of the institution itself. We were really critical of those spaces in what they were putting out, but also their internal workings. It's only a short jump.
G: It was a short jump. We were learning in real time, in public, how to do that. Like, how do we extend that criticism beyond embodied criticism of a gallery encounter, to full on political activism, criticism of the infrastructure of the art world, payment, all the stuff we really cared about because obviously we were so scared about this stuff. How would we- would we even wanna stay in an art world that is built off the backs of volunteer labour while curators and directors make so much money, even more so than the artists, who are only ever paid in sporadic, small artist's fees and not given any kind of stability or wage? Everyone's a freelancer and everyone's stressed and upset, taking on little bits of teaching jobs to try and make the rent. All this stuff, and it doesn't even need to be said, but the people who get the opportunities to be in power and show in those galleries are like; white, cis, non-disabled, middle class, all of these things we already know about privilege. Why would we want to stay within that? If we can't push for change, to make a better art world, then what's the point?
Z: That was so good! That was like, condensed quick-fire round. I'm pumped up.
G: I think that underpins everything we do now - it started with the writing, it became the writing plus this push for better conditions and now it is both. We're in the swing of doing all of this together, especially in this shit mess of 2020. That is where we've been able to start to really instrumentalise it, in the past few years we've known we had the visibility and influence, but we've not really known what to do with it or how to really focus certain parts of that motivation. Now it's kind of happening. There's so much shit in the world that there's so many places to fire that gun. Zarina's just going mad with it, firing the gun everywhere.
Z: If we have these issues with the way things are running, obviously it makes sense for us to be like, how about other people doing it? We have the great privilege of being invited to different countries, and different cities across the world and seeing how people are doing things over there, like, how does it work for people in Cyprus? What's it like to be an artist in Gothenburg or Copenhagen or Kerala? All of these things, we have this privilege of living in that specific way but being privy as critics to this completely different way of speaking about art and like, how things are done, rather than speak about the nitty gritty of what painting means. We can talk about logistically, how do you make this work. These conversations are happening all over the world, nobody's got it sorted or figured out, and I think it makes complete sense that we would talk about a different way of doing things that could provide a solution to a problem happening in, you know, Edinburgh. This lot in Oslo are doing it this way, or this is what they do in New York. Maybe not New York, because, you know.
G: It's a lot to manage. What we've not really spoken about on this podcast yet is who we are in the money (or lack thereof) that we come from. I moved out two months ago from family homes, I finally now can pay rent to do this all. But we don't have a shared office or a team of people or anything like that. We've been doing this from childhood bedrooms for a few years, and our office is Whatsapp. We live in two different cities. We started a patreon maybe a year into it because we knew that youtubers used it to make money and we thought that maybe, if we're getting so many thousands of readers, maybe some of them will want to support us? Would that work? And for the first two years we got buttons. I'm not ungrateful for it at all, because it added up and meant that I could afford trains down to London so that we could have meetings. But all of that has spiralled now and we've stuck with it and now it pays our wage, and at the same time, as happy as I am about that, you start to feel all the more pressure because as everything grows we get more messages from people that are like, please help me with this situation. We get a lot of workplace issue stuff, as if we're like, employment experts. It's really difficult. It's good, but it's hard.
Z: It makes sense, like, to get in touch with us as quite a visible figure on the UK arts landscape, it makes sense to give it to us to leak or put it out there, to boost the visibility on this thing. I understand that. Generally across the UK there is a movement of worker's rights being swept away and the power that individual workers have within their workplaces are being completely stripped and diminishes. Predatory or exploitative labour practices are running rampant. Zero hour contracts weren't really a thing ten years ago and now they're like, the most prevalent form of employment in the arts at an entry level. You're unlikely to find an entry level position within a gallery… unless you're like, we're talking about entry level in the office, it probably won't be zero hours there, but front of house? Absolutely. It's just the wider landscape of whatever industry you're working in, precarious employment is pretty definitive for our generation, right? People our age and younger. I dunno. I feel like that affects the way you experience things in a gallery, it definitely affects your ability to make art. Thinking back to the 90s, right, Jeremy Deller and all these lot were able to graduate from art school and just go on the dole, and live in a squat, and make art and wait til they made it. But now squat laws have changed, so you can't squat in the same way, the dole doesn't really exist in the same way, it's Universal Credit and it would take you so long to get on it and it's meant to literally break you and your spirit. And the requirement to make it is just wait it out, but you're not given the same resources to wait it out as you were back then. So, yeah, I think, why am I going on about this?
G: All of this is stuff that we feel a responsibility towards in a positive way, and generally, if the Patreon and our other bits and bobs of freelance stuff grow to a certain amount then we can jib our day jobs and make The White Pube full time.
Z: I wanna jib my day job, no offence to my day job…
G: Yeah no offence to mine either, I really like mine. But maybe this new era of The White Pube is potentially something we could do full time because there's so much to be getting on with, there's so much to sort out, and it would be great to have a hand in doing that. To help organise with other people. We are able to make money from doing this, often even my family are like, how do you make money? What do you do? Early on we published our accounts, so if right now you want to go on your phone it's www.thewhitepube.com/accounts, and you can see every single job we've ever done, how much money we made, and whether travel was covered, accommodation, when we started to do travel jobs, and I think that's really important.
Z: Also if they took over three months to pay it's marked in orange, if it took over six months to pay they're marked in red. It is shaming.
G: Yeah, it's been rocky. When we started we got a few writing commissions and then some universities would be like, do you want to come and do a lecture about The White Pube. Which we thought, again, was hilarious, because we'd just graduated and it felt so funny a few months later to be like, now I'm giving the lecture. But what we were giving the lecture about was this conversation, like The White Pube's origin story. What we were interested in. We noticed then that all these different universities were paying us different amounts, or some would only give us one fee and expect us to split it. But when Zarina eats, I don't shit. We're two separate people, separate lives, different cities. So in a fit of anger, I remember messaging Zarina one day and being like, can I just publish the accounts, please? I remember spending all morning writing down every single thing that we'd ever done, and putting it into a spreadsheet that we still, to this day, continue to update and make public because we were able then to say to other people, who were approaching us to do a lecture or a talk, or any little tiny job, that our accounts are public so you need to pay us properly. We're not going to take half a fee. We're two people, we're not doing half the work, we're doing twice the work. You need to reflect that. And straight away all of these universities would be like, ooh, we found the money! Like, they had the money all along, they were just trying to scam you.
Z: I literally remember. It was the RCA who wanted us to come along and do this talk and we said, remember this is public, lads. And they were like, I'm going to go back and fight for you to get the fee that you deserve, don't you worry! And we were like, mm-hmm, yeah. So it's good for that but also like, just talking about money in general in the arts is like, it's that thing. You've got to discuss your salary with your co-workers, whether you're in an office job working in the compliance department or whether you're a freelancer. And I think for freelancers it looks like publishing your accounts because, when we were entering the arts, one of the most useful things that happened in one of those lectures was Morgan Quaintance came along and gave us a breakdown of like, this is what my career looked like when I was 21. My Mum was still paying my phone bill, I was still living at home, I was making this much money doing these odd jobs every month and now I do this, and this….`this is what it took, this is the trajectory. That was so helpful to us, just hearing the breakdown of like - it just clicked into place. It's important to talk about how much you can expect to be paid for an artist talk at Jerwood compared to an artist talk at some gallery in Cardiff. Are there discrepancies there? There are, probably.
G: I've gone through so many ways of feeling about this. At the beginning I was so excited that we were publishing our accounts, and people were able to use it as a resource, so they could see how much to ask for. Other times I felt like, ah fuck, because… if we're being paid £300 to do a ten minute talk at the opening of a strange conference in Norway for museums - I don't even know what it was about, it was in a different language - but between the two of us that's five minutes each. What? That's the best pay rate, Jeff Bezos levels. Then feeling strange and guilty about that, and then flip-flopping again because we don't have a pension, or sick pay, or maternity leave. Being this self employed is so loose that any money you make you need to be thankful for, bring it in and keep it close. Continue then to demand higher rates for inflation as the years go on, and be sensible about this. Also I have to remind myself that it's OK to want nice things, and to want the security of a house. It would be amazing to save enough for a deposit. I remember saying to you - all I want is enough money to buy two coats. Because I only ever have one coat and it lasts me for years, and it'd be really nice to have an option. We've got that now because we've grafted, and we've somehow kept up with this routine of writing every week. It makes me feel all these different things but ultimately I'm glad, it fits in with everything we do.
Z: As well it's important to remember, with things like that where you feel overpaid for a ten minute talk, we flew all the way to Oslo! We were there for a bit of time, there were prep days before, it probably ended up being two days work with the travel and that's what they're paying for - our time, and what we're bringing to them.
Z: They're not purchasing our time for those ten minutes, they're also purchasing the shiny social capital of The White Pube being there.
Z: Fools! Fools! But that is important, it's important to recognise that within yourself and have the confidence to say, I deserve that £300. I'm going to get on that plane to Oslo and I'm going to smash it for ten minutes and then fuck off and have a pastry.
G: It's really strange, we've been able to travel to so many places now purely because people want to hear us talk about the website, and it makes me laugh because I never want to travel again (coronavirus, and climate as well). That is partly why I think it's funny that we're recording this origin story, because we never need to get paid for this again. We're probably making a big mistake.
Z: This is a bad business decision, this podcast. I really hope no one listens to it. If you're listening to it then fuck you, because this is shooting ourselves in the bum, financially.
G: It's so funny.
Z: I don't know when we're going to be able to travel next, so this is kind of, for the people. This is public service.
G: So we have the accounts and all of this writing on our website, and then we also have an Instagram and twitter account alongside it, which have made us feel different ways. I know Zarina really doesn't appreciate the visibility, I know that we've had absolutely years of trolls and abuse and death threats because we're two women on the internet and one of us is brown. It's just been shit at times, but now we also get really nice messages of affirmation from strangers. It's hard because the stuff that sticks out is the mean stuff, and it should be the other way round. I think what we should do ideally is an episode on its own for the social media, because I think it's interesting. There's so much to say.
Z: We should do one reading our hate comments.
G: We should do reading our hate comments, we should do the best of the abuse. That would be good.
Z: Yeah! One thing that we always remind each other of, or that Gab consistently has to remind me, is that it is such - when you add it up, do the percentage, that's like zero point zero zero one percent of the people that follow us. In fact only about 30% of the people that follow us probably see our posts on a daily basis. The visibility of it is not that- it's just catastrophised in my mind. But for some reason I get these weird body feels and I just want to be a private person and live a private life away from this thing.
G: I do think though that there might be a point in our mood where we think, do you know what, The White Pube at the end of the day is the writing that we do on a Sunday and maybe we pause the Instagram and twitter and become a mailing list. And on a Sunday we say to people, here is the new review. Zarina's face is like, lighting up. Because I mean, we probably won't do that because of all the other stuff I've spoken about in terms of, having a responsibility to keep in touch with what's going on, call things out, all that good stuff.
Z: That's what we do when the world is fixed.
G: When the world is fixed, we can take a step back, we can retire social media, and just do the good writing. I think social media, ultimately is one of the worst things in humanity. It's nice to have the slower pace of a website away from the horrible Instagram and twitter businesses, and have our own space where people are like yeah, I want to read and figure out what's going on over here instead. On the website as well we have a web residency, so every month a different artist or writer or whoever we give that over to them,and they can redesign the homepage and do what they want.
Z: That's been running since 2016 as well, and for about two of those years, no… three years, it was unpaid, which was really bad, we hated that. But we were running it for a few months, like from October 2016 to December, and I think we realised that we picked up a bit of traction. Eyes were on us, and we should share this. But we were quite protective of what The White Pube was in terms of the writing, like, we had this very tightly understood language between us and we were rightly protective of it. We didn't want to invite guest posts from other people to come and write for us, because, god knows what goes on in your private life. You might be a Tory. Who knows? But we did want to give a little bit of space to artists, specifically, because we were on a fine art course, we wanted to like, dole out that attention. So we gave - I think it was a separate page on the site for a month, and now it's the homepage. Because that gets the most hits. For three years we were like, should we stop doing this? But people were still interested in doing it even if it was just for free, and we had to find in-kind supportive ways to repay them. But now we have the patreon to fund that! It used to be funded by Dazed, we used to write a column last year for Dazed and Confused. They paid us £200 a month and we'd spend £100 paying 2019 residents and then we'd use the rest of that fee to back pay 2018 residents, and now we're using the patreon to pay £100 for 2020 residents and also back pay 2017 residents…
G: It'll get there. It'll get to the point where everybody is paid off, and thank god for that.
Z: It's one of the good things about not being publicly funded, because you can't pay for activity that's already happened, right? So we use patreon to be like, have this hundred.
G: That's true. Before we end this, I just want to give people the 2020 update, because so much has happened this year in terms of like, what we even do, and like, what the offer is of The White Pube. So everything in terms of the writing schedule is the same, just, I review games instead now. I just got to a point where I was not having- I was going to exhibitions and just finding no stimulation in them. I realised particularly in lockdown when I couldn't go to a gallery that I found games so much more interesting, so much more fun and now I'm almost trying to catch up on everything that has ever been made. My writing schedule is a week to play something, and a week to write about it, and it is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I love writing so much but I feel like this has given me a new lease of life in writing. It's so funny, all my cousins are so jealous. PlayStation got in touch last week! All this nice lovely stuff - people getting in touch to see whether I want copies of games to write about, just having completely different conversations. I feel like there is more of a conversation happening around games that are made because there are fans, because people invest in them, because more people will play a game than will go to the same exhibition. What I am also finding is that in the past, I would review exhibitions, and then hear nothing. I feel like your words just go out there and then they disappear. No matter what I say about a game, whether its good or bad, the developers will see it and they will retweet or reply, the God of War creator retweeted the review the other week. There are reviews that are not very favourable and they'll still share it and say like, read this.
Z: I think as well, galleries have this thing right, an exhibition is for the most part, done and dusted. It's seen as this one blip, you do it, it happens, and then you think about it, right? As well, galleries spend so much money on the marketing and the PR. The PR is such an important constitutive… is that a word? I dunno. It's such an important, enormous part of it, like, our massive problem with the majority of art criticism has been that you're just reproducing the press release. It becomes really frustrating then to write something that deviates from the press release - for the gallery, it becomes really frustrating that you've not stuck to the line they've bothered to put out for you. I don't know if that happens within games but it feels like there is more genuine discussion. Maybe it's just about the medium, right? It's completely experiential, or the experiential part of it is so important, that like, of course it's a part of the discussion, its always on the table. With galleries it doesn't really matter.
G: I think also a part of it is like, all press is good press, because games make so much money. It's so generative and gamers spend in a way that artist's audiences don't. So they're just sharing everything. In that sense it feels so validating to be like, I'm just going to side step to games criticism. I was a little bit worried, for a few reasons, that it wouldn't work in terms of the writing itself. But then I remembered that because of the way we approach all texts, you can just apply it to anything, and it's fine. Then I was also worried because we've built this audience of art interested people so for me to be like, doing this instead… I was really worried, and everyone has been so nice. All these gamers that I didn't know were already in the audience have come forward and been like, I love this! Other people, who don't even have consoles, are like, I'm really enjoying the game reviews, by the way. Sending little messages to say that. It's so lovely.
Z: I personally, just want to take a moment to be proud of Gabrielle, because how long have you been writing game criticism for?
G: Properly since the beginning of lockdown, so, March.
Z: That's like, six months. In six months you have become an acclaimed and notable game critic.
G: I don't think that's true!
Z: I think that's true! I would say you are a noted games person, and I'm incredibly proud of you, it's because of how good a writer you are.
G: Thanks! I set up a separate twitter account for game chat called @come_home_dad if you want to follow it.
Z: Explain the @ please.
G: So over lockdown I played a lot of Call of Duty, and in the lobby once there was another player called Come_Home_Dad and it honestly just made me laugh so much. It made me laugh in the same way that The White Pube makes me laugh, where it's timeless. The fact that someone on the internet doesn't have a dad any more or they've left home or something and they think that they'll see it on Call of Duty… oh my god, it just tickles me. So I'm called Come Home Dad. I just robbed it, I was like, fuck it. So we've also this year started to do game reviews, Zarina has started to write about food, in all these different ways.
Z: I've written three food columns so far. That's how I'm thinking about it. I'm not thinking like, I'm a food critic now, in the sense that you're writing about games full time, fuck art, which I love for you. But I don't think I have enough opinions about food. Or like food is a fraught topic for me particularly, and I don't think anyone wants to hear my whining every fortnight, just me being like, I cried when I thought of bread. I don't think people are interested in that. But it's interesting to write about food as a thing that happens away from art, or think about food in the same way I think about art, and write in a way that feels more expansive. I'm thinking a lot more- I don't know if I've mentioned this, but I started thinking about myself more as a Writer with a capital W. I always had an ongoing artistic practice away from The White Pube and slowly I stopped lying to myself, and trying to sneak my writing into art making, and I just, I write now. That's the shape of my individual practice. So I've been trying to flex my feet in all these different shapes and ways, and think about fiction. I was about to say journaling. But you know what I mean. We spend so long thinking about writing and not really talking about the way in which we write, I don't know if the labour of that goes unseen for a lot of our audience. The way that our approach to writing has shifted from October 2015 to September 2020, we've been on so many different waves. There was a moment in time where I just told everyone, I don't- I just write from the beginning to the end of the text and I don't care about my typos, it's just one shot.
G: And last year all I did was 1000 word reviews because I was losing motivation a bit, because I was falling out of love with art. So I was like, that's a challenge. Now I'm back into it, and now what I do, oh my god. I'll post the screenshot of me writing the God Of War review. I had a document where I made notes, a document where I tried to start writing it, a document where I took the best bits out of that and transplanted them over here, then I listened to a podcast so I made more notes about it, and then I started again, and it was 4,000 words or something stupid. But I've got all the separate little bits of writing that never made it. That's what happens. I write a review, I get what I'm trying to say but I don't think it makes sense, and I start again. That's my process. All of this though we don't really talk about it.
Z: Maybe this is a separate podcast, because I think it would be interesting to go into the ways we approach writing. The literal logistics of how that's worked. Because I definitely do not write from start to finish, one shot. I don't do that any more. But it'd be interesting. It's a separate podcast. But in this renewed enthusiasm for being writers, we have now got The White Pube writers grant - have we mentioned that?
G: Not yet.
G: We've got a few more to mention and then we're going to sign off, because we've been speaking for like, nine billion hours. We started a writers grant with the help of Creative Debuts who earlier this year got in touch and said, is there anything you want to do but you can't fund yourself? And obviously we can't fund that much ourselves, because we're working off the Patreon and bits of freelance stuff. Callum from Creative Debuts was very generous in asking us that and we said we've always wanted to do The White Pube prize, or some kind of grant. And when we nailed it down a little bit and thought about it more carefully, we decided a writers grant was the best fit. So we started that and we've gotten billions of submissions. All we're asking for if you're listening and you want to submit is like, honestly, just no mega application form but just to send us an email with what you do, to firstname.lastname@example.org. It's a working-class writers grant, and you get £500 and there's no strings attached.
Z: You can do what you want.
G: Go the casino. It's up to you. Pay your rent, live your life, buy some books. Buy a pen.
Z: Go Sainsbury's.
G: The first one has just been granted, it went to Ruskin Smith whose work we love. We didn't know him before we did this, he sent us an email with some texts and also like, audio versions on Soundcloud. I was like, this is sick. So good.
Z: You know that feeling you get, I wasn't expecting to be that viscerally excited by the first. I was expecting that to be one in a two year run, someone that we were really excited by. But the first time, we chose someone that is talented and exciting and incredible. So like, gassed by that. So send us your submissions if you think that we would find you exciting, and all we ask for, as Gab said, send an email to email@example.com and attach some examples of your writing. They don't have to be published. If you attach it as a PDF it is easier for me to add it to the Google drive folder…
G: But just do what you want. It's crazy, it feels like the past few weeks everything has exploded. So we started the writers grant, on a Friday, when I was up very late, I also started the Successful Funding Application Library. Again, from just being so interested in how people get money and how people learn about how to get money in the arts. It's so hush hush that I think it's a conspiracy at this point. The way that I personally have learnt to do funding applications, which I don't do for The White Pube because we work through Patreon, but I do for my other job where I run a gallery called OUTPUT in Liverpool. I only learnt from seeing other people's, so I thought, if there was a way to have a page with loads of them, wouldn't that be nice? And it was a bit slow at first but people are really submitting big project grants, stuff for individuals, travel, residencies, all these different applications that have worked for people in the past are all up there on our website now. So people can use it as a resource and hopefully get some money themselves.
Z: It's really important I think to demystify the language that successful funding applications require. Arts Council England, if you're writing a Project Grant, there is this specific language they expect you so speak in and that can be so opaque for people that like, don't have that experience. If you're just doing your first one and you don't speak to anyone about it… there's a specific way they want you to talk about the activity that you're proposing and really, the only way you can get to grips with that is by reading other peoples' applications and seeing what successful applications have in common. What might be a good future podcast episode is if we get someone in to talk about those like, hashtag funding hacks.
G: Yeah, we can do that. This is good. I feel like we're being a little bit messy about this first episode, because we're just thinking out loud about, what is this going to be? But if you've listened this far into the episode I'm sure you don't mind. We also very recently started selling merchandise, because it was time. I didn't expect it to be as successful as it was - I also think it was partly people in lockdown just wanting to buy something because they were bored. So that's who we are, that's our origin story. So much of it has just been writing for years and then, in the past few months, we've expanded our skillset, or something.
Z: Yeah. In lockdown we've just decided to do everything. It's been good though, because before, we've been so busy in the everyday, the out and about of it all. We've not really had the chance to sit down and do all the things we talk about doing.
G: We want to go beyond just the writing. The writing still happens, we still post online, we're just also doing this other stuff now. It's fun. I'm really happy and I feel like everything's coming together nicely, finally.
Z: I feel like an adult, actually.
G: I feel like an adult, too. We're so old now! When we started this we were like 21? And now we're 26. That is mental!
Z: Isn't that disgusting! Blurgh! 26! Gross! I'm going to continue lying about my age. My name's Zarina Muhammad, I live in London, and I'm 23.
G: Yeah. Just catfish.
Z: Let's all just mutually agree that I lie about my age, that's something I do. I'm just incredibly successful for 23. Wow, you're doing all that? You're 23? At 26 it feels less impressive, like I should have a mortgage by now.
G: Yeah at 26 we've got an issue!
Z: I don't have a dog, or a mortgage, or…
G: A child!
Z: God forbid.
G: I'm just saying. Anyway. Thank you for listening, if you have listened this whole time. I appreciate you.
Z: You're a real one. If you've listened to an hour and 45…
G: We hope you subscribe to our podcast!
Z: Like and subscribe!
G: Leave us a five star review on Apple podcasts! That's what everyone says on the ones I listen to.
Z: This episode is sponsored by…
G: It's sponsored by The White Pube itself.
Z: No no, do you know what? This episode is sponsored by Come Ogre Here and the OUTPUT Podcast. We both have separate, other podcasts.
G: Aww, that's true!
Z: Gab's is her gallery, OUTPUT, what is it called on Spotify?
G: It's called OUTPUT Gallery on Spotify, Apple, Google, all the other stuff. And I just interview the artists that exhibit, so yesterday I recorded the latest episode which is with the Singh twins. It was a really good conversation. And Zarina's fuckin podcast is a Shrek podcast!
Z: My podcast is a joke that myself and my co-host Seema Mattu have taken too far. Yes, I have a podcast called Come Ogre Here. That is Come, Ogre, Here.
G: You've had like two episodes and it has already featured on the BBC as a strange, niche podcast to listen to.
Z: I think because it's absolutely ridiculous.
G: It's so good.
Z: It's ludicrous. We talk about Shrek, and it's socio-political subtext and what it means today, in 2020. We take it very seriously on air but I am aware it is preposterous. You can find us on Spotify and Twitter, we are @comeogrehere_. Because actual @comeogrehere was already taken! Can you believe it!
G: If you are a rich person listening to this, please sponsor this podcast. Or if you enjoy The White Pube and you read the stuff that we do, it would be amazing if you could give us £1 a month on Patreon, because it all adds up and it is why we are still here. We are reader-supported and it is great.
Z: It is one of those things we have to consistently remind people of, because you know, patrons come and go and it's understandable because who knows? Here we are, floating about on the whims of powers larger than us in this ocean we called life. So it's understandable when people change their patronages.
G: We need to just stop. We need to stop, eat lunch, we are both losing the plot.
Z: No, hold on! No! We need to hit other things! Follow us on twitter on Instagram! Buy our merch when it drops and tell us you love is in a sweet way. Gently, as you would whisper into the ears of a lover.
G: OK. On that note, we're going to play out with the jingle. See you on the next episode of The White Pube Podcast. Bye!