The internet is prematurely ageing me and it’s all your fault
GDLP & ZM
We started The White Pube in 2015 when we were both 21!!! it was and is this online collaboration of our voices and thoughts on art, nice. We’d basically hated the art criticism we were shown at uni and had taken it upon ourselves to try writing about art in a different way. We started to put out texts once a week and have continued to do so here on this toddler of a website;; writing in a way we felt was more transparent and subjective than what we’d been exposed to before. At that point I don’t know how conscious our politics really were, but i kno we hoped our reviews would actually say something instead of just describing a show and then telling you when it closes. we hoped they would also be less authoritative, academic and boring, all for v fair and obvious reasons. And at that tiny beginning, we mostly just thought it was hysterical that by writing art reviews we had suddenly ascended (by our own invitation) to the title of Art Critics. We weren’t old white men - we were a woman of colour and working class having a go at bringing our opinions to the table even tho no one had asked. it felt comfy to be doing this on the internet, on a website and across social media, and honestly we didn’t even stop to think of The White Pube existing in physical print publications because we didn’t know how, money, and also books are slow and ugly. But straight away (and I’m talking days 1 and 2 of the whole shabang) people were excitedly telling us that they believed TWP could go ‘the whole way’ and that ‘this is what London has been waiting for.’ sometimes the comments of praise have felt like out of body experiences and pretty undeserved because again, it’s just the two of us mouthing off about art online, but they come. We’ve tried to keep our head down and make sure writing is at the centre of what we do, and as it happens, over the course of these 3 and a half years, we’ve seen an audience for TWP emerge / explode / celebrate us / berate us / and I think now is as good a time as any to take stock of how it actually feels to be incredibly visible young women writing online like this. cause I think the internet is prematurely ageing me and it’s all your fault. you lot ye, but mostly the middle aged men. some women called Jane. i will explain.
from day dot, it took us 9 months to reach 1000 followers on Instagram, just under 3 years to get to 7000, and the past 6 months have taken us speeding to 25K. we have whiplashhhh. Our initial audience found us through the women’s arts groups we were in online and also from a very slapdash A4 poster we stuck up in the lift at uni. I also followed a few hundred people at the beginning who went to our art school or had friends in other ones, because I thought ok these randomers with 3cm fringes might be interested in TWP revolution where we can all talk about art how we want to and kill the masters etc. But ye more recently after we were on Dazed 100, had a Guardian interview, and did some big call outs online, our numbers spiked. At the beginning, the people who found us knew exactly what we were about, what to expect and for the sake of our sanity, what /not/ to expect from us. That is a small group at the middle of what has become many concentric circles of different types of followers we’ve seen materialise. Some people have discovered us really late on but they get the point, and they’re in that middle too. others haven’t quite known what was going on but chose to follow anyway / and some have made a point never to know. One layer out, we have people following us who think we are an edgey pair who write about art and have arguments with galleries sometimes. Further out the circle still, we have people who don’t know TWP is more than some social media accounts and that it is in fact a website too. On the far far edge of the whole thing, we have people who think my last name means I’m posh, when I’m from liverpool and my last name is just… chilean. It is really interesting to meet people across this spectrum, which really has nothing to do with how complicit anyone is in our agenda and everything to do with whether or not someone knows what TWP is actually there to offer. Ofc, I am not doing this to be well-liked or agreed with - I’m not online to be an Influencer, and I don’t want to rely on external validation for self worth or i will be brittle. So I take these follower numbers and likes with a pinch of salt and pay attention instead to the comments we get ; and boyyyyy is it *fascinating* how they have developed as this audience has booooomed in size. the comments have actually become so interesting in the most weird and morbid way, and tbh I appreciate having been in the centre of this storm to watch it all happen. feels anthropological, feels like Cultural Studies; feels like sexism, ageism, racism and classism all wrapped into one caricature of the user.
I don’t think to be a follower or reader you HAVE to know the ins and outs of the whole white pube, but it doesn’t half cause some problems if you don’t, precisely because so many people project their expectations onto us and then get very pissed off when we don’t deliver on something we never promised to in the first place. These expectations often come from their idea of what a traditional art critic should do and how that person should speak; and also how us as two young women should be behavin. There are moments when criticism of what we do is valid, of course!, and we listen gladly, but from where we’re standing so so so many of the bores who think they have a right to tell us off are spawning at the tense intersection of The Way Art Writing Is Normally Done and The Way The White Pube Do It (which is cazj, looser, biting, loving, personal, about how it feels for us to encounter a thing. it is ours). These reply guys crawl out of the crack between tradition and our own messier handling of arts writing, and they drive me a bit mad with their tone. For examplessss. I post a review about a Nintendo Switch game and use it to talk about my experience of video games and guilt, describing how Zelda: Breath of the Wild makes space for a certain indulgence I hadn’t had access to in years… and a boyo on Instagram pipes up to tell me I spoke too much about myself and not enough about the game, and he ! expected ! more ! TWP has always been about ourselves in relation to the art though? Zarina reviews a Yuri Pattison exhibition, comparing it to rearranging her bedroom, refreshing the space, nice nice ikea feels… and a man in camou pants says she spoke about everything other than the art, and TWP’s criticism isn’t valid because we are not ‘politically specific.’ Think us writing about art in terms of our personal experience is a specific politic, but okay! Another time, Zarina posts on Instagram stories saying she’s thinking about getting lip fillers and some girl replies crying to say she didn’t understand why were were promoting unrealistic body standards on ‘this wonderful platform.’ I don’t know why she’s looking at us two for moral guidance, that’s a mistake. But also the fact she felt sorry for insulting the platform rather than us is weird in itself. Last year, I wrote a review excited about how I had synchronised with some exhibition which was offering up the exact same mood and temperature as the stuff I’d been enjoying recently on YouTube (very long slow videos of things like dogs getting their hair cut, or someone spending half an hour trying to win a specific toy out of a claw machine). Some man messaged to accuse the review of being ‘quite a shift from your usual output.’ it wasn’t, but also so what if it was? the fact he felt the need to message to tell me that like a weird editor in a position of power over me was mad. I don’t know why he thinks he has the right. Even when we’re writing reviews of exhibitions and the critique is going the other way, we always hold it in our mouths 2 say this is our opinion. Even when we are like omg why have you done this, it’s not some objective claim or imperative they have to follow. Sad that some readers wanna try objective power on anyway to see how it fits.
I mean, these are very basic examples above but i guess it shows some range. The more longterm issue we get is people feeling affronted that we even use the internet for our criticism, as if forums and YouTube comments and just OTHER WEBSITES haven’t already set the stage for that. We’ve been accused of being cyberbullies because we are writing from an online platform, even before it was this big, and am sure you wouldn’t call us bullies if we were writing in a magazine. Just , , The way people interact with us often shows they have a construction of us in mind. When they say ‘do better guys!!!’ it can mean do better than the construction they have formed already. This isn’t to shift any accountability away from us, because I take responsibility for anything I say and do - but we’re not talking about matched responses here and people speaking to us on a level, we’re just laying out the overarching patronising tone of a lot of commenters in order to describe how WEARING slash boring it is starting to feel. We wonder if maybe the polite, quiet, studious good girl image people wrongly have of us is decided by the ways we could be useful to them. And so, as soon as we digress from that utility, something shatters and they lose their shit, feeling angry and betrayed. Worryingly, that utility remaining in tact is somehow more important to them than the concept of our personhood / our independence / our right to not be consistent or nice or conservative pushovers. I think if there weren’t two of us in this constantly checking in with one another, it would be a lot easier to become conditioned by strangers on the internet who are constantly expecting us to bend the knee. Little do they (care to) know that we set out to speak against other people’s authority, and we’re not about to start listening now. It’s no different to the way institutions try to tokenise us. We’re irreverent when they see us as marketable good names for their panel talk - and then in the same breath we’re trolls when we speak our minds, ignorant when we refuse to speak through theory, obstinate when we refuse to accept something they want as a given, and we can’t accept criticism when we don’t just blindly agree with their shit take. The expectations these people throw onto us just prove they don’t respect, recognise or value our identities or voices and that’s that. It’s so fucking transparent. And we neeever used to block people but can you see why we might start? I try to just put my fingers in my ears but it’s bleeding through.
25K followers means we are recognised on the tube, we are recognised in cafes and so on, and people are always very very nice in person. But there are moments this visibility feels very bad. Like, once we tried something completely new for us and did a loosely guided tour of an exhibition we’d never even been to before. I know, mad idea. But we thought it would just be like going to an exhibition with a group of friends and trying to interpret our feelings out loud with them at our side, but the exhibition was sparse and hard to connect with, and something I would have struggled to write about anyway; the audience was quiet and kept to one side, and we floundered trying to feel anything and make it known. It was difficult bc going to an exhibition can be, but I’m glad we tried it and was grateful for the attendees’ patience. But a week or two later we got an email from someone down as yokoohnoyoudidn’t, anonymous, telling us people were talking about how bad it was so we’d better acknowledge it. They said, ’I thought it was such a failure that the only way out of it really is to maybe work out why it didn't work. I think a piece about why it didn't work would be good, cos you are getting pretty publicly dug out for it.’ I hadn’t seen any of this criticism but I don’t think I would have disagreed with it. The anonymity is why I’m mentioning this anecdote because thousands of followers plus anonymous messages breeds some bad paranoia I’m ngl. I fucking hate the option for anonymity on the internet, just say shit with your chest. Also, again, that pushiness in what this random person thinks we should do to atone for our sins. Not into that. We’re turning ourselves inside-out to do this job of writing, of bringing together art, words, feelings, institutional skepticism into online spaces and it’s not always going to be good is it. just, the bigger this thing gets the weirder it feels to be the two people at the centre of it surrounded by all these eyes, some of whom demand we give them what they want or else.
This is new to us but this type of relationship between audience and subject is not a new problem, even for the art world. I can’t find it (sorry) but I first became able to settle it in my mind when I read a tweet by Linda Stupart who had said it was (and I’m paraphrasing) ‘kinda fucked that you can’t really be successful in the arts without allowing/letting other people see you/treat you as a kind of celebrity.’ It’s an old problemo, all the way back to Tracey Emin & Damien Hirst n those sad baggy YBAs of yesteryear, and more recently in Martin Herbert’s writing about some artists rejecting that model altogether in ‘Tell them I said No.’ Visibility is a prerequisite now. The way we see artists and creative labourers more widely has changed, or it’s caught up with other art forms like music/theatre/dance. There’s an aura of curiosity around the person doing well rather than the thing they’re doing. I started watching Schitt’s Creek, n tbh I was neither into it nor out of it, comme-ci-comme-ca, but I still took a break halfway through the second season to go find a video of the whole cast at an interview because I literally couldn’t contain my curiosity and just had to know how the people that played these characters spoke n moved in real life when they weren’t being Moira and Alexis and David and Johnny. I found the guy that plays Ted’s instagram and was surprised that he was a weird toilet-humour-bum-jokes-meme-boy, and I found myself more invested in his character when I returned to watching the series bc i thought he as a person was funny, his dog was cute, he seemed cooler n more grounded. it’s a legit thing; people care about the people at the centre of some things. They can have this tensile grip on the person at the centre. Actors get this, but also boyband members are regular examples of people caught in one half of parasocial relationships. Not saying we are *NSYNC but like -
Parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships with, most commonly, a celebrity or a prominent person in the community or a fictional character. ‘When a fan knows everything about the subject of their adoration and feels very close to them, but there is no chance of reciprocity’. I think, this is a <reach> when applying this extreme description to us (and this is v important! Pls remember!). But I think there is a a softer application that feels pertinent to mention while we’re on the subject of this problem. We are putting ourselves on the internet & have gained a tbh not insubstantial amount of attention in the wider scope of the uk art world and its getting more and more international. We have an audience that knows what we look like, what we think about the Tate, Love Island, and odd anecdotes about ingrown hairs and specific quirks in our everyday diets. I think a soft-parasocial relationship has emerged w a specific kind of person that is drawn to us, despite the fact that if we met in real life, we would have nothing in common other than a mutual interest in art. In 2018 we did a talk at a university, and someone put their hand up during the questions segment and said, ‘my ex-boyfriend used to obsessively watch your instagram stories before and after sex. Does that happen to you a lot?’ And reader, at the time, it did not. But if that happened now, I wouldn’t be as shocked by that as I was then.
In some way, not to fuckin shoulder all the responsibility here, maybe we feed this subconsciously? By our own admission, the way we write is unashamedly subjective, tethering these tentative, quivering thoughts, shaped like art criticism, to the solid stability of our literal personhood. We plop our lives on Insta stories, take youse round with us as we go to these random fuckin places. To make this all make sense, we kinda have to talk about our break-ups, heartbreaks, therapy sessions, eating disorders, anxiety - all of that too, because WE are our own frames of reference when it comes to the experience of going to an exhibition. But in this release of personal information we’re also unexpectedly cultivating soft parasocial relationships where our readers feel like they know us (and like they have a right to our narrative n movement). We transition into offline relationships with people all the time in our art dates and it can be like slipping into a silk glove, so easy, seamless. We have common ground, a familiarity with each others’ vocabulary & description - there is a complicity because of shared politics, and if they were to give us advice or suggestions it would be warm. but still we have something to discover, the rhythms and movements, to learn the tones of a person that make them a fully fledged being rather than just written text and frozen images on the timeline. I don’t care about stranger danger, some of our best mates are people off the Internet. And imo we are lucky to have real life mates in far-flung cities & close to home that we might not have proximity to otherwise. But maybe the difference is that they do the same in turn - they share themselves with us too. We know things about them bc face to face they are able to reciprocate. That’s what it should be, what I wish it was, but it’s also just impossible and what we’re probably just going to have to get used to is the fact 99% of our readers don’t know us in a healthy shared way and 5% of them are going to be a bit consistently angry when we don’t enact their agreeable/moderate projections of us.
Case in point, I am literally a communist. My Dad’s family are literally Bengali. My Dada was literally a radical Marxist organiser. Yet when Gab posted a pic of me in front of a Commie shrine in Kochi, Kerala, people got rly cross - taking the time to chastise us for promoting such a ~dangerous ideology~ despite the literal fact that this ~ideology~ informs much of my thinking about art, my stance on institutions & their purpose, and as a result, most of the texts I write. Texts that they have had proximity to, that have helped form a conception of my position. Ngl, it’s not that deep, we have no problem with people disagreeing with us, and in the ~MARKETPLACE OF FREE IDEAS~ it’s bound to happen. It’s that people proclaimed a disappointment, they claimed we were letting them down in this drastic turn. But really really, I have been like this since I was 13/14 and this leakage is absolutely weird. The weirdness is specifically located in the fact that people have an expectation that falls beyond the fact of my words, and into a projection of my self that has been pieced together by convenient snippets that fall parallel to their position. They explain away the fact that we have -MULTIPLE TIMES- called for the dismantling of systems that perpetuate inequality. Nandos sent us some vouchers and some people lost their shit but Shirley, Gab’s not even a vegetarian. Just to repeat our suspicions: these readers and followers convince themselves that we are speaking in metaphor, because the fact of us as people with thoughts that they don’t personally agree with threatens this projection they have of us; a projection that is useful to them. And that utility is more valuable to them than what we are actually saying.
In our last noisy instagram post of a tweet that read ‘Don’t know why so many artists are choosing to present reading rooms and just tables with books instead of art at their exhibitions. ngl there’s no way ur persuading me to read a book in a gallery, I can’t be bothered and clearly neither can you’ - about artists using reading rooms as a format that works as a crutch, avoiding the eye contact of the idea that theory, most of the time, needs to be reconditioned to become an artwork rather than… like.. theory… In and amongst the comments of publishers and nerds absolutely losing their shit, someone said ‘your character arc is like the last episode of game of thrones’ (the last ep of GOT at the time being ep 5 where Danaerys torches King’s Landing). That is firstly proof of what I mention above about utility & projection. But not only is Danaerys’ climax a direct result of the built up shitstorm of things that happened since she arrived in Westeros (small annoyances, micro-aggressions, misunderstandings wilful and accidental), it also speaks to the strategy that we are now left with as an only option. Lowkey, highkey seriously. There’s a mini- essay by David Chapman called ‘Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths in subculture evolution.’ It feels Applicable™️. David Chapman talks around this idea that subculture emerges at the nexus point of a New Thing (exciting) and attention. What starts as a small close-knit community of insiders and people complicit in the agenda of what’s going on (culturally, politically, socially complicit) snowballs and picks up attention from people further out & away; the less complicit they are, the more likely they are to damage or be willing to compromise the very thing that makes the New Thing radical or exciting - worthy of attention and the cultural capital it’s accumulating. As snowballs go, the outer extremity ends up making up the majority, drowning out the minority of committed people who understand & are invested. This is how subculture gets co-opted; often the people committed to it are unable to monetise it, and the people able (or willing) to monetise it often dgaf about its actual radical value - the New Thing - but rather the cache it has in an attention economy that values obsolescent novelty & its <<aura>> of authenticity over authenticity itself. Often these people at a distance are unable to distinguish the Real New Thing over something posing as the New Thing, because of their lack of investment, and it’s able to be diluted, partitioned & sold off - capitalism grabs it, and it is destroyed. These are our concentric circles. It happened to Tumblr aesthetic communities in 2012, it happened before n it’ll happen again. Where this becomes instructive for us is in Chapman’s paragraph on providing resistance; citing Venkatesh Rao’s advice to ‘be slightly evil’, by way of protecting this New Thing you’ve created. This is why I literally do not care if I am rude to people on Instagram, figuratively burnin them with my dragon. I am just being slightly evil. It’s advisable, healthy, prescribed as solution and resistance to this external entitlement to this baby New Thing we have made. None of you are innocent bystanders, really. We can do what we want.
In November 2017, we wrote a text called Airplane Mode, about how & why we deserved a holiday. We were weary, run-ragged, feeling like exposed like lil raw nerves. That December we took the whole month off, signed out of every TWP account, put up an Out of Office & went on Holiday capital HAITCH. In the text, I wrote, ‘my friend, while empathising with me said “it’s weird, i feel like ppl rly consume u on twp’s twitter, they rly get more from u than u do from them.. ppl use u as props to perform a certain type of activism..” n i felt that w my entire fucking chest u know.’ That sentence felt new to me then, at the end of 2017; but now it has been assimilated into normalcy. 3 weeks ago I went to my GP and cried in her office, said ‘i’m not myself anymore, I’m so scared all the time and I don’t know what of’ and she referred me for CBT with a 3 month wait. This gaze is leaking into the texts n I am preparing them for irresponsible anger, so what am I fucking doing to myself? My own head & brain? On the Instagram post about reading rooms, Raju Rage (tender icon & absolute angel) commented, ‘It is ur opinion and its strange how people get so worked up about it like ur gods or authorities or something. I totally disagree with ur post but I just shrug n go 'nah' n move on. So strange that people can't do that.’ I agree. That’s how this is supposed to work. I doubt the bores made it all the way to the end of this text because it’s obviously not what they want to hear, but if you did Adam, sort it the fuck out.