Critic's HQ: Lap Le, Megha Ralapati, Evita Yumul
Critique is the Western artworld’s King Midas, transforming everything it touches into aesthetic gold. Variously privileged by modernism (in the form of reflexivity) and by avant-gardes (in the form of engagement), it is now a dominant, indeed default, frame for making and judging art. Even the most regressive or commercial work—kitsch, advertisement—acquires legitimacy through critique’s burnish, and can be celebrated as effective institutional and cultural commentary. But what would cultural production look like without critique as an abiding concern? Would other criteria emerge in its absence, and what would these be?

If critique requires separation, even antagonism, between the subject critiquing and the object of critique, collaboration implies cooperation. Megha Ralapati’s Micro-Kye: A Cooperative Experiment, 2011, draws from the Korean tradition of kye, which she defines as “an agreement or bond that describes a particular social organization based on reciprocity, mutual cooperation and the diffusion of financial risk across participants.” Micro-Kye is a controlled actualization of this traditional form, in which five people selected by Ralapati contribute money to a kitty that is redistributed incrementally for purchases over the Incheon Women Artists’ Biennale’s (IWAB’s) course. The project’s intentionally limited scope tests the basic conditions of possibility of collaboration, and adds to it a culturally specific dimension.

Primarily an art writer, Ralapati contributed an essay about kye (included in this catalogue) that builds on her past research on the intersection of ethnicity, community and personal finance. Her participation highlights one curatorial decision: to designate a room at the Tuning Section “Critic’s HQ,” and to offer it to Ralapati and two other young critic-artists, Lap Le and Évita Yumul. They used it as a base for writing, interviews, and as a site for physical interventions. (The Museum of Immigration History, the host venue, fortuitously lent several administrative offices adjacent to the galleries.) On public view, “Critic’s HQ” foregrounds that IWAB 2011—nearly cancelled and mired in controversy [1]—probes the parameters of contemporary critical art. Historically, discourse flared into action in urban environments such as cafés, classrooms, even museums. What does a contemporary discursive space look like, and what form, if any, can those flashpoints now take?

"Identity is protest,” declares Lap Le in his project statement. Critique for Le is not directed towards an object exterior to oneself, but rather is a state of being; he renders the verb ‘to critique’ intransitive. This counterintuitive conception manifests itself in Le’s use of social networking tools like twitter, which take place in the here and now. Rather than thinking of critique as something that occurs retroactively, or as a predetermined procedure for issuing judgments, Le approaches it as concomitant. His Untitled (Oracle for Incheon, Korea, +1), 2011, consists of a framed photograph, leaflets at “Critic’s HQ,” a essay temporarily on the internet, and a downloadable app. The app continuously mashes together tweets about relationships and passages from the New York Times’ “At War” blog. It re-tweets these mash-ups every hour for the exhibition’s duration.

Closing the temporal lag between creative production and critical response undergirds Évita Yumul’s ●● [blue dot yellow dot] in three parts, 2011. The multi-part project consists of yellow or blue dots stuck onto other biennial participants’ wall labels. The dots’ meaning, and the (presumably rational) decisions that guided Yumul’s placement of them, remain elusive; Yumul approaches critique formally and structurally rather than in terms of content. Through repetition and intimating order, Yumul demonstrates how, in her own words, “declarative determinations” generate meaning “simultaneous to, rather than supplementary to, the artist’s work.” Yumul’s Tuning Reader, her compilation and analysis of words used by other artists, is also available at “Critic’s HQ.” There, three viable responses to the question of what contemporary art might look like absent critique as a guidepost emerge: collaboration (Ralapati), identity (Le), and simultaneity (Yumul).

* Special thanks to Ben Wolf Noam for being a reader for this essay.
 [1] See Heng-Gil Han, “Memories of 2013” in this catalogue.