In which we farewell one wahine toa and welcome another, we chat about the role, their hopes, and the challenges they see themselves facing.
In which we farewell one wahine toa and welcome another – and chat about the role, their hopes, and the challenges they see themselves facing.
Last November, we announced our new team, which included Janet McAllister as Editor-in-Chief. Having Janet at the helm has been a total revelation, and although so much of her work has been behind the scenes, she’s also been a driving force behind projects like our intersectionality series. In a very short time, it’s become nearly impossible to imagine the place without her – so it’s with great sadness that we have to announce that Janet is stepping away from her role due to a family illness.
We have some brighter news, though: in her place, as our new Editor-in-Chief, is another wahine toa, Lana Lopesi. You’ll know her from her writing about Poly Twitter, on being an artist and a mother, and the politics of sexual fantasies. She’s been writing for us for about eighteen months, and has been visual arts editor for nine. We wanted to promote someone internally because we knew they’d understand our kaupapa and our processes, and Lana’s vision (more on that soon) makes us super excited for this next chapter.
Rosabel Tan: This is such a bittersweet announcement, because it means saying goodbye to Janet!
Joe Nunweek: I'm so sad to see Janet go. I think there's a definitive before and after the JE (Janet era) in terms of the site's vision and – I want a better word than professionalism here, which is a bit of an empty vessel. But we're a lot more onto it now, I'll say that.
Lana Lopesi: I can’t really speak for The Pantograph Punch before the JE (I love this term), as we started on the editorial team at the same time, but the JE has been an incredibly valuable learning experience for me.
Janet McAllister: That's kind. I think it’s mostly the establishment of an Editor-in-Chief role that’s increased professionalism: a responsible, paid role involving processes and protocols and other boring but useful things like that.
It has been an excellent (albeit brief) few months – I learned an incredible amount, mostly about how much work goes into making the site what it is – and so I take my hat off to Rosabel and the others [Joe, Matt and Hayden] who've been running it for years and years – that's dedication and commitment – and possibly insanity?
I'm not just relieved that Lana is taking over as EIC – I am so happy. I have been consistently impressed with your savvy political nous and ability to bring people on board and get things done as our Visual Arts co-editor. You’re a superstar.
RT: I feel the same way. Your work is so ferocious and vital and urgent, Lana, but you also take so much care in everything you do – not only with your writing, but with all the new writers you’ve been nurturing.
JN: It's wild to think that 18 months ago, Lana was just a cold call (with what turned into a really great piece on public installations as suburban renewal, and how they're not always the boon their funders expect). Then you wrote three more things in three months. You were super prolific.
JM: And of course you bring all that great #500 experience! So where I brought mainstream journo experience, Lana has the arts web experience – do you think you could characterise it like that?
LL: You guys! I have to say I’m excited and nervous at the challenge of taking up the role after you’ve done such a great job, Janet. I’ve always been an admirer of The Pantograph Punch as a reader, then writer, then co-editing Visual Arts with Francis McWhannell (who I admire greatly) and now as Editor-in-Chief – and at every stage it has been an absolute privilege to be a part of the site.
And to answer your question, yes I think your description is accurate. I see myself as coming to writing through art writing – heck I went to art school!
RT: And I feel like there’s a beautiful sense of reset to it all – cos Lana you're roughly the same age that Joe and I were when we started the site, and even though age is a loose construct (and because reminding myself you’re 25 sends me down a what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-with-my-life black hole) this shift feels really right to me.
I also couldn't have imagined anyone else in the Editor-in-Chief role first but you, Janet. You were so instrumental in shaping it into what it became.
JM: The team hit the ground running in November. Most of the credit is due to them. It's great having brilliant section editors – and they all are!
LL: We’re such a gushy bunch!
JM: Lana, I'd be interested in hearing your vision for the site? And at the same time how the vision has changed over the years, if at all (apart from, you know, getting bigger)?
JN: I can’t speak for Rosabel, but it’s become a lot more focused from the grab-bag of topics we started out with. The burden of influence was big and messy and very influenced by what was hip internationally – wanting to be like a more consistent version of the best student mag writing we’d encountered, wanting to be like the NZ version of The Believer or McSweeneys, wanting to be an aggregator of other people’s cool things and write about the cool international things that mattered. That cultural cringe has disappeared (I personally see more cringe in wanting to be like beardy American scrump publications in retrospect) and the local perspective we bring is more consistent and convincing.
LL: I think my intentions as a writer, as a section editor and now as Editor-in-Chief are all the same: to increase the discourse around art and specifically art which traditionally has been absent from art history. I have said this over and over again: that I really think when an exhibition ends it ‘dies’, and so I want to support the production of great art by keeping it in existence, and writing can do that.
The editorial structure at The Pantograph Punch means that complex and difficult conversations feel really safe. I know that when I (as a writer) come forward with something that feels vulnerable, there is an editor, cultural advisors and actually an entire team behind me. It’s gone through a rigorous process behind closed doors that lets me know that people have my back. I think that’s the biggest strength of the site and as far as I know incredibly unique.
I also love being able to provide platforms to people that don’t usually get a seat at the table, or might only get one, when they should get all of them! I’m really proud of the intersectionality series roundtable, because it was saying to these curators that what they think matters, and the actual experience of being in the room with them with so damn empowering!
So my vision for The Pantograph Punch is really about wanting to build infrastructure which is safe and inclusive and encourages smart and insightful conversations about art and society. I also want to change the way society at large values the arts, because I think the way mainstream media discusses the arts that at the moment is so incredibly off the mark. I also think I am just continuing the legacy of the site, which is already great.
JM: Mine was similar – I wrote in my pitch that I was interested in "uncovering the links between art and society, and using each as a way of illuminating and contextualising the other... As media, we have power because representations are powerful – they change perception. So writing isn’t just about uncovering power relations elsewhere – it's about shifting and entrenching cultural power directly." So when media write about arts in a juvenile way, in a way that de-claws dangerous art and ideas, it entrenches boring ideas about culture.
LL: Exactly! We have a real responsibility. I think that’s what excites me too - that we could actually make change and help shift the landscape.
JM: As for the editorial process; the first time I wrote for The Pantograph Punch, I had been a freelancer for a decade. And it was so heartening that someone was taking the time to give me feedback and discuss my choice of words and structure. That hadn't happened for years anywhere else – it’s largely been pulled out of our important, maligned, shrinking profession.
JN: I remember – though I have mega imposter syndrome when it comes to saying stuff about the arts, as I’ve basically always come at it as an interested outsider – that I felt so frustrated by mainstream coverage. It just seemed like a series of token gestures, or glib chuckles about stuff that was considered too off the beaten track. And it’s hard to find any entry point when it’s treated like that – it’s too difficult to understand what’s good and why, and there’s nowhere to go to help make meaning or have debate about what you read or what you went to see. One of the things I'm proud of is that we've developed or are developing a place that does that.
RT: Yeah I feel like we started with a more basic intent. We wanted to create a space for meaningful conversations about books or plays or movies and where writers could feel supported and developed. Part of that – for me – was super personal. I spent most of my teenage years trying to convince my friends that theatre and books were just as important as finance and law (this is what happens when you grow up in Howick) so I guess my I’ll-prove-you-wrong-by-starting-a-blog instincts kicked in.
But I also remember with my theses that you and Matt [Harnett] were such a huge support as editors that I never wanted to lose that safety net. Having you guys there was really special. Writing can be so lonely. It was a revelation to have other people genuinely invested in the work you’re doing.
I kinda feel like the balance has tipped now, and what you two (Lana and Janet, I mean) have brought to it is nuance, and that idea of counter-narratives. It feels like more purposeful movement.
JM: lol Howick. Yes, that's a great precis, Rosabel! Do you think arts writing (at least online) seems in better health then?
RT: Yeah I reckon the context is totally different now. Six years ago, there wasn't much online in terms of arts writing, and mainstream arts coverage was showing its first major signs of disrepair – we were starting to write about theatre at the same time The Listener stopped reviewing it, the Sunday Star Times had just disestablished their Arts and Culture Editor role, and Volume soon published their last issue. Now we have amazing places like The Spinoff and Paperboy – and smaller online outlets like Tusk and [oh god I know I’m going to forget a whole bunch of places so I’m going to stop right there].
JM: Another thing I wanted to say is that sometimes I can start thinking 'the world is going to hell in a handbasket – isn't it rarefied and twee to be writing arts commentary?' but actually the Trump election made me think it was bloody important – particularly to present a whole range of different voices, so we can try and understand each other.
LL: I totally agree Janet! Every now and again I have a why do I keep doing this, adding to the masses of data already on the internet moment and then I realise how important the work we do is.
JN: I sort of feel like despite Trump, the 2010s have generally been a healthier and kinder space for people to write than the 2000s. The 2000s felt like they were "out to offend" without actually ever writing anything that could make you feel uncomfortable.
RT: What do you think are the biggest challenges for the site?
LL: Hmm challenges! I think a lot about safety and sustainability. I think a lot about the state of arts writing and what it means to exist in a landscape where we seem to cutting back on this. I want to develop a more sustainable criticism industry because I don’t think that exists yet, and by that I mean the infrastructure so that we can have professional critics who make a living from arts writing. Right now I can only think of one or two writers who are able to do that. The Pantograph Punch can’t do that alone, but I think we can highlight arts value not to art audiences but to the wider public and society as a whole, and hopefully infrastructure would then follow. A little naive I know!
One big question I also think we face is how can keep discourse safe online. We work with a lot of indigenous and POC writers – which I am so proud of – but I am also all too aware of the way that social media can eat people up and spit them out, and so a massive question for all editors (not only at The Pantograph Punch) is how we look after people and nurture them.
Despite these challenges, the prospect of leading such a brilliant and sharp team of editors and writers is exciting. It's a responsibility that I feel incredibly privileged to bear. I look forward to continuing and strengthing the work of The Pantograph Punch and further illuminating the connections between art, society and everything in between.
The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.
The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.