2K16. What happened? Was it the annus of opportunists; a somnambulant year shocked into flinching, nerve-wracked awareness by a series of cataclysmic events?
Were you caught sleeping like pollsters, pundits and the art world's top-tier? Or did you, via lurking on various survivalist forums, right wing/nationalist websites and 4Chan's /pol/ and /b/ boards, 'predict this was all going to happen'? Either way the 'world' (i.e. the UKUS/EU) seemed to increasingly resemble a post-earthquake city street. Everywhere people wandered dazed and confused, angry or paranoid, stunned or disturbingly elated.
But although the UKUS is still locked in an endlessly regenerating loop of reductive, right leaning BrexTrump comment and analysis, 2K16 was more than the sum of those two parts. To prove it, here is a completely partial and totally subjective survey of 8 of the best, 5 of the worst and 4 of the most WTF events/developments in arts, culture and politics. In other words, 2K16 this survey could be your life:
The Pan African Passport
While UKUS/EU politicians strengthened their borders to placate those baying for the ejection of all but 'indigenous Europeans', Africa embraced the future and moved closer to opening its own. The Pan African passport is set to give holders visa free access to 54 African Union states, and should be rolled out to citizens in 2018.
Autechre @ the Royal Festival Hall, London
If the 'best' in art can be measured according to the innovative and the boundary pushing, then Autechre's otherworldly RFH show in complete darkness was gig of the decade. Delivered at a DB level that shook bones and made eyes water, the duo produced an astonishing mix of timbral beauty, rhythmic complexity and peerless compositional innovation. Is anyone at their level? Has abstraction ever been explored with as much sophistication? Are they even human? (answer: no)
The Death of TTIP (with caveats)
Television personality and sometime US president Barack Obama's plan to freeze out the BRICS and secure US trade dominance failed in Europe. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was snuffed out amidst growing controversy. However the UK should be very afraid. The Conservative government's 'special relationship' with and eagerness to forge a rep saving trade deal with the US, will surely see Britain getting the worst end of a bilateral trade agreement that imposes ISDS hell and massive deregulation. In other words don't let it happen!
The Luna Show
Run by the iconic Luna Khan, Legendary Overall Father of the House of Khan, the Luna Show is about 'the House and Ball community and the people involved either as ball walkers, vogue performers or spectators'. Based on short but deep video interviews with key players on the scene, it's one of the most in depth, comprehensive (over 200 interviews) and still active oral history projects around. Inspirational, real, and a definite source of empowerment. Subscribe, because there's more to the house and ball community than Paris is Burning.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's From #blacklivesmatter to Black Liberation
Taylor's powerful book traces the many twists and turns of the African American black liberation struggle, from civil rights and Black Power to Black Lives Matter. The developments that Taylor maps between those two points provide an indispensable and coherent historical narrative, charting the emergence of conservative black elites and their adoption of the damaging 'colourblind' rhetoric of the 'culture of poverty'.
James Richards @ the ICA, London
Richards unveiled a masterful, standalone work of musique concrete at the ICA this year. Diffused across 6 speakers, his piece of cinema-for-the-ear had some genuinely stunning moments. The seamless aural transfiguration of car sirens into waves of cascading, glissandi sine tones was one highlight among many.
The Dakota Access Pipeline Reroute
After months of protest by members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and supporters, the December announcement of a DAPL reroute came as a victory hard won. How an incoming US administration built on white supremacy, xenophobia and the myth of manifest destiny, will handle this new visibility of America's indigenous population remains to be seen. For now the pendulum of fortune has swung in the right direction.
Penderecki's The Devils of Loudun
This super rare television adaption of Penderecki's brilliant opera The Devils of Loudun is incredible. This past August, heroic YouTube user John Roberson uploaded the Eng_Sub version so you won't have to pay upwards of £80/$80 to see it via the 'Cult Opera of the 1970s' boxset. This production by Rolf Lierberman, director of the Hamburg Opera, is fantastically deranged, as are the cast. And then there's Penderecki's score…watch it before it's taken down.
This is the story [pause] of how the media, politicians, and journalists [pause] stopped believing in a world that made sense [pause] and how everybody, from computer scientists to artists [pause] became afraid and confused [pause] because the only person who saw through this new unreality [pause] was a 61 year old Oxford graduate named Adam Curtis [pause] He constructed an exploitative, overlong and highly emotive film [pause] that used the manipulative device of cut and paste editing [pause] to create a moving image world [pause] in which the powers of suggestion and affect [pause] were used to create an artificial tone of authority [pause] and an unquestionable air of truth.
Has the inveterate shirt tugging Lacanian's 'right is the real left' shtick gone stale? Is it fair to say the world isn't an undergrad seminar, and bullshit is still bullshit no matter how much psychoanalytic glitter you sprinkle around it? Are you tired of #accelerationism?
Bahama Leaks, the Panama Papers, Roberto Savianno on London being the heart of global financial corruption, and Donald 'that makes me smart' Trump, everywhere you looked in 2K16 there were revelations about tax evasion on a massive scale.
In a 1936 house of lords ruling (BKA the 'Duke of Westminster Ruling'), which applies not only to Britain, but also to common law countries around the world, it was found that 'every man is entitled, if he can, to order his affairs so that the tax attaching under the appropriate acts is less than it otherwise would be, and if he succeeds in ordering them so as to have secured this result, then however unappreciative the commissioners of inland revenue or his fellow taxpayers may be of his ingenuity, he cannot be compelled to pay an increased tax' and the public has been getting shafted ever since.
This year the most recent Duke of Westminster will receive £9 billion in inheritance not subject to the normal 40% rate of tax, because it is distributed in a series of trusts. While both Apple and the completely spineless Irish government appealed against the EU ruling that it should pay Ireland the €13 billion it owes in unpaid tax.
While UKUS/EU governments use divide and rule to play citizens and residents off against each other through xenophobia, racism, classicism, sexism and every other tool in the bigots handbook, the elephant in the room is tax evasion. But the greatest trick elites ever pulled, was convincing vast swathes of the general public that immigration, the destruction of the welfare state and privatisation were preferable to the recuperation of trillions of $s, £s and €s in unpaid tax, hidden in trusts and offshore shell companies.
The rise of the multicultural far right
What do you get when you mix the manosphere, occult esotericism, Nazism, the alt right, various shades of European nationalism, trolls, Boer dopper philosophy, and bizarro world identity politics? Yep the new far right, a hotchpotch of disparate and conflicting ideologies unable to see they have become what they supposedly despise…multicultural.
Political Reticence in the Art World/the bourgeois consensus (UK edition)
Call it the Friezeification (as in the art fair and trade journal) of the mid to top-tier, UK art world. Call it the pressure of diversifying income streams, the new commercial common sense, the apolitical turn. Call it what you want. In the most politically volatile year of the decade one thing was clear, a risk averse mid to top-tier, UK art world looked the other way.
There were plenty of artists producing incisive and aesthetically sophisticated, politically engaged works of varying levels of directness. But open a magazine, attend a biennial, or scan an awards ceremony and you'd struggle to see the evidence.
What's maddening is that it's all a simple matter of balance. But, even my own tame calls for parity of coverage (i.e. we need more attention paid to, and not some complete takeover by, politically engaged work) were met with eye rolls and protests of the 'all art cannot be political' variety. Unbelievable really. At a time when voting publics are starved of information and increasingly pushed towards xenophobia, racism and a disdain for the welfare state, institutional backs were turned on an opportunity to inform, galvanise, and 'activate spectators' through art.
With depressing predictability it all boiled down to privelege, or that particular brand of 'dinner party pragmatism' espoused by COS/Margiela/Burberry wearing, mid to top-tier arts profs. In other words, if poverty, evictions, food banks, austerity, racism, precarity, unemployment, mental health, social cleansing and street homelessness, were just 'topics of discussion' you tossed around at dinners/fundraisers, then you were happy to keep your head in the sand. Once more for 2K17….
Its not about forcing artists to make politically engaged work; it's about giving some space to the artists, critics, curators and collectives whose work already is.
The 2K17 Venice Biennale Statement
Starting from the wandering thoughts of the artist, his workshop, his terrestrial and spiritual nourishment, his material and mental workplace, the Exhibition organically evolves in a sequence of pavilions, rooms and stanze, offering the spectator an experience, i.e. a journey, from the interiority to the infinity.
Was Christine Macel high when she wrote the 'statement' for the 2K17 Venice Biennale? Have you ever had 'an experience, i.e. a journey' before? Will Viva Art Viva be to the large scale international Biennale, what Danielle Steel's novels are to literary fiction? Does President Paolo Barrata's description read less like a biennale and more like an appetite whetter for a unique artists-based human zoo?
By finding inspiration in a humanist vision and keeping the focus on the artist's creative act, the Mostra will also promote a new and more intense dialogue between visitors and many of the artists on display, through a programme of meetings specifically designed in time and space for the occasion.
Celebrity Artists Gone Wild
What makes celebrity artists go wild? Is it their access to significantly larger funds/project budgets/plusher real estate than the rest of us? Is it their heightened spiritual/aesthetic/political sensibilities? I've no idea, but this year showing a spectacular lack of awareness was the order of the day. Whether it was Marina Abramovic's bizarre racism, the gigantic misstep of Ai Weiwei, Richard Prince claiming Instagram appropriation as 'his art', or Grayson Perry (CBE) speaking after dinner truth to power, they were all at it.
Kelley Walker's Direct Drive @ CAM, St Louis
Walker's appropriation of protest photographs from the civil rights era, featuring a black protestor being violently beaten by a police officer (upon which he smeared white milk and dark chocolate), sparked justified dissent and critique at the Contemporary Art Museum, St Louis. For many, provocation seemed the obvious point this gesture in a city host to recent protests against the continued killings of African Americans by US police.
As reported by Art Monthly 'Walker was duly given a platform to explain his reasons - as a white American man - for appropriating the Civil Rights imagery,' but 'gave such a muddled response to the question about the imagery from local artist Damon Davis that chief curator Jeffrey Uslip [who has since resigned] had to step in'. According to Davis 'when confronted with an actual black person, Walker became flustered and angry and had no actual answer for why he was using these images…if you use black people as props in your work, then at least be ready to explain yourself.' Was this another spectacular lack of awareness? Another contemporary artist gone wild?
The world changed 'a lot' in 2K16. But what do you think?
Is there a new bourgeois consensus in the UK art world? If so, is the US/EU the same?
Did you predict the Donald Trump presidency like Noam Chomsky's wife?
What new experiences, i.e. journeys, typified your 2K16?
Have you ever specially designed a meeting in time and space via Grind/Brenda/Tinder?
What are you looking forward to in 2K17?