Art & Culture

2012 was…

be7 Image: screenshot from Bientôt l’été

Some provocations
Last year I made a list of personal highlights, but this year I’m more interested in connecting the dots between some major events/trends this year. I’m going to keep them as brief provocations, triggers for your own thoughts, but follow the links supplied for more background info.

Public Expression & The State
This year saw the sprawling pomp, circumstance, heavy policing and PR highs and lows of the London 2012 Olympics and with it, the Cultural Olympiad. (A) New highs of selling-out public space were reached with the so-called “Brand Exclusion Zone”: “around all Olympic venues, inside which no brands that compete with official sponsor brands can advertise. It’s not just ads — spectators trying to pay with the wrong credit card, will not be welcome.” Sorry sucker — take your Mastercard and try to buy a Whopper somewhere else. (B)

And later in the year in Russia, a feminist punk band called Pussy Riot holds entirely different public displays than flashing a Coors logo instead of Heineken’s. Their radical anti-Putin performances succeed in capturing imaginations, and the band is then submitted to a farcical court procedure and two of the three women on trial are sent to the gulag. Efforts continue to raise awareness about the infringements on free speech and the overall stifling of political debate by imprisoning these women. (C)

The Art World Turns
Like many in the art world, my diary was full to bursting this year with dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Manifesta 9 in Genk, Belgium, ZERO1 in the Bay Area of California, and the return of the Dutch Electronic Art Festival after a short hiatus in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Some pundits have alleged that the art fair took over the place of the festival (sorry, too lazy to dig up these references) but I disagree. Where else but embedded within the stupendously overstuffed, un-seeable-in-their-entirety biennial/triennial/*iennal format can you find so many genuine wonders? (D)

And amid the festival atmosphere and splendor, there was a massive push-back against the art-fair-centred world, and the puppeteers that control that scene, with renowned critic Dave Hickey vowing that he has quit, and art market critic Sarah Thornton vowing the same. (E)

Meanwhile, a small shift occurs in the world of museum acquisition, as MoMA acquires 14 video games for its collection, including classics like Pac-Man and Tetris. More exciting for me, after a three year wait, Belgian game studio Tale of Tales releases Bientôt l’été, a gorgeous experience told through a beautiful soundtrack, minimal but lovely visuals, and lines from Marguerite Duras novels. When I first installed the game, I chose my avatar, took a stroll on the beach (modelled after the Belgian seaside) and the first line that I was hit with was “I desire you a lot.” I sat back in my chair, a little breathless. There is something so moving about this “game”, and it is right in line with the kind of magical experiences Tale of Tales has been providing for nearly a decade now. Long may they continue, and I hope for more experiences like Bientôt l’été in 2013 and beyond. (F)

————————— Footnotes —————————
A) Some standout Cultural Olympiad projects include Forest Pitch by Craig Coulthard (two football matches between recent immigrants to Scotland in the middle of a forest, with the pitch returning to nature afterward), Nowhereisland by Alex Hartley (a micronation which traveled from the high Arctic to southern England), and Jeremy Deller’s inflatable Stonehenge, Sacrilege (creating a bouncy castle out of one of the UK’s best known landmarks), which premiered at Glasgow International and toured the UK.

B) The full article, detailing the lengths that LOCOG went to, is well worth reading:

C) There is a ton of information about Pussy Riot online, this article is a helpful primer.

D) Things that gave me pause at (d)OCUMENTA 13 included Tino Seghal’s This Variation, Jerôme Bel’s Disabled Theater, Janet Cardiff’s Alter Bahnhof video walk; at Manifesta 9 it was simply the venue (and the trek to get there); ZERO1 and DEAF are filled with wonders but as co-curator of both of those it feels a bit odd to make a list of “highlights”.

E) Dave Hickey used superlative language: “It’s time to start shorting some of this shit,” he says of some questionable art investments. And then: “What can I tell you? It’s nasty and it’s stupid. I’m an intellectual and I don’t care if I’m not invited to the party. I quit.” Julian Stallabrass shoots back with some pertinent points: “Yet huge and diverse realms lie beyond the culture and the politics of this tiny elite. The years of the art boom were also those of social media, as millions started to show their photographs, videos, writings and art online. Many of them found that it is not so hard to make things that look like contemporary art. Another reflection—complex, contradictory, vulgar and popular, and in some respects less desolating — lies there.” Sarah Thornton’s Top 10 reasons for leaving the realm of writing about the art market include “The pay is appalling.”

F) Do yourself a favour and go download and play everything Tale of Tales has made, and also read this about the creation of Bientôt l’été.

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