Here it is. The ten bestest artsy things from my year. They’re in no particular order because every time I try to rank them a different thing wins. This is the eternal hell for an amateur critic; desperately trying to rank your favourite things into a 500 word blog post and NEVER BEING SATISFIED. Only thing worse than that is if I see something INCREDIBLE in the next 15 days and have to edit and republish and all that bollocks. I’m just going to spend the rest of December with my eyes closed.
JEREMY DELLER RETROSPECTIVE AT THE HAYWARD
Ever since I saw this exhibition my life has been a constant struggle to stop myself getting a huge BRIAN EPSTEIN DIED FOR YOU tattoo. Just writing this is going to dredge it all up again. I knew I loved Jeremy Deller’s work but I didn’t realise quite how much until it was all put together for me like this. I laughed for ages at morris dancers and ravers edited together and then sobbed like a child about Orgreave and the Tories. He’s the greatest living artist working today.
TRACK BY GRAEME MILLER AT FIERCE
I was working at Fierce this year so basically spent the whole 10 days in the imminent meltdown zone of my stress-graph, but I managed to steal half an hour on a clear Sunday morning to be pushed along underneath Spaghetti Junction while staring at the overpasses above. Gorgeous, serene, witty, a bit daft. Wish I could start every Sunday like this.
BRAND NEW ANCIENTS BY KATE TEMPEST
To be honest, any of the three (four?) times I’ve seen Kate Tempest this year could be included here. I’m such a sucker for her stuff, and the incredible way she delivers it; clutching at her body and gesticulating and kind of making her voice go all yearning sometimes. Brand New Ancients was new material about growing up and finding your way but also finding the god and the monster within you. And the band was UNBELIEVABLE. You think drum solos are boring and embarrassing but it turns out you haven’t been listening to the right drum solos.
Music! I used to be so fucking mad for hipster music that I was like the worst “you won’t have heard of them” knobhead in the history of the whole universe. Then I had an epiphany moment and realised what a total knob I must sound like and have been a bit reticent to rave about a band since. But I first got the Django Django record in Feb sometime and it’s soundtracked this year like nothing else. It’s like a party-ready Beta Band. Still haven’t forgiven Alt-J for stealing their rightful Mercury.
If anything has a claim on being the actual number one best thing of 2012, Three Kingdoms is it, purely because of the enormous effect it’s had on me as an audience member. I saw it in May and it has basically ruined all theatre for me since then. It was so compelling, so visually relentless, so completely different to anything I’ve ever seen before that I now leave shows feeling a bit like I’ve just had boring quickie sex and failed to orgasm. I have to write 20,000 words about Three Kingdoms in 2013. BRING. IT. ON.
As possibly the world’s biggest fan of The Wire, it took me a surprisingly long time to get round to watching Treme, but the catch-up filled my summer downtime with trad jazz and Indian chants and call-and-response and the second line. And, of course, the very real and very serious aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. David Simon is such an important voice. Season 4 of Treme is going to be its final season. Like The Wire, it will have achieved more in a few hours of telly than even great shows like Mad Man or Breaking Bad. They just can’t be compared.
TINO SEHGAL IN TURBINE HALL
The Tate’s Turbine Hall becomes the star of everything that it hosts, and Tino Sehgal’s performance piece didn’t try to fight it with big noises and big actions. He put a load of performers in there and told them to run around like starlings at the end of a pier; sometimes gathering together, sometimes flitting about into corners, sometimes stopping to sing. Each starling had a story to tell and I spent a wonderful twenty minutes discussing cross-dressing and sexuality with a young Greek man who said he liked my hair. It felt special and important and personal. I walked away thinking that work like this should be available on the NHS.
HOME SWEET HOME BY SUBJECT TO CHANGE AT SPILL
This is one which benefited from my being so completely ready for a sit down when I got there. It’s basically a huge craft project; building an idealised town-within-a-town that comes with its own community radio station and postman. My property was no 33 and it was a modern townhouse with balcony overlooking the river. I still carry the key in my purse. Like Tino Sehgal, it felt like a time-out from reality; a few hours to sit and think and decorate something and have it feel like there is a purpose.
ADAM MAREK - THE STONE THROWER
The first collection of stories by Adam Marek, Instruction Manual For Swallowing, made such an impression on me in 2008 that I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve done my underwater gorilla impression since then. Short stories rarely impress me, generally because it takes me a while to get in the zone with reading and then it’s all over already, but Adam’s stories are sometimes like smells and sounds and tastes rather than stories. He starts this collection with a reminder of the sheer brutality of life, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t breathe throughout The Stone Thrower itself. I don’t have a lot of time for fiction anymore, but I’m still pretty certain that there are very few writers like Adam Marek out there.
Is that ten? *counts*
As for 2013, the thing I’m most looking forward to right now is a new album from Lady Gaga. Not for the songs of course (although the singles will no doubt be BANGERS), but because she will be putting outrageous things on her body on chat shows and MTV Awards and stuff. The world is a better place with Lady Gaga in it.
So I’m starting my MA in less than 2 weeks now, and I’ve set up a new academic blog to accompany my studies. The first post is about Kate Tempest’s Brand New Ancients. You might like it if you come here mainly for theatre reviews. You won’t like it if you come here for swearing and references to The Wire.
Don’t worry. This isn’t the end for us.
I first saw Kate Tempest at Glastonbury in 2007 when she was sharing a bill (in a tea tent) with my friend Gideon. I watched her in a big muddy mess of drugs and gore-tex and, like absolutely everything I clapped eyes on at the time, I thought she was the best thing I had ever seen. Then I forgot all about her until she wrote a play for Paines Plough, and when I talked to my new theatre friends I said “Oh yeah Kate Tempest. I saw her in 2007 at Glastonbury in a tea tent because she was sharing a bill with my friend Gideon. I used to be into gigs and festivals and stuff y’know.” But I never saw the play because I’m more bothered about direction and fancy production tricks than the playright.
And then tonight, a month before I leave Leicester, I went to an incredible spoken word night at a local theatre and she was headlining. It was full of cool young people in the kind of hats that make old people look old and young people look cool. It’s been sunny so there were young cool men in hats and vests. Dead Poets were on and did some stuff about the similarities between poetry and rapping, and then Polarbear came on and I was all like “oooh I’ve seen his one-man theatre show because I’m into theatre now y’know” and then an amazing poem by the guy who organised it and he was wearing dungarees with the straps hanging down like cool young people do in the summer, and then Kate Tempest.
When you’re at the theatre it’s brilliant and everything but deep down you know they’re pretending. Even with the kind of theatre you see where they’re not in character and there’s no fourth wall and they respond to the audience and have a slideshow or something, you know they’re ordering things in a way that makes their story work best. With spoken word, with poems, with Kate Tempest’s stuff, even though it’s totally constructed and rehearsed and edited and all that, it remains this raw flow of emotion where she raps some bits and says others and even sings others still as if she’s having some kind of floaty religious thing with her eyes closed and her head back. I completely love her. I was crying by about the third poem, and even in one of the talky bits in between where she said that we should all embrace the thing in our lives that’s bigger than us but makes us realise who we are, whether that’s hip-hop like it was for her, or something else. She did a poem for her sister that it actually feels really difficult to write about now but when she was says the words onstage it felt so natural to be hearing about all the most special, private, intimate things about her family. She gave me a lump in my throat and a smile on my face and I am completely unable to articulate it any better than that. It wasn’t anything like theatre because there wasn’t any pretending at all. I absolutely love her.