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.
Do you remember back in February when I quit my job “to focus on university”? Turns out I’ve replaced it with telly box sets, and I’m back to doing uni assignments in between juggling Twin Peaks and Treme and the new series of Mad Men. Mad Men is stunning, as usual, but I can’t really talk about that here because the Spoiler Police will abseil through my windows in balaclavas.
The first series of Treme, on the other hand, was shown, like, a billion years ago in telly terms. Also, I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that in 2005 there was this fuck-off great big hurricane called Katrina that decimated possibly the world’s most culturally important city. Watching Treme is hard work. It’s miserable. Everything in New Orleans is broken and fucked-up and nobody can get back on their feet because the police and government are corrupt and ineffectual, and the local economy is failing because nobody can come home from wherever they went when the storm hit. And the music is so beautiful and heartbreaking. I can do a maximum of two episodes at a time before it gets me so down that I have to do some melancholic staring out of the window or go downstairs to start a fight about the washing up.
Basically, you have to watch it because it’s important telly.