So Christmas is behind us and we are mere days from 2017 and a chance to finally put this strange old year to bed. Now, whatever else you can say about 2016, it has certainly been a year of artistic endeavour and productivity. Therefore, I waited till everyone had got their Facebook top 10s out of their system and then approached a few of Sputnik’s favourite practitioners to ask them what their one favourite piece of art was this year. These are their responses:
Luke Tonge- Stage Four by Touché Amoré
What a year! The ‘piece of art’ that has impacted me most in 2016 is an album by a band I probably wouldn’t even list in my top 20 artists, and who I’ve never seen live, which as a music fan feels odd – but there you go. It dropped into my ears in September and hasn’t left me since. The record is ‘Stage Four’ by post-hardcore LA-based punk quintet Touché Amoré, their fourth full length (the dual meaning of the name – it’s also the highest level of cancer staging — a reference to the fact that leader singer Jeremy Bolm’s mother died of cancer in 2014). For an intense and cacophonous hardcore band such private emotion was only ever going to sit front and centre in their art…and while its not quite a concept album, the theme of grief runs throughout. Stylistically I saw it perfectly described as like “slam poetry set to hardcore.” This is an album of searching, as Bolm sorts through his childhood memories and feelings that have amassed since his mother’s passing. This isn’t a feel-good record, but it’s also not at all as depressing as it sounds! There is hope within. All sounds pretty emo right? Well I guess it is. But it’s full of big hooks, musical cohesion and just the right amount of raw energy to keep you coming back for repeated listens. Pitchfork’s 8.1 scoring review states “Bolm’s hyper-confessional lyrics are a beacon of hope to anyone plagued by anxiety, depression, toxic relationships, and general self-doubt.” and in the year that we’ve all just had – who doesn’t need a bit of that?
You can listen to this brief cathartic 35 minute masterpiece in full here:
Benjamin Harris- Imperial Federation Map of the World (Walter Crane)
At the TATE’s Artist and Empire early this year I came across Walter Crane’s ever-so slightly subversive Imperial Federation Map of The World (1886). This work embodies both what I have begun to study more in 2016 (Politics of Race and Colonisation) and the quiet socialistic defiance within the system (which Crane achieved in his ornate representation of the inequalities of Empire surrounding the cartography). It has certainly been the biggest formal impact on my creative output this year.
Jo Cogle (Joanna Karselis)- Notes on Blindness
What a year for cinema. We’ve had Room, Spotlight, Hell or High Water, Son Of Saul, Love and Friendship, Kubo And The Two Strings, and Hail, Caesar! to name a few, not to mention films I haven’t caught up with yet like Captain Fantastic, Embrace of The Serpent, and Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Special mention for my runner up film of the year goes to Ken Loach’s social commentary I, Daniel Blake; but my film of the year, 2016, is the revolutionary documentary Notes On Blindness.
Notes on Blindness is made up of the audio recordings theologian John Hull created over the period in which he lost his sight. The film uses actors to lip sync along to the tapes, putting the audio alongside arresting visual images of rain and tidal waves and snow to illustrate Aussie-come-Brummie Hull’s story. Although actors lip syncing to audio tapes isn’t a new technique (see The Arbor, 2010), this felt very different to any documentary I’d ever seen before. It was natural, horrifying, and thrilling, honest, raw and brave, all at the same time. Hull’s words have made me completely reassess not only how “blind people and sighted people must see other” in the physical world, but also in the spiritual one. Notes doesn’t shy away from Hull’s Christian faith, and how he wrestles with God as he becomes blind. It ends up being a film about a real man facing real struggle with a real God, and coming through that struggle to find peace. Notes has truly raised the bar for making faith filled films which accurately and honestly depict the difficulties of real Christian life; and it managed to break my heart and put it back together again along the way.
If anyone is interested in finding out more, Hull’s book Touching The Rock is an assimilation of his recordings. For additional viewing, the film’s directors have produced a similarly insightful new documentary called Life, Animated which is about autism and is currently showing in limited screens around the UK.
Chris Donald- Luke Cage
‘Luke Cage’ is far from perfect. Like all Marvel Netflix shows so far, it starts incredibly strong, but the pacing is far too slow, and there are some just-plain-dumb scripting and directing moments. But Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Rosario Dawson and so on brought grace and messy humanity to the reluctant black superhero; and amid the dark cultural brouhaha of 2016, the fictionalised lives of non-white America got airtime, made their mark, and even crashed the Netflix servers – or so the mythology goes. It’s been a year where my heart has sometimes been heavy with what my (future!) kids’ lives and experiences will be, but from ‘Luke Cage’ to ‘Atlanta’, Mike Kiwanuka to Lianne La Havas, it moved me to remember that they will have stories that honestly, artfully, and heroically embrace their colour.