This was a short-lived tradition I started almost a decade ago, and I’m stoked to reboot it. Here, I put forward four Top 5 lists of my own: The Top 5 people I newly met in 2017, The Top 5 people I’d like to meet because of what they did (or the work I saw from them) in 2017, The Top 5 exhibitions for me (what I found most enjoyable), and The Top 5 shows I wish I had seen, but didn’t. Hope you like it! Feel free to comment, leaving any things/people I missed but might (or should have) enjoy(ed)!
The Top 5 people I newly met in 2017
- Julian James Lafayette Stern. My newborn son. Obvs. Also his mom is AMAZING.
De Angela Duff co-runs the Integrated Digital Media program, a creative technology degree (er, set of degrees – undergraduate, masters, and PhD) in the engineering college at New York University. She restructured it to be more creative – to cover design and arts thinking along with utilitarian engineering skills – and grew it to more than double its size in a few short years. All this and she is a proud woman of color to boot. She hosted me in New York, along with Luke (below) for a talk I gave at their program last Spring.
Luke DuBois co-hosted me on my aforementioned New York visit. He and his work are fun, smart, political, and engaging on so many levels. He is most known for his “human portraits made from data” (this is Dubois’s TED talk) and for his work on Cycling74’s artful Software Development App, Max. He’s also a great teacher and composer, and a generous seeker of funds for his students; and one can get a real pulse on liberal news simply by watching his Twitter or Facebook feed fly by…
- All my new studio assistants: Mary Widener, Jenna Marti, Alex Gugg, Josh Passon, Reid Finley, and Olivia Overturf (actually, I met Olivia in 2016, but it’s a fit). These folks have been working feverishly on new sculptures, new experiments, my new card game, and more. They do so with passion, creativity, and professionalism, all while having to put up with a very strange boss.
Maggie Sasso was a Nohl Fellow (a big deal in Milwaukee) a few years back, and we were thrown together for side-by-side solo shows coming up in Madison’s Watrous Gallery in Fall 2018. We decided to meet up to discuss the space… and eventually agreed to collaborate! I’ve had a blast getting to know her, her work, and her family. She is very generous, very smart, very fun, and both creatively thoughtful and thoughtfully creative. If you don’t know her or her art… do yourself a favor! It’s humorous and tragic, with both implied and explicit narratives from the sites and lives she touches.
The Top 5 people I’d like to meet because of what they did (or the work I saw from them) in 2017
- Amanda Boetzkes is someone whose work I only briefly encountered while doing research for my new manuscript, and who then wound up giving amazing and insightful feedback on an earlier draft of that text, pushing me towards the book it eventually became. The book is, without any doubt, much stronger because of her constructive criticism. Boetzkes has some wonderful texts out there already, and I am eagerly awaiting her new book project, Ecologicity: Vision and Art for A World to Come, which “analyzes the aesthetic and perceptual dimensions of imagining the ecological condition.” More on Amanda Boetzkes via her website, or check out some of her writing via Amazon.
- N. Katherine Hayles’ How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics was hugely influential on my dissertation and thinking, and I still cite her regularly in my classes and texts. Almost 20 years later, her 2017 Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious differentiates between a thinking that describes “thoughts and capabilities associated with higher consciousness such as rationality, the ability to formulate and manipulate abstract concepts, linguistic competencies, and so on,” and “cognition” (2), which is the nonconscious capacity for processing information, the latter gained through biological sensation or perception, or technological sensors, mechanical feedback, or data received from external sources, among other things. Cognition, in other words, is a “much broader faculty” extant on some level “in all biological life-forms and many technical systems” (14). Hayles wants to have the humanities engage with and better understand “the specificities of human-technical cognitive assemblages and their power to transform life on the planet” through a more coherent “ethical inquiry” (3-4). She wants us to look more closely at what and how those systems act, cognize, and think, what we do with and as them, and why. Hers is an important premise and fascinating study of the “supporting environments” humans are “embedded and immersed in,” which “function as distributed cognitive systems” (2). As I said in an earlier briefiew of the book, I found myself alternatively nodding with approval ,and shaking my head in disagreement, while reading, but that is precisely because this is such an interesting field with too much to debate. And Hayles’s bringing these ideas into the humanities is unmistakably important, and may prove to be another game-changer.
Kathy High is the super cool bio artist behind Blood Wars, where participants contribute their white blood cells toward battle against each other in a petri dish, until only one winner in this (literally) bloody tournament remains. We’ve shot a few emails back and forth around the section I wrote about her work in my upcoming book, but I’d love to meet her in person.
- Ben Davis is the author of 9.5 Theses on Art and Class and an all-around great writer on the arts, aesthetics, pop culture, and how they all relate to both everyday and overarching politics. He is smart, and funny, and manages to wrap up a lot of difficult-to-understand aesthetic and cultural philosophy and theory into easier to understand texts, when it is called for. Part activist, part writer, part arts and culture critic, whenever I stumble onto his writings I always read and enjoy them, and imagine a coffee or beer with Ben would be fun and enlightening.
- Lin-Manuel Miranda. This is a no-brainer. If you don’t know who he is, I can’t help you. Hell, I feel like I’m pretty late to his fan club myself…
The Top 5 exhibitions for me (what I found most enjoyable)
Electronic Renaissance, Bill Viola at Palazzo Strozzi, Florence. I find Viola’s slow motion and high definition video installations of the last decade to be mesmerizing; where he began as an experimental video artist, playing with time and image, he has now mastered that material and discipline. He has long been re-staging historical (mostly religious) paintings, with a few moments before and after in his detailed slo-mo imagery, and this exhibition curated his updates alongside the originals. It was a wonder to take my time with the show, an affective and curious ride…
- The Venice Biennale. I finally made it out! What an amazing few days of jumping around contemporary art and ideas, and a beautiful city. I’d never been (though some of my work has been part of the periphery), and I feel like this was a very strong year. Candice Breitz has always been a favorite (since my time in South Africa, 2001-2006), and I was very pleased to be introduced to the work of Michel Blazy.
Hail Now we Sing Joy, Rashid Johnson at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Locals: if you missed this, you missed out. Johnson is a master of mixed media and installation, using materials that allude to race and gender, identity and escape, while pushing us to explore how we think-with ourselves and our surroundings, histories and presents, materials and how and why they matter. Not only are there explicit ties to politics and its knowns and unknowns, but implications of ecology and more long-term accountability, and where these coincide with issues of race and class, interpersonal relationships and how they function.
- Stacey Williams-Ng, tour of Black Cat Alley. Wlliams-Ng has amplified how Milwaukee murals are acts of politics, dialog, community, and commercialism, all in one. Black Cat Alley has launched a lot of debate and new business, a shining light on a number of locally featured artists. Yes, there was some controversy around Adam Stoner’s mural (and again when it was painted over) – but in my opinion the outcomes of the conversations it spurred have had a net positive effect, mostly because of the generosity of everyone involved. It was great to get a group tour with other generous folks in the Fall of 2017.
- Shane Walsh at The Alice Wilds. I did not review this show because it was before my blog was rebooted, but I did follow up with this post about Shane’s work a few months later.
The Top 5 shows I wish I had seen, but didn’t.
Skulptur Projekte Münster. Only every ten years, this citywide exhibition sees new permanent commissions, several exhibitions and ephemeral projects, and a whole history of work of years gone by. I went a decade ago and … wow, it was like a treasure hunt! I hope I make it again some day.
- Sara Cwynar’s Rose Gold at Foxy Production. I’m just gonna pull from the text on this one, because it totally nails it: “Apple’s Rose Gold iPhone [tracks] how the phone acts as a talisman of desire for objects, people, power, and money. The film considers how individuals — the artist is one of its protagonists – negotiate complicated feelings of love and hate for commercial objects and how features such as touch and 3D resonate directly with the user’s emotions and imagination.”
- Sean Slemon’s Confluence Tree. I LOVE Sean’s work, and wrote the catalog essay for this one – but sadly had to miss it. More on his work and this show via this post.
- “Merce Cunningham: Common Time” at the Walker Art Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Mostly known for his cutting-edge and revolutionary choreography from mid-last century until his death in 2009, Cunningham also collaborated across genres and disciplines from installations to theatre, costumes to printmaking, painting, music, and more. I’ve loved and appreciated much of the work by his contemporary William Forsythe, and I imagine this show was stunning…
- Wanås Konst. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure I understand what is going on here, but it looks RAD. I love it.
Comment with your lists!!!