I get asked to list my “best of” a lot. Considering there’s a glut of boring stuff in the world, my usual response is—why more? The main issue is that there’s a howling emptiness out there in the world, a vacuum left by so much of which that happens to be lame: people don’t get multi-culturalism in the digital media scene, they don’t get dynamic art, they don’t get the fact that digital culture has blurred the lines between creativity and participation to the point that the viewer is part of the process of creativity, the list goes on…
As America moves more and more into a world where truth and fiction have changed places, and become a blurred mirror reflection of one another, I hope my Best of 2006 can serve as something of a guide for the perplexed. My hope here is to play the role of “DJ as storyteller,” and talk about how we record collectors are story collectors, with some key updates of late. Forget the old school concept of the bard going from town to town singing songs, or the Griot in West Africa who would play the songs of the villages in his realm: this is the 21st Century rollover—count your cell phone minutes—flow with the flow, ’cause it’s good to go.
November 7th, 2006 was the day that set the U.S. on fire—the Republican reality distortion machine—the war in Iraq, the war at home, games they played with “cultural values,” the hypocrisy, lies, and flat out state of denial (to name a few)— led to massive election losses. That catapulted November onto my “best of” for 2006. Now watching the Republicans struggle with the fact that they had deceived themselves as well as the world has made the results all the more satisfying (and making the month of December a close runner-up).
The Taliban’s destruction of the Buddha’s of Bamiyan in Afghanistan was a world tragedy of historic proportions, highlighting the fact that religious conservatives everywhere are a real drag. One of my favorite projects of 2006 is the proposed reconstruction of the statues as laser projections by the Japanese artist Hiro Yamagata, who will be using a series of lights that will project multiple images of the Buddhas onto the cliffs where the statues once were. The lasers will be wind and solar powered, and the excess electricity will be diverted to help the small villages of the people of Bamiyan.
Yoko Ono’s speech for the Turner Award this year put it all in perspective—leave it to her to bring out the real meaning of so much of what is going on these days. Go Yoko, go! Tomma Abts is the first woman to receive the award. Can you believe its 2006?
Joseph Kosuth’s A Labyrinth into which I can venture (a play of works by guests and foreigners) exhibit at Sean Kelly Gallery. To understand this amazing installation, you need to think about the way that people process language and create stories. The show is a mix of bits and pieces taken from works that were given to Joseph, and woven into a gallery installation. Kosuth’s work is always lyrical, and this is one of those scenarios that seems to mirror the way we live now. It’s art as collective process, narrative of many, distilled by one.
Patti Smith’s The Pythagorean Traveller at Robert Miller Gallery. From visiting the graves of poets and philosophers, to actually making a bed of poetry, Patti Smith is one of my favorite artists working today. So many of us travel, but who actually observes? I’m in a different city almost every couple of days, and all I can say is: Patti, I can relate!
MOMA’s Dada Show speaks for itself.
Roselee Goldberg’s Performa Biennial. Art and culture aren’t just about objects, it’s about the people who activate and relate the whole scenario.
Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion reconstructs a healthy skepticism that I think humanity needs so desperately right now—it’s one of the best books of the year, if only for that. But it’s also an excellent read.
Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Read it and eat anything at your own risk.
Jonathan Lethem’s Promiscuous Materials Project. As usual, Letham is doing something cool and interesting. Here, you can remix and adapt storylines he’s made up and released under the Creative Commons banner. Smart, dynamic, and above all, hey, it’s from a writer who really embodies what Picasso said so long: minor artists copy, great artists steal! At $1 a piece, these stories are a real steal.
Ian Inaba’s American Blackout looks at the vortex of race, politics and voter suppression that’s driven much of American history—and reminds us know that it’s still here, running strong. What was that phrase Santayana mentioned a while ago? Those who can’t really examine the past are doomed to repeat it.
Lupe Fiasco. Yeah, yeah, I know he’s a protégé of Kanye West, but his debut album Food and Liquor has a couple of classic tracks: Daydreamin’ is slammin’, non-normal, non-boring hip-hop. On the other hand… Yo! Why is it that Young Jeezy has to rhyme about being a really good cocaine dealer? Hasn’t anyone read Thomas De Quincy’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater? If that’s too much to handle, I recommend the essay posted on AlterNet, Confessions of an eBay Opium Addict.
I also loved Trojan Records this year, a label for me which defined the year of dub. I have to admit I’m bored by most of the music coming out of the electronic art/experimental scene, and even a fart by Lee Scratch Perry or King Tubby is more creative than half the tracks you hear these days. The real art of sampling began with Jamaican style tape manipulation, loops, and cut up tracks, and yes, people like Steve Reich or Pierre Henri are white guys doing the same thing. But who do you think had the funk first?
From the first panel to the last, Anthony Lappé and Dan Goldman’s Shooting War (presented by SMITH, where I write this—but do so with no prompting) is a graphic novel that takes “cyberpunk” themes from William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, and spits them out into the near future—actually, Iraq about six years from now. Shooting War was the download of the year for me—a free online comic that was uploaded episode by episode. Sure beats Lonelygirl15.
AND THE BEST TV SHOW—AND MEDIA PERSON—OF THE YEAR IS…
Flava Flav!!! Flav Flav!!! Flava Flav!!!
The Flavor of Love, Flav’s TV show, just shows us how far we haven’t moved since the days of Bert Williams. Compare the two, and you can see how eerily Flav updates the minstrel show theme. After all, minstrel shows were America’s first pop culture. Check the vibe, and update the scenario, and—voila!—you have Flavor of Love. Flow with the flow ’cause you’re good to go!