On the guest list to this year’s clickfest are many of the guest curators that Cureditor has been blessed with over the past 18 months. In addition to the usual year-end lists and in the spirit of democracy (which has worked out so well for humanity this year) I’ve opened up the pool and asked our guests for a small selection of articles published in 2016 that they felt were particularly remarkable or noteworthy. And for some editors, I asked them to provide a bonus selection from their own publication. Happy reading.
Gary Younge’s writing for The Guardian has been consistently brilliant all year so it was hard to pick out just one piece, but his post-Brexit piece for the reliably readable Long Reads sticks out as a highlight. Five months later, when the whole situation remains just as unstable and unknowable as it was in the immediate aftermath of Younge’s feature, the sense he highlights of being “simultaneously in freefall and standstill” remains as palpable as ever | If you grew up reading Ian Penman’s dispatches for the music press, his occasional series of long profiles for the LRB over the last few years – on Elvis, Kate Bush, and so on – serves as a real treat, full of a wealth of detailed knowledge and marvellous turns of phrase. His piece on Patti Smith, is no exception | Over the last few years, photos of surreal, abstract sculptures in the countryside of the former Yugoslavia have become hot currency in the online attention economy, turning up everywhere from teenage tumblr blogs to erudite design websites. But Owen Hatherley here argues that in stripping them of their original context, the internet is turning what were once proud, locally-sourced monuments to anti-fascist struggle into little more than exoticised communist kitsch.
Gary Younge, The Guardian
Ian Penman, London Review of Books
Bonus selection from The Quietus:
– A Revolution In Mores: Tino Sehgal Takes Over The Palais De Tokyo
I found Tino Sehgal’s ‘Carte Blanche’ takeover at the Palais de Tokyo simultaneously one of the most interesting and troubling art exhibitions of 2016. As an interview subject, the artist proved equal to his work. “Were Tino Sehgal’s works an indictment of the forced affective labour that characterises twenty-first century workplaces like Starbucks or merely another example of it?” I wondered as I wrote the piece. “Was I supposed to feel this alienated, this disturbed by each hollow-eyed simulacrum of a genuinely meaningful human encounter? Talking to Sehgal himself I could gather few clues.”
For an incredible profile, Rachel Aviv’s piece on Martha Nussbaum was incredible: “Unlike many philosophers, Nussbaum is an elegant and lyrical writer, and she movingly describes the pain of recognizing one’s vulnerability, a precondition, she believes, for an ethical life.” | To learn something, try Namara Smith’s piece: “Feminism and social protection — have a common history, and their most visible point of intersection and conflict is welfare. Debates over welfare cut to the quick of divergent feminist politics in America, between “equality” and “difference” feminists, and welfare, more than anything else, is the issue defining Clinton’s primary campaign.” | For pure satisfaction, Sam Kriss’s article on political ‘eviscerations’: “The notion of politics as a sphere of competing interests has vanished. Instead, political differences are arranged by degrees of knowledge and ignorance. You don’t need to actually offer people anything to induce them to vote the right way; they just need information.”
Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker
Namara Smith, N+1
Bonus selection from The Point:
– Understanding Is Dangerous
Here’s a piece from The Point that I thought was pretty exceptional–it was published just before the election but has continued to be relevant since.
My favourite essay of the year was this piece by Zadie Smith. To me, it’s the best description of the heartbreak that has been this year. It was a perfect snapshot of the whirlwind of events and emotions that followed Brexit, but it’s later proven to be a clairvoyant portrait of the state of the world in 2016 | This year, I’ve been very interested in how feminism has become totally commodified. It becoming mainstream would be fantastic if the –”trend” was about actual inequality, and action to change the many political and social issues women still face in all areas of life and work. Instead, it seems to have turned into a fancy word to flaunt around and put in cool t-shirts, without any substance underneath. How ideal for the patriarchy. I’m interested in exploring this “marketplace feminism” more – if you are too, this piece is a good start | A good profile gives me so much satisfaction as a reader. This, written by Michael Schulman, is the perfect mix of a fascinating subject and sublime writing. I’d been craving a good, in-depth piece about the brilliant Nef, whom I had discovered thanks to Transparent, and this was it.
Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books
Sarah Jaffe, The New Republic
Michael Schulman, The New Yorker
BONUS SELECTION from Literary Hub:
– Rebecca Solnit: How to Survive a Disaster
We survive by coming together, and Rebecca Solnit has, thank goodness, written a whole book about how that happens especially after disasters. Here is an essential extract of that essential book, on how we can (must) build a paradise in hell, together.
The Cinematologists are Neil Fox, course co-ordinator in Film at Falmouth University and Dario Llinares, principal lecturer in Contemporary Screen Media at University of Brighton. They also make podcasts “interrogating and celebrating film culture”.
Three podcast episodes: 2016’s WTF slate had some more great cinematic interviews including the likes of Ron Perlman, John Carpenter and Joe Dante. However our favourite chat was with Michael Shannon. Maron again showing his consummate humanism and compassion to draw out insight and depth from a notoriously prickly and off kilter interviewee | We were going to go with David Remnick’s inspirational episode of maybe our favourite podcast, but the episode with Wesley Morris centred around his incredible article “Last Taboo: Why Pop Culture Just Can’t Deal With Black Male Sexuality” won out. The conversation is incredibly powerful – covering personal ideas around sexual and racial identity as well as being offended, but also in what Morris has to say about writing, and criticism, and why we write and engage with the cultural and social world. Unmissable | One of the best film podcasts around delivered this doozy (that apparently caused significant backlash) with their roundtable lambasting some of the most revered cinematic stylists in an episode that was funny and deeply critical but also, as usual with this podcast, maintains a wonderful critical voice that is rigorous, thoughtful and reasoned.
Max Linsky + Evan Ratliff, Longform Podcast
Violet Lucca, Film Comment
Bonus selection from The Cinematologists podcast:
– Broken Embraces
It’s been a great year for the podcast, one that has seen us branch out with new partners, delve deeper into cinema and score some great interviews as well create an exciting, experimental episode for the Journal of Media Practice. However, it was our first collaboration with Curzon that gets the nod. It was a joy to screen an Almodovar film for some London cinephiles and talk about his work. What was really rewarding, something also related to our Lost in Translation ep, was discussing a film that is flawed and problematic but finding the good in it and being able to have a full and rounded dialogue about a work that celebrates but doesn’t shy away from criticism and honesty regarding flaws in a work.
Beginning with the death of David Bowie and ending with the ascent of a game show POTUS, taking in mass murder, a resurgent Russia and a suicidal exit from the European Union along the way, 2016 is surely one of the worst years in living memory. Fuck it all to Hell: Firstly, the novelist John Lanchester writes on the reality of Brexit, and what it actually means for the many working class voters who enthusiastically voted with their feet. It’s not wot they thought it was | In light of Donald Trump’s proposed Mexican wall, and “the great wall of Calais”, Andrew Solomon, author of the wonderful, Wellcome Book Prize winning book about difference, Far From the Tree, on the symbolic power of walls | Writer, curator and stationery aficionado James Ward wrote the best elucidation of the death of David Bowie, which as a bonus caused that ridiculous berk Giles Coren to meltdown on Twitter | Lastly, a brilliant episode of Carrie Plitt & Octavia Bright’s radio show and podcast Literary Friction with writer Gary Younge on his book Another Day in the Death of America which details a single day when 10 young lives were lost to gun violence.
John Lanchester, London Review of Books
James Ward, I Like Boring Things
Carrie Plitt + Octavia Bright, Literary Friction
Bonus selection from Little Atoms:
– Trump’s orange revolution
Here’s former US Department of Defence analyst Aaron Azlant on How Donald Trump appropriated Russian propaganda methods for the 2016 US election.
Hanna Hurr interviews the radical feminist, activist and pioneer Silvia Federici. Author of the groundbreaking book Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, in which Federici reframed development of capitalism through the lens of the European witch-hunt, which subjugated of women and enforced reproductive labour | I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on Angela Carter and was particularly enthused to see a new biography had been written. Turner’s review of Edmund Gordon’s book interweaves biographical information, with references to inspirations, and a series of wonderful quotes | In Rachel Cusk’s wonderful piece she explores the minutiae and subtle nuances of the human condition through the lens of domesticity and home building.
Hanna Hurr, Mask Magazine
Jenny Turner, London Review of Books
Rachel Cusk, The New York Times
Bonus selection from Orlando:
– Sidsel Meineche Hansen: SECOND SEX WAR
“Are you ready to become the new flesh?”
George Mind explores the intersections between gender, pornography and the acceleration of technology in her review of Sidsel Meineche Hansen’s solo exhibition (SECOND SEX WAR ZONE 7 Mar – 29 May 16) at Gasworks in London.
Owen Hatherley is a writer and journalist who writes on architecture and politics
Among the many horrible things which made a comeback in 2016 was the 1980s idea that people are simply too thick, too brutal or too poor to be allowed good, high-density, cheap, city-centre housing. Tom Wilkinson’s account of these ideas – where they came from, and where they’re going – was the best architecture piece of 2016 for me | This has been a year which has been acutely trying for the mental health of anyone who believes that human beings are capable of creating a superior society to the cruel mess we currently live in. Hannah Proctor’s excellent piece traces how revolutionaries in the past tried, or more often failed, to come up with new models of therapy to help themselves through similarly politically and psychologically miserable situations | I could pick pretty much anything written by James Butler when it comes to ‘best political writing of 2016’: a staggeringly skillful and deft writer who resembles a much younger, less mandarin, more engaged Perry Anderson. His work for Novara Media has been consistently good, but his piece on the EU and Brexit stands out.
– Outrage : ‘The destruction of social housing has been legitimised by conservative urbanism’s useful idiots’
Tom Wilkinson, The Architectural Review
Hannah Proctor, Radical Philosophy
James Butler, Novara Media
Pamela Hutchinson is a freelance journalist and film critic based in London
Bookmakers are multiplying on British high streets. Even beyond worries about the rise of gambling addiction, Tom Lamont’s long, and troubling, piece reveals how dangerous the working conditions are for the staff behind the counter | Nick Pinkerton tackles the way the internet has changed film criticism, from chatty geek blogs to Twitter outrage and the print establishment’s rush to fill the web with content: “Nobody can stop traffic, and the cultural landscape is a passing blur” | Zadie Smith’s latest novel Swing Time is full of brilliance and she expands on one of its thematic strands: the history of dance and dance stars. The parallels she draws between dancing and writing are especially fascinating.
Tom Lamont, The Guardian
Zadie Smith, The Guardian
Couldn’t agree more with Evan Goldstein’s profiles of young academic publishers in the States, and what it’s reporting on is what I and four by three magazine aspire to | Adam Curtis’ outstanding BBC documentary, Hypernormalisation is edited down to a bitesize video for VICE. You could watch the entire thing of course, and you should but this will whet your appetite. After all, it’s fitting that Adam Curtis interpreted for the internet world is really an attempt to get lazy people to watch a 3-hour documentary | Richard Brody’s film obituaries are regularly excellent, and while I’m not claiming this is the best article on Kiarostami, it’s the article I read when I found out that he died. I was and still am heartbroken.
Adam Curtis, VICE
Bonus selection from four by three magazine:
– CEMETERY OF SILENCE: in conversation with Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Daniel Levin Becker
Picking out three articles from a year that continually beggared articulation was bound to be a challenge, but here in the U.S. in late November the skew feels especially unavoidable. So I’m passing over deservedly much-discussed pieces like Claire Vaye Watkins’s “On Pandering,” Anna Wiener’s “Uncanny Valley,” and Hua Hsu’s lucid and often moving cultural dispatches in/at The New Yorker in favor of those essays that loom biggest through the lens of my current grappling with reality and meaning, whatever those words even mean right now.
Jeremy Gordon, The New York Times
Abbey Mei Otis, Full Stop
Bonus selection from McSweeney’s:
– DONALD TRUMP CONCEDES THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF MEANING IN THE CONTEXT OF INTERTEXTUAL HEGEMONY
Colin Marshall is a writer, video essayist and podcaster who, amongst other things, examines the portrayal of cities in film
“The heroic picture of the individual heretic standing against the church, the dissenter against the state, the artist against the mass culture, has been fading for a while and we have not yet found anything to put in its place” | “It’s hard enough getting a person out of a war – it’s harder getting the war out of the person. Whether we wish it or not, memory is faithful as a shadow. We forget that when memory goes, we go. Without memory, we’re nothing” | “When they come, in the first month or two months they want to go back,’ he said. ‘It’s too boring in the new world.’ The turning point generally comes after a year and a half. ‘It’s usually the children, who graduate, and they say, “I love Canada. This is like heaven—I don’t want to go back.”
David Bromwich, London Review of Books
Peregrine Hodson, Granta
Jiayang Fan, The New Yorker
Sophie Mayer is a poet and film activist
“I have lived in autocracies most of my life, and have spent much of my career writing about Vladimir Putin’s Russia. I have learned a few rules for surviving in an autocracy and salvaging your sanity and self-respect. It might be worth considering them now” | “Although a ‘work in progress,’ the current #StandingRockSyllabus places what is happening now in a broader historical, political, economic, and social context going back over 500 years” | “The essay is complete when I feel a satisfactory hollow in my gut. When my partner refuses to read any more drafts because they’ve read nine variations. When I dream abstractly of it and for at least a few days and I refuse to shower wanting to keep the anger on my skin.”
Masha Gessen, The New York Review of Books
Matt Chrisler, Jaskiran Dhillon + Audra Simpson, Public Seminar
Jennifer Tamayo, Mice Magazine
“Aided by a rapidly developing neural network, perhaps she could speak with her friend once again. She set aside for a moment the questions that were already beginning to nag at her. What if it didn’t sound like him?What if it did?” Casey Newton’s essay explores the post-mortem bot; the first piece you may read about AI after death, but not the last | “Organisations hire smart people, but then positively encourage them not to use their intelligence. Asking difficult questions or thinking in greater depth is seen as a dangerous waste.” On why our jobs are stupid, and why they encourage us to be so as well | “Whoever wins Miss America gets $50,000. That’s enough for 8,333 pretzels.” On beauty pageants and the commodification of attractiveness, and why everything is dreadful, including us.
Casey Newton, The Verge
Kathleen Hale, Mary Review
Adrian Martin’s expansive and compulsive feature in LOLA journal has provided me with a manifesto regarding my film consumption | The majority of this list is made up of articles of keen insight. So much of my reading around film involves me demanding writers to reach conclusions I couldn’t reach on my own, telling me something I didn’t know. In the case of Bryan Burrough’s article, what I didn’t know was a gripping – almost unbelievable – yarn about the Noir-like history of a Film Noir prop | Robert Greene’s Unfiction column for Sight & Sound is also a must-read but he knocked it out of the park with his piece on Donald Trump and non-fiction performance back in May | Angelica Jade Bastién’s piece on Keanu Reeves is one of those oh so rare beasts that marries eloquence and empathy with keen intellect and an unexpected subject matter | Jenni Olsen’s brilliant psychogeographic journey down The Royal Road is one the unexpected highlights of my film-watching year and is the kind of film to inspire a deeper foray into its particular subgenre. In her article, Olsen herself was subsequently on hand with a guide to the wonderful world of landscape cinema.
Adrian Martin, LOLA Journal
Jenni Olson, Notebook
Adam Scovell is a writer, filmmaker and founder of Celluloid Wicker Man, a site that compiles his writing and films on Folk Horror, Landscape in Film and Literature and British Art House, amongst many other interests
I don’t think there’s a more important writer currently working at the moment than Rebecca Solnit. She genuinely gives me hope in a time when the most horrific aspects of our human behaviour has been normalised. As much as I love Bob Dylan, with Solnit currently alive, working and writing with such power and brilliance, it’s an ongoing travesty that she has yet to be awarded the Nobel Prize | As terrifying as the prospect of the anthropocene is, Macfarlane’s detailed examination of its influence upon the arts, specifically literature, show how important creativity is in a time when it is constantly under threat; due largely to art making arguments and talking about issues in ways that the general media simply have lost the ability and nerve to do | Caught By The River’s collection of work celebrating the life of Roger Deakin marking the 10th anniversary of his death was a beautiful and deeply moving collection of work. Another gentle but rebellious voice much missed and greatly needed today.
Robert Macfarlane, The Guardian
Caught by the River
Liv Siddall is editor of Rough Trade magazine
Emily Chappell’s very personal essay details the life of a cycle courier in London. Reading this for the first time gave me a continuous string of goosebumps. I found myself thinking about this piece of writing later in the day, as if I was pining after a crush. I read it again and again and again over the space of a few days, and I still think about it often | Obviously 2016 will go down as the worst year ever for the amount of treasured members of this earth that were struck down one by one like bowling pins. I felt that Caroline Aherne’s death perhaps didn’t get the attention or the now ubiquitous mourning that other recently-deceased famous names did. She was a true heroine. Clever, hilarious, independent. Sarah Morgan’s obituary does her extraordinary life justice | Angel Olsen’s 2016 album My Woman has honesty changed my life forever. I feel so much for it that I don’t even know where to begin. If you haven’t heard it, let Jillian Makes’ excellent profile set the scene for the incessent firework of a woman that Angel is, then put the album on really really loud and you can thank me afterwards.
Emily Chappell, Five Dials
Sarah Morgan, The Guardian
Jillian Makes, Pitchfork
Robert Urquhart is an editor-at-large for Elephant Magazine, strategic consultant and a lecturer at UAL London College of Communication and a freelance journalist and futurist for many of the world’s leading design press
From Works That Work, No.8, Jessica Vernon’s essay about Bhutan looks at the wry, gentle wisdom of Bhutan’s roadside signs. Lovely | I interviewed Mr Bingo recently for a book I’m writing, he’s a wonderfully odd character, as Muriel Zagha’s interview reinforces. In an often dry and serious world Mr Bingo is making a living telling people to ‘f***k-off’. A much needed artist in 2016 | What a year! This piece by Jude Rogers sums it all up.
Jessica Vernon, Works That Work
Muriel Zagha, Elephant Magazine
For Radiolab, a beautifully woven tale of the mindblowing research done by forest ecologist Suzanne Simard. Simard discovered that trees of different species display complex, cooperative behaviour by sharing resources through vast, subterranean mycorrhizal networks: effectively using fungus as a kind of “internet of trees” | At The Atlantic, a team of researchers from the University of Southern California capture and archive the “impulse responses” of ancient churches. These sonic fingerprints can be used to recreate the acoustics in different locations, but also led to interesting discoveries. The changing shapes and sizes of churches during the 13th century indicate that architecture was actively being used to improve the sound of chanting | On London Underground escalators, standing on the right is universally accepted etiquette. But a Vauhall area manager noticed that commuters in Hong Kong stood patiently on the left and the right, resulting in calmer, more efficient passage. Could this behaviour be imported to the UK? A tale of cities operating at capacity, and the difficulties of changing people’s habits, even if it’s for their benefit.
Annie McEwen + Brenna Farrell, Radiolab
Adrienne LaFrance, The Atlantic
Archie Bland, The Guardian
We’ll be counting down our best of lists for various genres over the next couple of weeks. Keep checking back in our Features section. For more from all the contributors, head over to the curators’ hub.