As the chaos of 2017 gives way to a new year, Document asked a number of artists, writers, musicians, and designers to sum up an uncategorizable year in the simplest of ways.
Attempts to categorize the past year often read as cliche or understatement. Neither revealing the full measure of time lived headline to headline, push notification to gasping shock, or, as the calendar peeled back, to stunted acceptance of something developed, announced, revealed. Can you believe it now? It was a blunt trauma to the head, 2017—man. Agree on that. Yet, the year had moments, fleeting certainly, that felt like a spade through the top-soil, hitting on something fresh and eager to be turned over, to be exposed to the energy of the moment. You could see it, oddly, in arguments about language and norm erosion (this is not normal), about what happened (and what to do next), the #resistance and the state of it (its successes, its limits, its artworks), and in the epochal shift brought on by the “revelations,” the wave pool state of deluge summoned in the #metoo moment. We were making sense of new spectres, of progress interrupted, settling the contentious legacies of generations past. No one was spared witness. The year was spent, in many ways, simply constructing vocabulary for these times, agreeing on the terms, codifying the measurements for events to come, rigging the framework to protect and prevent future misdeeds. You could see in these discussions the confused work of society building—groaning and reluctant at turns, overeager, impatient, and very ready at others.
How does a solitary body look back on this cultural change while it continues to furl outward? To continue with the project at hand, self-review will be essential. And what will there be to survey? Frenzied strings of links spooled across the refuge of our group texts? Cryptic notes to self in the margin? Outwardly radiating screenshots? If we had to choose one item from this time, an artifact buried beneath the digital silt, what would best measure the moment?
It’s a question Document posed to a number of artists, designers, musicians, writers, now that there’s been some time to reflect on 2017. We insisted that it could be anything: a screenshot, a voice memo, a found object, a tweet, the digital accretions we all hoard. Jarvis Cocker, sent us a simple, solemn exhibit of governmental failure and indifference with the above photograph of a gratified street sign in West London, taken a week after the Grenfell Tower fires claimed 71 lives last June. “The sign has since been replaced,” he writes. MoMA Curator Paola Antonelli wrote an open letter on the pink pussy hat, the iconic and, perhaps, non-inclusive symbol of the Women’s March, which she attended last January. “We were so many but there is no strength in numbers—or in truth, for that matter—anymore without endurance,” she writes. Others like fashion designer Stefano Pilati were increasingly awed by urge to micro-dose on celebrity, of all things, in these times. He sent Document an audio recording ripped from one of Kim Kardashian’s Instagram stories. Director John Waters mostly declined to participate. “I can’t think of ONE bit of progress for culture this year,” he wrote in response to our survey. But, as he couldn’t present an artifact of culture’s regression, we’ll call it evidence of a draw. Then, there’s street photographer Daniel Arnold’s photograph of the omniscient ghoul of late-2017, Harvey Weinstein, looking hunted, before, perhaps, the hunting began. “I think it’s better I don’t give context,” Arnold writes of a photo without provenance or location. Yet, looking at it in light of 2017’s grande finale, after what Miranda July calls the “bitter exhaustion” collectively endured by women this past summer, there’s another, lighter context: The status quo in retreat as a vigorous future approaches.
Moses Sumney, musician
I stumbled across a tweet containing a screenshot from a book while scrolling Tumblr. (BTW, what will internet historians call this hyper-modern reproductive phenomenon of moving “content” from site to site? Cross-platform migration? Digital intertextuality?)
Though written in March, the tweet above reflects the year that preceded and followed it, the year the slang word “woke” became the latest jargon jigsaw puzzle piece plucked from African American Vernacular English (read: Ebonics) and thrown into mainstream vernacular (read: white acknowledgement). The year that white liberals, more tangibly than at any other point this millennium, had a capital-“R” Racist they could point at from across the living room, a welcome distraction from having to deal with their own oppressive tendencies.
“Get Out” was a fantastically lauded film, and rightly so—its finely-tuned social satire reflects the subtle anxieties of Black Americans, while, unfortunately, going over the heads of most white liberals. My white friends loved it, and I was surprised by its content when I saw it because in their pre-briefing, they’d told me that Get Out was a scathing critique of Bible Belt RepublicansTM, of explicit xenophobes, of the most ardent Tr*mp voters. And yet, the movie clearly spells out the contrary when White Dad says “I would have voted for Obama a third time if I could.” Hint, much?
In their loudest year on record, many white liberals failed to realize that “Get Out” was actually about… themselves. I wonder how many, if any, white watchers had a fluorescent light bulb go off in the theater that said “Oh shit! This is a mirror.” It’s surprising that the film was green-lit, but not so surprising when you realize that self-confrontational truths often go unrealized—no viewer identifies with the bully. Racism is perpetually perpetuated by The Other Guy. Everyone thinks they’re Dumbo.
Moses Sumney’s most recent album, “AROMANTICISM,” was released by Jagjaguwar in 2017. Elif Batuman’s “The Idiot” was published by Penguin in 2017.
Marilyn Minter, artist
Last year, in commemoration of International Women’s Day on March 8th, the Halt Action Group, an artist-led activist coalition, wheatpasted posters emblazoned with Donald Trump’s “sexual assault monologue” in locations across New York City. Minter designed the poster for group.
Rashid Johnson, artist
I’m sure we’ll see an increase of shark salesman.
Rashid Johnson’s latest work can be seen, this April, at the David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles.
Daniel Arnold, photographer
I think it’s better I don’t give context.
Arnold is a street-photographer whose work can be seen in Vogue, The New York Times, and, of course, Instagram.
Miranda July, author / director
The artifact that summarizes 2017 for me is this Jenna Wortham interview about self-care. In the summer of 2017, “self-care” came to mean: how are you surviving the first year of this presidency, and thus it was always invoked with bitter exhaustion; an understanding that no amount of self-care was enough. But after the summer of self-care, came the fall: a torrent of naming our rapist and sexual assaulters—the ultimate in feminine self-care.
Miranda July can be seen in Josphine Decker’s new film, Madeline’s Madeline.
Lynne Tillman, cultural critic
My cute, tiny, and demonic bot speaks to the contemporary zeitgeist: nasty and small-minded.
Tillman’s latest novel, Men and Apparitions, will be published by Soft Skull Press in March 2018.
Saskia de Brauw, artist
I found this note on September 15, 2017 in Los Angeles—where 4th Avenue and Rose Avenue cross. In these violent times that we live in, its message has become more urgent than ever. Hope can become a vehicle towards change, believing that a future where things are better does exist.
In 2016, Saskia de Brauw published, The Accidental Fold, photos of found objects the model collected during her travels.
Chloe Wise, artist
What a year full of absolute fuckery from every which way.
The first solo-exhibition of Wise’s work opened this past September at the Almine Rech Galley in Paris.
Michael Stipe, musician
We have to be our own media and our own watchdogs, it is way time to take over. Twentieth century media and the 4th estate have profoundly failed us through 24-hr-news as sports-style entertainment, yellow journalism, and corporate gain over true journalistic debate and conversation. It’s a race to the bottom shouting match, where the loudest and most extreme voice wins. It’s so tired and tiring. My Instagram @michaelstipe is my primary voice online for protest, news and information. It is “my” channel, and I challenge all other channels to raise the debate and the conversation to love, listen and respect each other.
The former frontman for REM has been an outspoken opponent of President Trump and now resides in Berlin.
Bob Colacello, journalist
Colacello is currently at work on the follow-up to his 2004 biography of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Ronnie and Nancy: Their Path to the White House, 1911 to 1980.
Malcolm Harris, author
I would use this picture by Lois Beckett of riot police protecting Nazi Richard Spencer from the students of the University of Florida, where Spencer invited himself to speak. After the speech, some Nazi attendee riding around took a shot at a group of protesters. The police and a public university teaming up to protect a fascist demagogue from the young people who make up that community is very #2017.
Harris’ most recent book, Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials, was published by Little, Brown and Company in November 2017.
Stefano Pilati, designer
Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame has been further distilled down to Kim Kardashian’s 15 seconds of influence. The Instagram story further blurs the relationship between celebrity and lifestyle, personal branding and business’ bottom line.
Pilati recently debuted his latest collection of designs via Instagram stories.
Eileen Myles, poet and novelist
“Make America Mexico Again” was the best line of the late Presidential campaign, and “Make Israel Palestine Again is expanding and unfolding it again. I discovered both lines on social media as lot of us are looking seriously at the racism in the Middle East and the United States. In 2017, I went to Palestine and saw crime against international law, firsthand.
Myles has been a vocal proponent of human rights causes in Palestine. Most recently, she called for the release of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, who has been detained by the Israeli government for over two years.
Bernhard Willhelm, designer
The fashion designer and artist was in Paris the night Donald Trump was elected President. The ‘corntrolley,’ or corn on the cob sold from street carts, is a symbol of ‘black Paris in the 10th arrondissement’ according to Willhem, who, after living in Los Angeles for four years, moved out of the country shortly after Trump’s election.
Jack Self, editor
A bad solution to a problem that didn’t need fixing. The end of our enchantment with material artifacts, and with it, the death of our delight in the digital. The realization we have each orchestrated our own oppression and exploitation, possibly irreversibly. A sense that we can’t go on. The necessity of going on… Everyone agrees, it was a bad year. Perhaps, the worst year. However, there is always next year. We must remain optimistic and reclaim the future as a positive project.
Jack Self is the Director of the REAL foundation and Editor-in-Chief of the Real Review.
Paola Antonelli, curator
To represent 2017, I choose the pussy hat. I wholeheartedly dislike it, let me count the reasons why, but not before one caveat: of course I wholeheartedly support and strive for gender (and every other kind of) equity with every tendon and thought of my body. But, back to the hat.
Firstly, didn’t we get rid of that pink cliché? Secondly, shape like a newborn’s cap, it is infantilizing and demeaning, fangless, especially if compared to a black glove––or even to a yellow umbrella. And since when do cute piglet ears scream revolution? Also, “pussy” hat? I understand the reference but I don’t want to re-appropriate even one word he has uttered. Gross.
When I joined to the Women’s March, I hadn’t gotten the memo. I saw the first pink thing, asked what it was, someone answered, and I thought it was a joke. Then then I saw another, and another, dozens, hundreds, and felt my power melt away. Thinking back to those images of the Washington Mall and New York’s Fifth Avenue dotted with pink, I feel that non-confrontational, undignified, feeble symbol of quasi-defiance foreshadowed rather than actively worked against the powerlessness that we feel today as women and as citizens.
We were so many but there is no strength in numbers—or in truth, for that matter—anymore without endurance. The outing of so many predators and the #metoo campaign are a leap in the right direction, but not nearly enough to unseat some of the most obscene and persistent perpetrators, who remain shielded by ideology and cynicism. Only equal, steely persistence can stare them down. The pussy hat reminds me that I’m ready for anger to blossom––be it blue, black-bloc, just in any shade but pink.