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It’s the first year I’ve ever done one of these ‘best of’ pieces, and I think more now than ever it’s important to look and remember all the enjoyable creative things that are still happening.
Starting with visual art, there were both things I was fortunate enough to be involved with and the work of others which I enjoyed. In January I was part of an exhibition of poster art with Bigshop Friday at their space in Central Milton Keynes (CMK) with my illustration of the ever popular Paris Hilton.
In February we were lucky enough to visit Tate Modern to see a small exhibition of works by Ed Ruscha, plus the eternally stunning Rothko room which I usually visit when I’m there for some art-based spiritual regeneration.
Also In February I showed some work in the MK Calling group exhibition at the Milton Keynes Gallery. These were some black and white drawings and a more recent ink on paper work, and they hopefully conveyed some of the ideas I have been playing with around place and memory. It was a well curated show which took only a relatively small selection of works submitted by many artists so I was honoured to be part of it. Of course things went a bit tits up when the exhibition closed in March for the first lockdown, but reopened in September until November so you could go and see art while wearing a mask and not standing near people which to be honest sounds like my ideal gallery visit pre-lockdown.
In March me and some friends went to London for a very eerie art crawl on the last weekend before lockdown. Many galleries were closed or on the edge of closing but we did manage to see an exhibition of work by Donna Huanca at the Simon Lee Gallery. I first encountered Huanca’s work at the Zabludowicz in 2016 which took the form of a hypnotic performance and installation work, and this more recent work was effused the echoes of a raw and embodied physicality. On the same apocalyptic trip I enjoyed visiting the ‘Queer Art Now’ exhibition at Archive Gallery. I think I found out about this show via Instagram and it was nice to see the work IRL as I try to only connect with things and people online which personally resonate with me.
Encountering physical art exhibitions obviously became rarer after this due to lockdown doom, however I did manage to see some work from Sophie Atkins while buying beer at the excellent Milton Keynes based brewery Blackened Sun. This was another project courtesy of Big Shop Friday.
This year I also restarted doing my ‘Existential Clarkson’ series of drawings which I’ve been doing on and off as a primarily Facebook-based project since 2015 and now has around 10,000 followers. I might do more with this project in 2021.
In June I sent off a collection of new drawings to the ‘Crossing Over/Oversteken’ group show in Zandvoort, the Netherlands. Brilliantly curated by Soek Zwamborn, this was open periodically and in different forms (and is still continuing into January 2021, regardless of flipping Brexit) and although I couldn’t visit the exhibition in person it’s still one of my favourite arty things I’ve been involved in recently and the first queer-themed group show I’ve been fortunate enough to be included in. A nice culmination of adventures with my own art practice in 2020.
In the arena of music/sound related stuff I also found plenty to like in 2020. In January I did an interview for the ‘Twenty Thousand Hertz’ podcast about composer John Cage and my 2012 project to get his ‘silent’ piece 4’33’’ to number 1 in the UK music charts, and I also talked about art and other hippy shit I’m into like mindfulness.
In 2020 I continued to fall ever deeper into a Bandcamp hole and it’s now become my main source for new music, there are any number of small labels on the site and I believe a higher proportion of sales costs go to artists as opposed to the giant streaming services. Just the other day I discovered the rather wonderful ‘Music from Saharan Cellphones compilation’, which is how many people share music in that region. Something like that could easily have fallen into the Western tradition of exploiting and not crediting other cultures (Enya, anyone?) but serious efforts have been made to track down the original artists leading to collobarations and money flowing their way.
I also started to buy vinyl for the first time in my life and got some lovely Vaporwave-esc releases including Runners Club 95 and the compilation album ‘Nobody Here-The Story of Vaporwave’ both from Wales-based label My Pet Flamingo. The influence (or museumification, depending on your perspective) of the 10 year old+ genre of Vaporwave only continued to grow in 2020 and there’s a bottomless pit of releases to discover.
Although they weren’t released in 2020 I listened to Chris+++’s albums ‘Social Justice Whatever’ and ‘Deep Dark Trench’ on heavy rotation while painting for their chaotic, meme-sample-based destruction of music. I discovered the beautiful, ambient Western-electronic-sample-Texas themed (Texas-Wave?) album ‘The World Turned Gingham’ by Rapoon, again very good for creating to. I also got very into the Einstürzende Neubauten albums ‘Kollaps’ and ‘½ Mensch’ for some 1980’s German industrial destruction while painting, leading to a rather wonderful moment when I took my headphones out at the studio to hear some building work with power tools going on in the background that seemed to blend seamlessly with the Neubaten I’d been listening to.
In literature Thomas Moore released his new book ‘Alone’ and I got my hands on a copy in July and raced through it. Hugely impactful and was promoted with the line “Has Grindr killed psychic gay powers?” which is possibly the best ad for a book I have ever seen. Buy this book.
Other than that I continued to work my way through the John le Carré (who recently died aged 89) novels featuring George Smiley which includes the most well known, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy’. Le Carré’s novels often have a slow, oppressive tension evoking the Cold War and the world of espionage in a way that feels far more grounded than the escapist fantasy of James Bond. Next on my list is to watch the 1970’s BBC adaption of ‘Tinker Tailor’ featuring Alec Guniness, also a slow burn compared to the constant hyperactivity of most contemporary media.
A planned trip to Berlin in April for the annual Gallery Weekend was cancelled by bloody fucking stupid bloody fucking Covid-19 and somewhat made up for reading ‘Berlin Calling’ by Paul Hockenos, a brilliant and engaging history of art and culture in the age and subsequent fall of the Berlin Wall.
In television, early in the year there was obviously Tiger King making initial Covid lockdown less shit and scary. There was ‘Hollywood’ which looked interesting with it’s story about minorities trying to survive and thrive in 1950’s LA but became the thing I shouted at most with it’s active and I thought dangerous rewriting of history. Riviera was just ludicrous but glossy and enjoyable trash, but a good (and the best) part of 2020 was taken up by us finally getting into Twin Peaks, working through all 3 series with the final series from 2017 feeling like a wonderful and fitting climax to Lynch’s unique vision. A hard act to follow.
We went to the cinema once in 2020 and saw the enjoyable Art world-based thriller ‘The Burnt Orange Heresy’ with some nice performances from Donald Sutherland, Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki and er, Mick Jagger as an immoral art collector. Although it was from 2013, we adored the striking, tense and beautiful French thriller ‘Stranger by the Lake’. ‘Summer of 85’, also French, offered a tender and heartfelt depiction of teenage love. The British Film Institute (BFI) and Mubi subscription apps offered up some classic gems and I discovered loads more (mostly French stuff) including the films of Jean-Pierre Melville including Le cercle rouge and Army of Shadows, Mr Klein by Joseph Losey, the work of Alain Robbe-Grillet including Trans-Europ Express and the Istanbul-set L’Immortelle for all that lovely non-linear narrative stuff.
There’s probably a ton of other things I’ve forgotten, but it’s nice to look back and see how much nice cultural stuff I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy this year, both new stuff and older stuff that was just waiting for me discover it. It’s good to remember how important this stuff is and continues to be in these testing times.