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Terence Dick
Writer, editor

January 03, 2018

Terence Dick is the editor of Akimblog and host of AkimboTV’s Views. In the brief lull at the beginning of January before the next wave of exhibitions open for review, he takes this opportunity to reflect on some cultural high points from the past twelve months in the form of a list. His previous lists can be found here: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.

1. The Drill Squad

For the first time in my life, I am driving to work every day. As a lifelong fan of public transport, I admit to be embarrassed by this situation and promise it will end in the summer once I am unable to get my twenty-year-old Subaru to pass a Drive Clean test. Right now I am only doing it because of time constraints on my morning commute. One positive outcome from this shift in transport is that I’m listening to a lot more radio than I normally would. My relationship to the medium has always been fickle, but college radio has a special place in my heart and I spent ten years as a DJ on CIUT-FM back in the day, so I include it on my car stereo pre-sets. This has made it easier for me to establish my new weekly habit of tuning in to the station’s Tuesday morning music mix The Drill Squad. The first time I heard it the hosts had dedicated the show to hip hop from the mid-eighties, so it was a bit of love at first sight. They shift between old school rap and the kind of house music my older brother obsessed over when we were teens. Young punk that I was, I didn’t understand him then, but I do now. The best thing about this program is that they never play an entire song and constantly broadcast shout outs over the music like it’s one big party that needs endless hyping. Fighting the rush hour crush at 8:05am is the least likely time to hear this, which makes it the best time to enjoy it because it reminds you of the joy music can bring.

2. Paul Holdengraber

On our longer road trips this year, my wife and I began exploring the podcasts that everyone else seems to be going on about. However, our tolerance for multiple episodes of investigative journalism was tested by our impatience and different tastes, so the only thing we could always agree on were the Live from the New York Public Library recordings of panel discussions and on-stage interviews. Apart from the erudite guests, the bonus draw is host Paul Holdengräber whose way with a question should be studied by all aspiring moderators. His deep research and informed inquiries are admirable. His conversational style and gentle cajoling to draw out more than the standard pat answer from his subject are so satisfying. And his Austrian Jew via Houston, Texas, via Brussels Belgian accent makes him even more of a delight to hear as he expounds on his love of Walter Benjamin or his confusion about the significance of Back to the Future.

3. Libby Hague

If I had to choose some of my favourite Canadian artists, Libby Hague would be near the top of the list. Unfortunately, through a bad bit of planning on my part, I never ended up writing about her retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of Mississauga. It just closed, so if you didn’t see it, you missed a chance to immerse yourself in the full range of her floor-to-ceiling, print-to-video, multifaceted, multi-media explosion of patterns, figures, maps, and circuit boards. Her art hits the pleasure centre of the little kid inside all of us who loves the doo-hickeys and bright colours, then it makes its way up through the adult reception of art historical references and theory-ready conceptualizations of visual culture. A good part of its power is that the work works best in the flesh – images only approximate the full materiality of the experience. Here’s hoping some other galleries have picked up the exhibition and more people get a chance to enjoy her special kind of genius.

4. Andrew Hunter

It’s been a challenging year for us middle-aged white men. I don’t mean that in a “poor me” sense, but in a “How do I respond to the current political shifts that both critique me and consider me irrelevant?” sense. I have resisted the urge to dig up an essay I wrote as an undergrad in the early nineties titled “Should the straight, white male speak?” because I’m afraid to find out how badly written it is, but I’ve been thinking about those years a lot this year. I’m still trying to figure out how to do the right thing, but most of the current role models don’t provide any suitable answers. At one extreme you have Jordan Peterson taking up ever more space, even within discourses that should stop giving him airtime. In the middle you have Al Franken screwing up any positive work that he could have done because of his dumb-ass lack of judgement. The only admirable example of what should be done – Andrew Hunter stepping down from his job as a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario – is damn hard to replicate. However, as a concrete gesture of principle, it sent shockwaves through the art establishment and keeps me wrestling with the politics and ethics of my own place within this community.

5. Jeff Thomas

(Photo: Justin Wonnacott)

Building on my last item, I spent a good part of this year trying to figure out where I stood on debates that upended my authority and made me question some fundamental assumptions. From cultural appropriation and writing to Emmett Till and painting, from teaching pronouns at Wilfrid Laurier to sexual harassment everywhere, it was a year of heated conversations, soul-searching, and endless online commentary. I did my best to avoid kneejerk responses and tried to understand even those positions – from the left and the right – that made me recoil. These ideological/ethical battles will continue and I’d like to think we’re the better for it. Amongst the many things I read this year that made sense to me was this quote from the artist Jeff Thomas:

It’s so easy to get caught up in isolating people. I really want to avoid that. I want people to feel like, “Yeah, I never thought about it that way before.”

It was one of the wall texts in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Every. Now. Then. exhibition and it gives me hope that a better understanding of each other – and ourselves – is a possibility for 2018.



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Posted by Dick Averns, on 2018-01-05 13:28:57
Thanks Terence; I echo the comments by Micah and Richard's sentiments about the quality of your writing. What I really appreciate about your Critics Picks is the meaningful range and conceptual shift between the artists and subjects you write about. Keep up the dialogue and I'll sign off with a nod and kudos to Andrew Hunter: he is one of the first artworld figures I met when I immigrated here 20 years ago and was open to making time for me as a new artist making a cold call. Even traveled on a weekend to see my first solo show! His insights and challenging of norms are as refreshing now as they were then. It's great how he maintains his druthers.

Posted by Micah Lexier, on 2018-01-04 16:18:49
Always great to read your thoughts Terence. It's a thankless job writing about art..but thanks for your commitment to the task. I am thrilled that you mentioned Libby Hague as I think she is one of the great, under-recognized artists, and someone I have long admired. She works so hard, makes inventive, bold, exuberant work and I am never not blown away by what she does. I did get out to see her retrospective with a few friends, and we are all super impressed with the show and her output and the rigour of her practice. Thanks for writing about Libby and thanks for writing and sharing your thoughts with us. You are appreciated.

Posted by Richard Holden, on 2018-01-04 12:25:46
Good Piece, Terence. I especially appreciate your directness about having to deal with the challenge these days of being a middle-aged, white male, to which might easily be added, "straight", "not-recent-immigrant" and "anglophone". Except for the "middle-aged" part, I am all of the above & yes, it can seem like we've become irrelevant & for the moment, in many ways, we have. Personally though, I'm fortunate to be able to view it as a victory of sorts. Back in the '80's & 90's I worked with a small, now defunct Canada Council program called Explorations, that under it's long-time Head, Helen Eriks - and in the face of significant resistance, both external & internal - did its best to champion serious consideration of Indigenous artists and non-Western cultural expressions. It's hard for me then not to be well-satisfied with how things have evolved, even though it means that in my remaining years I may never again be offered a show in this country. For me that's a small price to pay for progress.