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Terence Dick
Writer, editor

December 30, 2014

Terence Dick is the editor of Akimblog and every year at this time he exploits the power of his position to post a list of some of his favourite things from the past twelve months. This gives him the opportunity to talk about Canada, capitalism, and the culture that occupies his time when he's not going to galleries and writing about exhibitions. In addition to putting words together on the page, he teaches philosophy and creative writing to high school students.


Earl Miller’s recent paper on social media and the discourse of art criticism makes a fine (and critical!) commentary on the phenomenon of commentary in the age of multiplatform online virtual socializing. He describes a community that most of us already participate in, one that pays no heed to locale, weakens the restrictions of cliques, and allows for a sometimes disarming honesty (which would never happen face-to-face in the polite circles of the Canadian art scene). This latter aspect can make things, if not ugly, at least somewhat awkward, but the resulting discussions – be it the response to Clint Roenisch posting a particularly lucrative sale or the furor when Brad Phillips explains why Toronto is a loser city for artists or the exchange when Murray Whyte is accused of perpetuating racial stereotypes – encourage us to take sides and then reconsider those sides. That, as my philosophy students know, is the path to being critical.

2. Ursula K. Le Guin

I must admit I’ve never read her work (and plan to rectify that by borrowing The Lathe of Heaven from the next public library I pass in 2015), but Ursula K. Le Guin’s acceptance speech for the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters has made her my favourite author of the moment. She pulls no punches in her indictment of the commodification of the publishing industry and succinctly dismisses the purportedly unquestionable authority of corporate capitalism (by comparing it to the divine right of kings) while also pointing out that the profit motive is rarely – if ever – synonymous with artistic inspiration. And she does it all in less than five minutes.

The last book I read – George Packer’s The Unwinding – spent over four hundred pages describing just a fraction of the story of America’s financial collapse of 2008 and the big villain was again deregulated, unrestricted free market capitalism. The next big book I read – Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything – takes even more pages to frame the environmental crisis as a fundamentally economic one that demands radical change now. It’s enough to keep you up at night (and it often does), but Le Guin’s optimism that creative folk ensure and exercise the freedom to imagine potential better futures gives me hope for my kids.

3. Nardwuar

He’s been around so long it’s easy to forget that he hasn’t stopped doing what he does so well: act as Canada’s greatest ambassador to the worlds of rock and rap. I happened upon his recent interview with American hipsters Parquet Courts and was wowed yet again by his ability to melt icy cool demeanours through openhearted gift-giving. I’ve shown students his interview with ASAP Rocky’s tough guy hip hop crew to demonstrate how a rowdy, disinterested bunch of youth can turn into an awed and respectful group of adherents simply through a demonstration of knowledge. The delight (and occasional consternation) of everyone he meets generates so much good will amongst the margins of celebrity that the overall impact of his decades-long cultural diplomacy is undeniable. Because this epiphany happened right around the time of the announcement of this year’s recipients of the Order of Canada, I was left wondering when Nardwuar would be recognized. Whoever does the nominating would do well to put his name forward.

4. Small Birdsongs

Of the small slivers of free time I carve for myself, often in the dark of night, I always end up regretting any of it spent on Facebook and savouring any of it spent with a book. All I want to do these days is read and one of the few luxuries I allow myself is to buy books (despite the stacks scattered throughout my house and the boxes I’ve hidden in my office at school). I often ask young people how they expect to have writers (or artists or musicians, etc.) of their own generation if they don’t ever pay for anything (except wireless service). I predict that books will become more and more like craft objects serving a specialized market of connoisseurs (as vinyl recordings have for music fans). A recent example of this (which funnily enough began as a regular Facebook posting) is erstwhile songsmith Jack Breakfast’s Small Birdsongs. I was recently given copy 88 of 100 of this collection of photographs of birds in their natural environment accompanied by musings that only elliptically make reference to said avian actors. It’s a beautiful thing from cover to cover, and will stay with me longer than any selection of jpegs ever will – no matter how many times they’ve been “liked” or “shared.”

5. Dream Serenade

Gallery staff around Toronto are familiar with my constant companion on our Saturday afternoon exhibition excursions. They often help me get his wheelchair through the door and, while he often loses patience with video installations a bit before I do, he enjoys his peregrinations around our bustling city. During the week, my son attends Beverly Public School – the Toronto District School Board’s school for children with special needs. Like most public schools these days, it relies on fundraising for additional resources like computer equipment and programs like field trips. This year, instead of the usual bake sale or fun fair, there was a star-studded concert at Massey Hall masterminded by the singer Hayden and his wife Christie Greyerbiehl who also have a child at the school. Inspired by Neil Young’s Bridge School benefit concerts, the Dream Serenade will be an annual affair and, based on the first edition this past October, continue to be a rousing success.



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