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Terence Dick
Writer, editor

Toronto
December 29, 2015

Terence Dick is the editor of Akimblog and every year at this time he gets to post a list of things that have been on his mind for the past twelve months. This gives him a brief opportunity to talk about ideas, politics, and culture that aren't directly related to galleries and exhibitions (though there is inevitably some overlap). In addition to putting words together on the page, he teaches philosophy and creative writing to high school students.

1. National politics

In one of the two great battles between good and evil this year, an authoritarian empire was vanquished and a handsome young idealist followed in his father’s footsteps to rule the land (see my number five for the other battle). Okay, maybe it wasn’t that mythic, but the federal election signaled the end of dark times in this country (so dark that even longstanding Conservatives turned against Harper) and it followed a campaign that was epic in duration. Many good warriors fell (particularly solid NDP candidates in Toronto and Halifax) and the Liberals aren’t angels by any means, but Trudeau has made symbolic gestures (his cabinet!) that give us something to be optimistic about in the New Year. When was the last time we could say that?

2. Identity politics

For the past couple years I’ve been telling my more conservative Grade 12 students that the people I went to university with in the late eighties/early nineties at the heyday of identity politics who then went on to pursue careers in academia were finally getting tenure and would soon be their professors. This was my way of warning them that they needed to develop some self-awareness or, in the parlance of today, “check their privilege”. I recently ran into one who was back in town for American Thanksgiving and he confirmed that university was crazy liberal. The proliferation of Black Lives Matter demonstrations on campus and the mainstream popularity of books like Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts strike me as evidence of a cresting wave of ethical activism that isn’t concerned with globalization or wealth disparity or the environmental crisis, but about individual and cultural identity. This discourse didn’t disappear in the years since I was an undergrad, but (for some very obvious reasons particularly as it relates to race in the US) it is now far higher on the radar and finding mainstream outlets through popular culture.

3. Viet Cong

Just one instance of the new culture wars was the controversy around the Canadian band named Viet Cong. No other debate that played out on social media this year occupied so much of my thinking and yet seemed so insignificant to the people around me who didn’t follow music. However, for those who did care, they cared a lot and the criticism of the band (fueled by their nomination for this year’s Polaris Music Prize) would not die. My kneejerk reaction to defend the band was rooted in an assumption of the sanctity of free speech and the right to offend, but any further thinking about the matter would wither my resolve and I had to begrudgingly shift my position. Why begrudgingly? Because no one likes to admit they are wrong (particularly old, straight, white guys like me). Why shift? Because this wasn’t about the interests of a single band, but the feelings of a larger community. Whether the band is actually listening to their audience remains to be seen.

4. #notmyartworld

As I started thinking about making this year-end list earlier in the month, I was also ignoring reports from Art Basel Miami, resisting the lure of clickbait headlines, before finally succumbing to tales of fiscal excess and celebrity spotting. My entry into the art world was through post-punk, post-hardcore, indie rock and the DIY ethics that set that scene against what was then known as the mainstream. The landscape of the music industry has changed drastically since then, but I still find more meaning in the grassroots, community-based work of independent musicians and simply rely on osmosis to stay aware of the superstar end of the spectrum (living with an eleven-year-old helps). As for the art world, mega-galleries, art stars, global art fairs, and exorbitant sales make up only a tiny sliver of what I deal with every year and that’s how I like it. Modest economics, public support, artist-run initiatives, and accepting your art as just one income stream (as I do) are just some of the ways to keep it real. Sure, it means the struggle continues, but has it ever been otherwise?

5. Star Wars

The Force Awakens is probably not even a good movie (though the famously awful prequels set the bar below sea level) and the suspension of disbelief required to follow its narrative had me gasping for air, but as a decade-spanning cultural phenomenon rooted deep within my generation’s childhood DNA, it was unmissable. As all all-encompassing marketing strategy (from Cover Girl make-up to Bell internet services), it was also unmissable and even harder to swallow. However, as a leaping off point for discussions of ethics, politics, and aesthetics, it was a mighty convenient cliff, so I have to appreciate it for that.

 

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