2017 has been a hell of a year, not only for KYD but for the arts, Australia and indeed the world. The KYD team take you through some of their highlights of the year in books, stage and screen, podcasts and more.
Culture has been my tonic this year. But while 2017 started under the dark cloud, as we approach the holiday break there is some glimmer of better things waiting around the corner – I am hopeful that 2018 will see some positive change across the social and political spectrum.
One the Bear, the co-creation of Candy Bowers and Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers of Black Honey Company, was my favourite theatre experience of the year. It is a show using spoken-word poetry, and occasional song, to examine the commodification of women’s bodies and identity, in particular women of colour. It’s also a play about the ongoing condition of colonialism; it was a rallying, moving performance.
The fourth season of Broad City was another highlight for me. I was already a fan of the show, but I’ve found the episodes across other seasons patchy in tone and quality. Season 4 is strange: bleaker, more pessimistic; Ilana and Abbi have conspicuously aged (though haven’t quite grown up). After the euphoria of meeting their hero Hillary Clinton at the end of Season 3, these new episodes engage explicitly with the Trump victory with humour and pathos.
This year I’ve continued to be dogged observer of all things Brexit. There’s a lot of commentary about this political disaster, but each week I most look forward to the Remainiacs podcast, hosted by Ian Dunt, Dorian Lynskey and Peter Collins. They tackle the minutiae of Brexit with the perfect combination of dry humour and British cynicism. The podcast brings in other guest Remainiacs for additional perspective on how the Tory government is getting it so wrong, including Gina Miller, Nina Schick and MP Heidi Alexander. It’s worth the listen alone to hear Ian Dunt’s hilarious laughter.
This year was a rich and rewarding one for me as a reader, not least because I benefitted from so many wonderful recommendations from independent booksellers. I read – and loved – a great deal of non-fiction and memoir: Bill Hayes’ Insomniac City, Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner, William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, and Roxanne Gay’s Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body were highlights, but I also loved Giulia Enders’ Gut, and – quite randomly – Julia Child’s My Life in France.
I also found time to finally pick up some fiction that had been languishing on my bookshelves, unread. Tove Jansson’s collection of short stories, Fair Play, saw me through a night of insomnia, Knut Hamsun’s Growth in the Soil has stayed with me in that marvellous way of excellent storytelling, but my absolute favourite novel came from Sebastian Barry. Days Without End is exquisite. Go, read it now.
In a stressful year, I’ve found myself drawn to culture that is enriching without being demanding. Claire Aman’s Bird Country took me back to my home town at a time when I needed it; Jennifer Down’s Pulse Points is full of perfectly crafted miracles of storytelling; Briohny Doyle’s Adult Fantasy articulated frustrations and anxieties I couldn’t put words to.
I’m listening to more podcasts than ever this year as well – new additions like Abbi Jacobson’s exploration of modern art A Piece of Work, ABC true-crime series Trace and the New York Times’ pop-culture confession booth Still Processing, alongside old favourites like Reply All and The Allusionist.
It’s not something I’ve thought about until sitting down to write this, but this year I’ve found myself, perhaps as an unconscious pushback against the unrelenting awfulness of the wider world, retreating into silliness. TV series like Get Krackin’ and Brooklyn Nine-Nine have been my go-tos, and early this year I became obsessed with Neil Cicierega’s Mouth Moods, a brain-meltingly good comedy pop mashup album that morphs AC/DC into a ridiculous piano ballad before stripping back Village People’s ‘YMCA’ into a heartbreaking torch song. I’ve also grown very attached to the Polygon YouTube series Monster Factory – I’m no videogamer but can apparently zone out to two brothers testing the limits of videogame character creators for hours. It’s been a big year.
The best film I saw this year was I Am Not Your Negro, directed by Raul Peck. Using the words of James Baldwin (narrated by Samuel L. Jackson) and found footage from throughout the 20th century it’s a bold and powerful film that blends biography and documentary in a way I’ve never seen before. I also loved In Between, a debut feature film written and directed by Palestinian filmmaker Maysaloun Hamoud. It follows three different women living in Tel Aviv and is joyful, heartbreaking and life affirming all at once.
Since I read The Argonauts last year I’ve been devouring everything else Maggie Nelson has every written. Bluets – an exploration of love, sex, heartbreak and the colour blue – is my top pick.
I’ve really upped my podcast game this year and have particularly enjoyed 2 Dope Queens (comedy from two hilarious women and their guests), Bowraville (Australia’s answer to Serial), A Piece of Work (accessible chats about contemporary art) and All Killa No Filla (for fans of My Favourite Murder).
As a newly-minted library worker with a building full of temptations I read less new releases this year than I usually would. Psynode was one of the exceptions. In it Marlee Jane Ward expands the world of Welcome to Orphancorp, with her protagonist moving into Amazon warehouse-esque employment in an attempt to save her friend’s life. It’s pacey, smart and disturbingly recognisable teen dystopia fare.
To continue my genre roll I have to mention Witch, Please and Galactic Suburbia, who’ve been the voices in my head(phones) all year. The former features Canadian academics unpicking race, gender and sexuality in Harry Potter in entertaining and insightful ways (don’t worry, they won’t talk you out of loving it) while the latter is a wide-ranging conversation on science-fiction, fantasy and romance in Australia and abroad. It has made my TBR list unmanageable.
Finally, how good was the second season of The Expanse?
More than any other art form, I found 2017 was a banner year for books, and there are too many to list. But my pick of the year was Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, a contemporary reworking of Antigone, taking the ancient Greek drama and shifting it into a story about a British Muslim family. It’s a staggering work, and it’s place in our world made me understand Antigone in a whole new way – a way theatre has never managed. I also particularly fell for two debut novels: Fiona Mozley’s Elmet – a contemporary rural gothic written in a stunningly original voice – and Harriet Page’s Man With A Seagull on His Head – a quiet and fascinating imagination about an outsider artist.
But the crown of my best of 2017 has to go to the opening of ACE Open in Adelaide, the result of the amalgamation of CACSA and AEAF after the loss of their Australia Council funding, Under CEO Liz Nowell, ACE’s first year has been feminist and intersectional, intellectual and funny, contemporary with an eye to history, engaging deeply with the Adelaide arts community while situating itself nationally. We haven’t even celebrated its first year yet and already I can’t imagine Adelaide without it.
I set myself a challenge at the beginning of the year to read 100 books in 2017. I think I’m going to end up a handful short, but it was a great way of pushing myself to find more time to read. It also meant I had a pretty wide pool to draw from when I was trying to choose my best reads of 2017. There was one obvious standout, though: Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. This book is unique, relevant, necessary and wonderful: everyone should read it. (And if you tell me you probably won’t because it seems like it’s just for teenage girls, I’ll fight you.)
I can’t pick a favourite amongst the rest, but some other wonderful books I read this year that I heartily recommend include: Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, Jennifer Down’s Pulse Points, Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay, A.S. King’s Still Life with Tornado, Anna Krien’s The Long Goodbye, Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star, Eliza Henry-Jones’ Ache, Claire Christian’s Beautiful Mess and Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor.
Forget about finding the truth on the news: this year we place our trust in games. L.A. Noire, a 2011 game re-released last month across multiple new consoles, plays on the popularity of our desire to uncover the truth in this era of fake news and alternative facts. We can draw tight parallels between its protagonist Detective Cole Phelps, and the FBI’s Holden Ford in Mindhunter – the engrossing and highly commercial new Netflix series. Mindhunter explores the psychological profiling behind serial killers, in which we must judge characters in a way visually akin to L.A. Noire’s interrogation gameplay – tinged with the surreal through sophisticated colour grade and theatrically typical characters.
On 3DS, we can continue the hunt for truth through an investigator – this time, thank goodness, of the female variety. Japan’s popular Japanese Professor Layton franchise sees the title character’s daughter, Katrielle, take centre-stage in the addictive Layton’s Mystery Journey.
All this in mind, it’s no wonder Melbourne trio Tripod collaborated with games composer Austin Wintory to present This Gaming Life – an allegory to these mentally stimulating games that are perhaps more relevant than we care to admit.