Highlights 2014 – Quinn Latimer

In December, while the international papers were busy excerpting the American Senate report on the Bush-era’s CIA torture, nay, ‘extraordinary rendition’ programme (use the language they choose for you), I sat at a table with my students in Geneva reading Etel Adnan’s epic poem from 1980 The Arab Apocalypse. ‘[A]n Arab tortured mutilated vomits the sun hangs from his feet. Meticulously. A yellow sun’, a student read. In August, I lay by the sea on Samos – Turkey glittering and bleaching just across the blue sea at my feet – and read Adnan’s seminal novella Sitt Marie-Rose, from 1978. It refracts the Lebanese Civil War through the story of a woman, sun-like, at its centre – a teacher, mother, revolutionary, and lover of a Palestinian doctor – a centre slowly ripped apart in front of the deaf-blind children she teaches. ‘Fouad is the perfect killer […] He prefers jeep-speed-desert-bird-bullet to girl-in-a-bed-and-fuck […] Bullets crack and resonate in the amphitheatre that is Beirut. The location is perfect.’

BY Quinn Latimer in Critic's Guides | 23 DEC 14

The pool at my feet is a sea filled with the bodies of tourists during the day and the bodies of refugees at night, attempting to crack Europe, to survive it. I am in Greece for an art project, as these things go, but I can’t stop reading To Look At the Sea Is To Become What One Is: An Etel Adnan Reader, edited by Thom Donovan and Brandon Shimoda (Nightboat Books). The two-volume book, which gathers work Adnan wrote between 1965 and 2011, burns through my whole year and punctuates the flares of state violence and public protest that mark it. ‘We’re all the contemplatives of an ongoing apocalypse’, Adnan notes. How to do that.

No exhibitions I saw this year came close to the necessity and virtuosity – political, philosophical, poetic – of Adnan’s Reader. Still, those I loved included Cerith Wyn Evans’s lucid show at Serpentine Gallery, London, with its strange, pulsating missives of communication: chandeliers blinking Morse code of theory, neon tubes of text blaring fragments like ‘she begs you to sacrifice yourself to your country.’ At the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, two concurrent shows made me incredibly happy: Dear Nemesis, Nicole Eisenman 1993–2013, an expert survey of one of the best painters working today, and Moyra Davey: Burn the Diaries, which elliptically explores Davey’s reading – and not – of Jean Genet.

Artist, architect, and curator Andreas Angelidakis touched me with two projects: his brilliant retrospective Every End is a Beginning, at Athens’s National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST), and his Swiss Institute New York exhibition Fin de Siècle, a witty nod to Eugène Ionesco’s 1952 play The Chairs, and psychedelic send-up of our fetishization of 20th-century design. In Basel, Switzerland, I found myself into composer and filmmaker Jannik Giger’s video installation Gabrys und Henneberger – Transformation, at Ausstellungsraum Klingental, and Source Amnesia, at Oslo 10, a show of text and sound pieces by Robert Ashley, Dora Garcia, Pauline Oliveros, Hannah Weiner, and others, that employed ‘subconscious processes and extrasensory perception’. In Zurich, Essential Loneliness, curated by Nikola Deitrich, at Taylor Macklin, with its nervy, feminist engagement of the abject, was a weird relief. At MoCA, Los Angeles, Andy Warhol: Shadows (1978–79), showing his late monumental painting series of more than a hundred canvases, made us all nearly fluorescent with feeling.

In Norway, two lectures this autumn contextualized some of the spasms of state and other violence we’re currently undergoing: at the University of Oslo, Julia Kristeva’s Holberg Prize talk on new forms of political protest and experimental psychosis was ace, reminding me again of Adnan’s similarly charged, psychologically acute writing. Likewise, Sami Khatib’s lecture on Divine Violence and the Ban of the Law, at the Office for Contemporary Art, Norway, traced the institutional underpinnings of our now omnipresent state of exception via a close reading of Walter Benjamin’s 1921 Critique of Violence. Related, Francisco Goldman’s beautiful reporting and New Yorker essays from Mexico about the Ayotzinapa student massacre and the popular movement that has resulted, were devastating and instructive in equal measure, as was Lagos-based Alexis Okeowo’s reporting on modern-day and sexual slavery from Nigeria and Mauritania. Poet Cathy Park Hong’s essay Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant Garde, in the Lana Turner Journal was deft, right.

What else was right? Not so much. As I waited on edge this year in Europe, watching the incredible movements against police violence and institutional racism in the US unfold, my touchiness reminded me that I am more American than I ever thought possible. Moving through the international papers and journals trying to find the journalistic voice that might best transmit to me what was happening, I found it, unsurprisingly, in poetry. Claudia Rankine’s prescient, inescapable Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf), yes, but also this, by Danez Smith, from his first book [insert] Boy (YesYes Books) and reprinted at AtLengthMag.com: ‘I am sick of writing this poem / but bring the boy. his new name / his same old body. ordinary, black / dead thing. bring him.’ And this: ‘The endless army of hyenas played by a gust / choked tight with bullet shells, the bullets themselves / now dressed in a boy.’

Quinn Latimer is a writer and contributing editor of frieze. Her most recent book is Like a Woman: Essays, Readings, Poems (Sternberg Press, 2017).