Artists of the Year

Framed, penned, screened, danced, sung, shot, delivered: City Pages lauds the artistic creations of 1999

Her demand that leftism reconcile itself with her appetites ("Anti-consumerism is the puritanism of the left") does justice to her past as a rock critic. While her demand that ideology reconcile itself to her personal perspective ("[I] suspect, in my desire for a freer, saner, more pleasurable way of life, I am not so different from most people...as it might presently appear") fits with her New Journalism pedigree. In less than 200 pages, Willis makes her uncompromising politics seem less like idealism than plain, democratic common sense.

Too bad about the dreadful (and misleading) title, then. After all, in Willis's politics of pleasure, thinking and smiling should never be mutually exclusive.

 

Keith Harris is a Minneapolis writer and a frequent contributor toCity Pages.

 

RIKKI DUCORNET

by Eric Lorberer

We live in censorious times. If there are skirmishes here and there over blasphemous museum shows or government funding, there is an outright war raging in the subconscious of the culture, a war over whether "art" is necessary at all. And though we need all kinds of artists--"diversity," after all, being a buzzword with some backbone--it seems to me that more than ever we need artists who will pitch their talents toward this battle. The growing body of work of writer Rikki Ducornet reveals her to be one such artist, and the double-barreled assault she unleashed this year on the forces of fin-de-siècle censorship wins her my vote for artist of the year.

This is not to say that her work should be taken as a political manifesto, but rather as a pointed demonstration of the powers of imagination. In The Monstrous and the Marvelous, a volume of essays, Ducornet playfully investigates works of literature, art, and film that create ruptures in our sense of normality. Whether comparing the poetry of Cesar Vallejo to the "little memory theaters" of Joseph Cornell, confronting the anatomical aberrations in the wunderkammern of Russia's Peter the Great, or analyzing the image of "the death cunt" in works by David Lynch and the Brothers Quay, Ducornet shows how the road of excess indeed leads to the palace of wisdom. Most important, however, her ability to transfix and communicate her sense of wonder becomes wondrous in itself, making these essays read with the same quirky delight as her fiction.

Her newest work in this category, meanwhile, resounds with the uncomfortable echo of truth. The Fan-Maker's Inquisition is subtitled "a novel of the Marquis de Sade," but it is much more: a reverie on eroticism and art; an investigation into the politics of cruelty; a challenge to those who would censor books and yet create or condone elaborate justifications for murder. Ducornet's reclamation of Sade, redefining him from the monster named in everyday speech to an ordinary human, is itself a sophisticated and courageous move. That she deploys this fictional representation to turn our gaze toward the true monsters--the moralizers who'd guillotine anyone, even a fan maker, for having a thought in her head, and the religious armada that, upon "discovering" what they so presumptuously called "the new world," massacred its native people--is extraordinary.

Already hailed by the Los Angeles Times as one of the ten best books of the year (and with more kudos to come, I predict), Ducornet's novel reminds us that Sade was, after all, just a writer; the theaters of cruelty that have actually been staged throughout human history are far more horrific. Such reminders are the kind of art we need to take into the coming millennium if we are to understand and evolve beyond what we've done in this one.

 

Eric Lorberer is a Minneapolis poet and editor of the book reviewRain Taxi.

 

ALBIE SACHS

by Katherine Lanpher

Albie Sachs is a South African supreme-court justice who helped write the country's new constitution and who lost his left arm to a car bomb meant to disrupt his work against apartheid. He's also a great storyteller and writer: When he went into exile in the 1960s after twice being held without a trial, he wrote The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs, which was later made into a play. After the car-bomb attack in Mozambique, he wrote another memoir, The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter, which told of his struggle to recover his life.

Today he speaks around the world about his experiences and the new South Africa, and he can speak achingly about that society's Truth and Reconciliation hearings. He did so twice this year in Minnesota, at the University of Minnesota and at William Mitchell College of Law.

So why is he my artist of the year? It is for one particular moment in the booth at Minnesota Public Radio, when I was interviewing him about his time in solitary confinement. With no visual or human stimuli, he recounted, you become very attuned to sound. One day he heard someone whistling--another prisoner, he suspected, and so he whistled back. No response. He tried songs from the antiapartheid movement. No response. He tried a folk song. No response. Then, he said, he tried "Coming Home'' by Dvorák.

He whistled a few bridges--and got an answer, the next few bridges of the song.

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