Artists of the Year

Ernesto Quinonez is the author of the novel Bodega Dreams (Knopf); he lives in New York.

 

The Onion
By Dennis Lim

P-Jay Fidler

 

So much of what was published in the wake of September 11 could be reduced to a single, self-defeating refrain: There are no words... but here are some more anyway. Countless memoirist pieces left an aftertaste of morbid narcissism. (Least favorite literary subgenre of 2001: first-person accounts of devastation in downtown Manhattan, as witnessed from Brooklyn Heights roofs or in Upper West Side living rooms.) Reviewers projected spurious resonances at will (e.g., This movie seems, well, different now). Commentators lunged at big-picture prognostications, undaunted even after irony's miraculous rebirth: Is metaphor down but not out? What if nothing is ever funny again?

On September 26 the Onion published its first post-WTC issue. The effect was like a strobe light slicing through a fog of inchoate, incoherent despair. Just a few months later, "Holy Fucking Shit: Attack on America" already has the spooky gravitas of a time capsule--unmistakably both a document and a product of the aftermath. The main story systematically dismantled the escalating rhetoric into its component irrationalities ("U.S. Vows To Defeat Whoever It Is We're At War With"). No think piece on the so-called new patriotism pinpointed the underlying sheepish puzzlement as evocatively as the Onion did in one matter-of-fact headline: "Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake." It also desentimentalized the rising tide of prelapsarian nostalgia: "A Shattered Nation Longs to Care About Stupid Bullshit Again."

Even the items that threatened to go too far turned their suspect premises inside out. Though the banner "Talking to Your Child About the WTC Attack" sent up a massive red flag, it was followed not by mocking platitudes, but by a straight-faced, densely factual history of Islamic fundamentalism. The unhinged hijackers-in-hell scenario is trumped by the issue's fearless pièce de résistance: the "God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule" press conference. Far more than tactful parody at a time when current events seemed singularly unlampoonable, this was satire at its most purposeful and nakedly emotional, fueled by the inherent absurdity of trying to make sense of the senseless.

Dennis Lim is the film editor at the Village Voice.

 

Wool Freaks
By Drew Daniel

 

Let me start off by saying that I don't much approve of "Artists of the Year" as a concept. Personally, I've always preferred the idea of the "shordupersav," or short-duration personal savior, a notion proposed by art pranksters the Church of the SubGenius. Instead of committing your life to Jesus, you can commit your afternoon to the worship of your bus driver, an obscure rhythm guitarist, or someone in a newspaper photograph. So, instead of an artist of the year, I have chosen an "artist of the day," someone I just learned about this morning who has really made my day worthwhile--and someone that you can all check out with a minimum of effort and without buying anything.

I guess my pocket definition of good art is that it draws unexpected connections across our received map of the world around us, helps us to look at everyday experience through a new lens, sidesteps clichés, and does so with humor, directness, and passion. In keeping with that definition, I offer up the anonymous creator of a German Web site for people who fetishize wool. The site can be found at www.woolfreaks.de, and if you push further to the section labeled "sweater fetish pics" you will find a truly amazing sequence of photographs of a man encased in enormous wool sweaters, scarves, and balaclavas. These images cross the sculptural impulses of recent Belgian avant-garde fashion with the purely personal exigencies of homemade fetish equipment. And it's all executed in the least sexy--in fact, downright mundane and cutesy--fabric: wool. Exhibiting both narcissistic bravery and formal beauty, the dynamic of self-presentation and concealment achieved in this series of pictures is touching, creative, and deeply funny. In other words, it's good art.

Drew Daniel plays in the San Francisco-based electronica duo Matmos; their latest album is A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure (Matador). For a new shordupersav each day, e-mail Matmos at mcess@prodigy.net.

 

Sharks
By Lisa Carver

 

Missy Elliot took her head off in a 2001 video with the help of a special-effects team. A shark will take your head off for REAL. Who needs special effects when you possess--in addition to the regular five senses--vibration and electromagnetic perception? Those two best sellers about great-white attacks came out in 2001 (Richard Fernicola's Twelve Days of Terror and Michael Capuzzo's Close to Shore), and all those surfers got bitten--12 in one weekend, I believe. Matt Lauer called it "the year of the shark." Until September 11 came and swallowed news stations and the national consciousness whole, sharks were really the thriller superstars of the year.

With their "dead" eyes and perpetual frown, sharks are not your average heartthrobs. But neither were Brontë's Heathcliff or Buffy's Angel. Humor and frivolity are not always the qualities sought in quivering girls' dreams. Sharks can hear and feel all over their body. They pick up on a single drop of blood from miles away. In South Africa you can dive with great whites and go down in a cage (www.sharkdive.co.za). You have to sign a waiver that says if you get eaten it's not the guide's fault, but supposedly no tourist has been eaten this way. Two people can fit in the cage together, and it lasts a half-hour. You could have sex down there! Or get married, if a priest and a witness had their own cage next to the happy couple's and everyone used sign language.

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