Alibi V.27 No.51 • Dec 20-26, 2018 

Year in Review: Arts & Lit

The Year in How Things Seemed

2018 in art imitating life and vice versa

Still from Allyson Packer’s Liquid State at Vitrine this summer
Still from Allyson Packer’s Liquid State at Vitrine this summer
Courtesy of Allyson Packer

January to April

Being really angry for the first part of the year—about all of the big stuff that in the broadest sweep is important to most of us, “living situation,” “relationships,” “career,”—I spent much of January and February brooding. There was an opportunity to be shaken out of the smallness of my own silly world however, by stepping into Albuquerque Museum starting in January. That's when Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design opened. This expansive exhibition, making its first stop in the US here in Albuquerque, extended over a whole wing of the museum, but strolling through it, we crossed a continent in every track possible. Design in the broadest sense of the word was presented—everything from clothing to video games to furniture to photography. I sometimes find museums taxing (the standing, the reading), but I could've spent days in Making Africa; it's doubtful that I will forget many of the artists and concepts introduced to me during that show.

A short time later, I was again pleasantly taken out of my own head in March when I had a conversation with author Mohsin Hamid, who stopped in Albuquerque on a short speaking tour on his acclaimed novel, Exit West. We spoke over Skype, he in Lahore, where it was getting on to evening, and me in downtown Albuquerque, where it was early morning. I loved the book, and hearing Hamid talk about how it lived in the world, what he hoped it might mean to others, what writing it meant to him—it feels cheap to call it just inspiring. Deep, deep down, his words—so carefully thought, so encouraging—moved me. In my life so far, this is the most important and memorable conversation I've ever had. Which makes me resist trying to summarize it here. But definitely read Exit West.

May to August

On the heels of a month in London, I was so much less angry. A few weeks were rocky, but in May I moved to a new, sunny house and put all my plants on shelves there. Later that month I interviewed the great writer of the American West, Craig Childs, who I have been fangirling over since I read The Animal Dialogues in 2012. When I went to his reading he hugged me and it made me feel woozy. That same month I went to see Patrick Nagatani's survey of early work at the UNM Museum of Art. In all its stage-y design and color study, I, for the first time in a long while, wanted to make visual art of my own. Another stroke of inspiration.

Vitrine—the small Downtown gallery space—opened in May, and in June I went to see Allyson Packer's immersive installation there, called Liquid State. It offered an experience so quiet and poetic that “experiential” and the way it now conjures big, Meow Wolf-esque moments doesn't quite hit the mark. The work asked me to lay on the floor and feel the sunshine, to think back to what I was doing when that beam of light left the sun eight or so minutes ago, to look out the window, to look at a crack in the floor, to move slower and take in how rich even the quietest experiences can be.

September to October

I went back to London but didn't quite feel like it fixed my life the way it did the first time. But I did get to talk to comedian Hari Kondabolu the morning that I returned to Albuquerque, fresh off of three hours of sleep in my ex-boyfriend's bed, which everyone knows is the most complicated and least restful sleep there is. To me, comedy, for its incisiveness and its way of laying bare all the sad things about human life and making them funny, is much more difficult than most crafts. It's like poetry—if it's not really good, then it's just bad. But Kondabolu is really good. Chugging a Corona and hanging out at a casino might not be everybody's idea of fun—but doing so while listening to his super trenchant material—undeniably good.

November to December

Looking out of the bus' windows as it cruised around Downtown, Barelas and Wells Park, at first there was a challenge—how much of this was actually part of the show? The show being Promenade, a collaborative piece of theater developed by Q-Staff Theatre and Stereo Akt of Budapest that played from mid-November through the beginning of December. Promenade put the audience on a city bus and fitted us with headphones. The bus was our shepherd, but also something of a narrator. As we looked out at the city streets and saw and heard the absolute absurdity, humor and beauty that played out through on the other side of those sheets of glass, we, or maybe I should just say “I,” were gifted the opportunity not so much to re-imagine the city around us, but perhaps to imagine it for the first time. The script put the players on the city streets and as we cruised, we were able to fill in the stories, to consider the other lives playing out against these familiar landscapes and to realize that we too are part of each wild, unpredictable scene. Every time we step outside, even, we write ourselves in.

A week after I had my own Promenade experience (vowing to go back a second time, though it never quite happened) I was walking to the laundromat with a friend down Tenth Street. I was just opening my mouth to explain how the route of the bus carried the audience right down his street, when I clocked one of the characters on the corner ahead of us. I saw the scene begin to play out, this time at ground level. I looked behind me to see the bus slowly rolling up the street. I whisper-yelled into my friend's ear “oh my God! We're in it! We're in it!” As the bus pulled up alongside where we stood, a few feet from the scene playing out right there—dozens of headphoned spectators gazed out at us and the whole rapturous scene unfolding. It really drove the point home—that we are all surely in it.