2023’s Culture in Review

By Culture Editors

The Glasgow Guardian’s Culture team dissects the year just gone – by picking a favourite work of art from their area of expertise.

Katherine Prentice – Culture Editor: Barbie directed by Greta Gerwig

I don’t feel like we can have a best of list without a nod to the absolute sensation Barbenheimer caused, and the insane cultural fallout afterwards. My pick out of the two is Barbie, which if you have somehow missed, please watch it, and then watch it again. It was just so fun, which is mostly what it promised as a film, but the more you think about it, more and more subtle aspects come forward than the obvious critiques of consumerism and toxic positivity, and on my second watch I was bawling my eyes out with my sister and mum at its approach to family. While Barbie was inevitably going to be a box office success (and a testament to the power of a great marketing team), its critical acclaim was less obvious before its release than, say, Oppenheimer’s. But the film’s comedy, iconic soundtrack (thank you again, Charli XCX) and engaging plot secured it as a favourite of the year. 

Erin Doak – Art Editor: El Anatsui at Tate’s Turbine Hall

Hanging in the Tate’s Turbine Hall is a shimmering monumental installation work by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui. Its three parts reveal themselves gradually as the viewer moves through the gallery and the light reflects off its draped surfaces. What seem at first to be immense pieces of glistening fabric, on closer inspection reveal themselves as panels composed of thousands of fragments of discarded commercial items: bottle caps or brand labels, intricately stitched together. The result: glowing masses of metallic textile on an immense scale that demand your full attention. The sheer scale of Anatsui’s work, especially in relation to the smallness of its parts, creates an illusionary quality that is an experience in itself – but at a closer look, its significance is nuanced and manifold. At the heart of this work are the questions: where is the hope in hopelessness? And what is created when small, seemingly insignificant components, join together to form a whole?

Dan Brophy – Music Editor: Cartwheel by Hotline TNT 

Cartwheel; while it may not be the best album of the year, it sounds the most like 2023. A year defined by absurdity and outrage despite reinvention, Cartwheel provides a glimpse into the onslaught of everyday life through distorted amplifiers. 

Despite hailing from New York’s constantly evolving DIY scene, Will Anderson’s Hotline TNT took inspiration from America’s Midwestern indie-heartland to create Cartwheel. Short, sweet and fuzzy anthems construct a record bound by escapism, yet rooted in the everyday. While its production is bound by distortion, in every sense of the word, brightness shines through on every track. That blissful Americana twang from which the record is inspired provides a perfect distraction, while its fuzzed out guitars ground its sound in reality. The perfect yet unexpected balance. 

An analysis into the depth of Cartwheel’s lyricism seems to reveal a lover’s despair; however, a closer look demonstrates a lover’s hope in the face of despair. Unfortunately, that’s what this year feels like. Continuing heartbreak, continuing sadness and continuing acceptance of the degeneration around us. What we can take from Cartwheel; however, is that hope remains. We can still escape, for just over two minutes at a time.

Constance Roisin – Books Editor: Lives of the Wives by Carmela Ciuraru

Carmela Ciuraru’s Lives of the Wives is a group biography that explores five marriages in the twentieth century. There is Una Troubridge, who becomes devoted to the controversial writer Radclyffe Hall. Here is lesbian gossip of the highest degree: betrayal, dog breeding, seances, and a baby hung outside of a window to dry. Next is the complicated and highly independent Elsa Morante, sneaking into Nazi-occupied Rome to pick up some winter coats and check on her novel before returning to her husband, Alberto Moravia, hiding in a hut in the mountains. Then we move on to Elaine Dundy (author of the fantastic The Dud Avocado) having naked screaming matches with the waspish Kenneth Tynan. This is followed by sweet Elizabeth Jane Howard chatting with her step-son, baby Martin Amis, and finally, the actress Patrica Neal, nursed back to health after her stroke by her husband, the biggest villain in the piece, Roald (‘The Rotter’) Dahl. Lives of the Wives received mixed reviews this year, with many critics wondering what exactly the point of it was. It belongs, like Phyllis Rose’s Parallel Lives and this year’s Wifedom by Anna Funder, in the canon of books about ‘the literary wife’, and there is something here about who gets to write and who has to clean up. But, mostly, forget a point and just enjoy it. 

Angelica Kerr – Theatre Editor: Chanel at the Victoria and Albert Museum

While knowing of the big name, Chanel, as everyone does, I had never admired the beauty, precision, delicacy and boldness of her designs until I visited the Gabrielle Chanel exhibition at the V&A. Going through the decades of her designs and following the progression of her styles, thematically and chronologically, you instantly understand that the real mastery underpinning the clothes is timelessness; these designs will never bore us. As Chanel said herself, “Fashion goes out of fashion, style never does.” Starting with silk blouses and then drifting through evening dresses and the Chanel suits, with glitter and lace and leather, I was startled by how one woman, once described as “a peasant and a genius”, could produce clothes which looked as if they were produced effortlessly, but perfectly and flawlessly. Even in the 1930s, you see Chanel’s consolidation of modernity in her beautiful necklines and fabrics, making you want to preserve the perfection and yet simultaneously wear it. The curation of the exhibition does well to maintain Chanel’s mysterious persona, adding to the designs transcendental image; touching lightly on her relationship with Winston Churchill and her involvement with Nazis and the French Revolution, we come out not with answers, but with an overwhelming fascination.

Caitlin MacDonald – Film Editor: Asteroid City directed by Wes Anderson

Asteroid City, Wes Anderson’s latest film, is his finest yet. What first appears as a sun-bleached, Americana metafictional play set in a fictional drive-by settlement of the same name hides a tender, emotional core – of love, loss and grief. Asteroid City is Anderson’s most refined work, a culmination of Anderson’s wonderfully charming carousel of actors, both new and old, and Anderson’s years of experience. Behind the typical sardonic and deadpan dialogue and dry wit humour is a tragedy – about how we explain and learn to live with our grief, as well as the emotional toll of creative endeavours. Where there is love, there is loss also. No jump without its fall. As the film preaches, you can’t wake up if you don’t fall asleep. The real beauty of Asteroid City is its brazen and unapologetic love for life, its affection for the simple interactions and connections between others. Anderson screams into the universe: “Is anybody out there? Is anybody listening?”. Yes. Yes, there is.

Morgan Woodfall – Culture Editor: Javelin by Sufjan Stevens

What would you do if your partner died and you had to relearn to walk? Sufjan Stevens made an album, or a prayer, or a plea to the versions of himself that were ever ungrateful, thoughtless or unkind, and talked himself down from the edge. “Goodbye Evergreen” and “Genuflecting Ghost” burst into abstract paintings in their back halves, “My Red Little Fox” and “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” rise into choral magnificence out of Sufjan’s ceaseless tiny guitar, and all the while we are reminded that love and death, the acoustic and electronic, wandering soundscape and precise melody are forever intertwined. It’s as if he is teaching himself every style of music he has ever made again, from the carolling polyphony of “Illinois”, the quiet frigidity of “Michigan” to the machinic bombast of “The Age of Adz”; they all rear their heads in moments, then subsumed again. “So You Are Tired” and “Shit Talk” are standouts, Sufjan reaching newly awe-inspiring heights with the ceaseless compounding of melody after melody, his misery and his joy. “So you are breathing disaster”, he murmurs, quietly destroying my heart. It’s therapy for anyone who has suffered this year. All he is doing, I think, is listening.


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