2013: The Faces of Culture


David Bowie – Lucy Smalley
photo from The Orange Press

It’s been quite a year for Mr. Bowie, forty years after his rise to international fame in the 70s and following a ten-year break from touring, out sprang The Next Day in March of this year, announced only two months before its release. Weeks after, the V&A opened a major retrospective for Bowie that ran until August – this access to archives showed that David Bowie is far more than merely a musical icon, his contribution to the wider sphere of culture thus far worthy of an expansive exhibition comprising of over 300 objects in ‘the world’s greatest museum of art and design’.

The Next Day shot straight to number 1 on the UK singles chart, selling over 94,000 copies in its first week, and was nominated for the 2013 Mercury Prize and for Best Rock Album at the 2014 Grammy Awards. You simply have to step into an HMV to see the rejuvenated state of Bowie-mania in the UK, entire displays in his honour showcasing not just his recent album but all of his previous albums that received critical acclaim decades ago. He may be approaching the ripe old age of seventy, but 2013 has shown that this musical innovator and cultural icon certainly still has it.


Suzanne Collins – Bryony Seager
photo by David Shankbone

They’ve been called children’s books, teen books, young-adult fiction, “[teenagers’] books that adults are eager to read”… it seems that in appealing to a wide market that Suzanne Collins can do no wrong. 2013 saw the second film of the four-film adaptation of her Hunger Games trilogy appear in the cinemas. Catching Fire – starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark – broke the world record for an opening weekend of a 2D movie by raking in an astonishing $307 million. This nearly doubled what the first movie in the series, The Hunger Games, had made just over a year before.

Collins has written other children’s fiction as well including ‘Year of the Jungle’ and a New York Times published series ‘Underland Chronicles’, but it is of course her Hunger Games trilogy for which she is most well known. The third instalment of the four movies comes out next year and I can’t wait to see how they’ve adapted the final book!


Laure Prouvost – Joanna Gresty

photo by Jon Thomson

On the 2nd December 2013, French-born artist and filmmaker Laure Prouvost (age 35) was named the winner of the prestigious Turner Prize. Whilst Prouvost’s recent filmography has none of the intellectualised, clinical precision of last year’s winner Elizabeth Price, the victorious artwork ‘Wantee’ was applauded for its many layers of meaning, unusually surreal sentimentality and the creation of a deeply atmospheric environment within the exhibition. The title, ‘Wantee’ is taken from nickname that German painter Kurt Schwitters’ gave to his girlfriend who was eternally asking if anyone “want tea?” The scene was introduced by the question: “Would you like some tea?” which takes the audience on a search of the artist’s fictional grandfather. Prouvost’s narrative sees her fictional grandfather in question being made to complete domestic tasks by his wife, delineating the internal struggles of an artist whose dreams have been subordinated to the pulls of reality.

It’s the first time the Turner Prize has been held outside England – an important progression in the prize’s generally London-centric history. “Thank you for adopting me, for having a French one,” Prouvost (who also won the fourth Max Mara art prize for women in 2011) grinned upon accepting the award “I feel adopted by the UK.” For those who don’t know the Turner Prize, established in 1984, is awarded to a contemporary artist under 50, living, working or born in Britain, who is judged to have put on the best exhibition of the last 12 months. Previous winners of the Turner Prize include Damien Hirst, Antony Gormley and previously mentioned video artist Elizabeth Price, who took last year’s award.


Beyoncé – Simon James

photo courtesy of mp3waxx.com

It’s been a big year for Beyoncé Knowles. Most notable is her most recent venture: her “secret” self-titled visual album. Fourteen tracks, each with an accompanying short film, Beyoncé was released without warning on iTunes, quickly becoming the fastest project to ever debut on iTunes and Beyoncé’s most successful album to-date in terms of first-week figures. The album received critical acclaim for its themes (e.g. empowerment, as with her previous work, but also darker topics such as postnatal depression), musical experimentation and her vocal performance. The album has been voted by many critics as the number one album of 2013, and has made her the first female artist in history to have five consecutive number one albums in the US.

But that’s not all she’s been up to this year: Back in January, Ms Knowles sang the American national anthem at Obama’s second inauguration. She faced criticism for miming to a pre-recorded track, and responded at a news conference by saying there was no time for a sound check and she wanted to be confident the performance was perfect. She then sang the anthem at the conference before quipping “any questions?” Point made.

She then performed at the Superbowl halftime show, which stands as the second most tweeted about moment in history (268,000 tweets a minute). She also released the Life Is But a Dream film which she produced and directed herself, documenting the various stages in her life up to now. All of this whilst touring The Mrs. Carter Show round the world all year. With a one-year-old daughter, just how has she fit all this into 2013?!


Banksy – Iain Beddow

photo sourced from artist website

The elusive Bristolian took to the latter months of 2013 by storm, devising possibly his most outlandish public art exhibits to date. Through his ‘Better Out Than In’ occupation of New York City, the controversial artist lay siege on yet another headlining year. Banksy resided in the Big Apple throughout the entirety of October, showcasing an exhibit once-a-day, sprinkling the famous city with his reputable work. The pseudonymous Brit marked his residency with ingenious pieces we have become accustomed to, notoriously anti-authoritarian, poking fun at popular culture. The renegade showed his versatility with new approaches such as sculptures and live-art instillations, coupled with his age-old stencil graffiti which formed the artist’s main tools leaving New Yorkers and much of the internet in a flutter.

Through incorporating social media, Banksy publicised his residency through an Instagram account, detailing where residents could find their daily Banksy dose. Stand-out pieces included the meat-packing “silence of the lambs” truck, the mobile garden and his Central Park pop-up art sale. As quickly as October came and went, so did Banksy leaving quietly, returning to the shadows. His short stay left a city and much of the world captivated, intrigued and crucially eager for more.


Lou Reed – Joanna Gresty

photo by Phil King

“Have some Sangria in the park today,” read professional comedy writer Julieanne Smolinski’s twitter status on debatably one of the most marked days of 2013. With over twenty thousand retweets and one million favourites, it is clear that the social-media world was in little doubt what kind of influence had passed on that cold October afternoon.
Lou Reed remains, two months on from his death, a massively influential songwriter and guitarist who helped shape nearly fifty years of rock music. For me personally, ‘The Velvet Underground’, ‘Can’, and ‘The Fall’ comprise something of a holy trinity of bands that best embody the spirit of rock and roll. After quitting his first commercial success in the former of the three bands, Reed’s solo career spanning 1972 to late 2013 rocketed his individual talents to international stardom. Presently SCAN Culture doesn’t have a defined obituary column, but if it did, it would be the passing of someone like Lou Reed that would incite it.

After his liver transplant in Cleveland in early May, Reed claimed to be “bigger and stronger” than ever but, at least in a physical sense, he was mistaken. Lou Reed died on October 27, his last moments in the arms of his wife (Laurie Anderson), practicing his favourite pastime, t’ai chi, eyes wide open.  How appropriate.  The world’s most eloquent and insightful eulogy could never add to that level of beauty. Rest in peace, Lou.


Smaug – Bryony Seager


It’s been something of a year for dragons. What with Game of Thrones at the peak of it’s popularity and now with the new Hobbit movie, directed by Peter Jackson; ‘The Desolation of Smaug’. Voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch it seems that this dragon has pipped all others to the post this year; what with his introduction in the trailer with a rumble, a growl, and a large orange eye. In the book Smaug is described as “a most specially greedy, strong and wicked worm”, I feel that in the film depictions Jackson has gone a little bit further, removed the worm and made Smaug something that people might genuinely be terrified of.

In his performance as Smaug, Cumberbatch was filmed using motion-capture techniques during his performance. WETA digital then fleshed in the dragon using their Tissue Software, which they won an Academy Award for. Many critics have claimed that Smaug is the greatest dragon incarnation in cinema history. Smaug also makes an appearance on Forbes rich list at #7 on ‘the richest fictional characters of all time,’ with an estimated net worth of $8.6 billion.


Miley Cyrus – Ebony Lauren Nash

photo by Mariana Raquel

The name on everyone’s lips, or should we say, tongue: Miley Cyrus has monopolised the entire media sphere this year with her dubious and plain outlandish antics. We’ve seen it all: twerking on a liquor-wielding Father Christmas, grinding on life-sized stuffed animals and mounting wrecking balls in the nude. It sure has been a busy year for Miss Cyrus’ nether regions. Oh, and may we never forget her fellating a hammer in the aforementioned ‘Wrecking Ball’ video.

The question is: where do we go from here? Will we see 2014 having to redirect her videos from YouTube to RedTube? She’s rounded up the tumultuous year with the grand finale that is the ‘Adore You’ video – treating us to soft-core porn without even having to open an Incognito tab – if you’re into posed faux-masturbation shots, that is. We can only hope that her first New Year’s resolution is to never, ever, stick that damn tongue out ever again. Please Miley, please…

Simon James

Any excuse to write about Oasis really.

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