A Letter to 2017
by Abby King
I write this wondering as I often do how many people actually read the letters we throw into the void. I do this in part as self-flagellation and writer's block, focusing on negative numbers I invent rather than putting pen to paper. I bring this up as I reflect on 2017 and Velvet Glove’s first year in existence. I am left tallying what really matters and what motivates us as we continue into the future. What pieces have I or Matt written that truly made a dent in our community and what shows have we seen that made it all worth it. Is this endeavor just adding to the noise?
Among other questions I've asked myself is how did we get to this place? I don't mean strictly political. I'd be deluded not to see the pendulum of neo-liberalism swing between parties or the economic disparities that lead to the Trump presidency. I'm more awed at how quickly this year came to pass. How the anger and energy I felt last October have led to this 'yet again' moment when faced with tax bills, net neutrality, and other atrocities.
To see the year as a list of grievances adding up to apathy isn't a fair evaluation. There's been punctuations and calls to actions littered throughout. The year started out with a bang with the Women’s March and the most recent election of Doug Jones in Alabama serve as liberal bookends to 2017. But there’s a major perceived victory that has been plaguing me. The Me Too movement. I tried several times to write a piece directly addressing it but was overwhelmed. To put into words how I felt triggered and unrightfully propelled to spill my own guts mixed with the empathy and respect I felt for those coming forward was too hard to express. For those who did, I believe you. I applaud you. But for the movement, why do we continue to exist on the backs of the victims? Is there no better path to change than asking those who've already been silenced and shamed? How can we enact a shift without ripping open old wounds and asking sacrifice from those who've already been trampled by the systems we wish to overthrow? I’m grateful watching our tv screens, art world, and everywhere else take down the sexual predators in our midst. I’m grateful for brave women coming forward. But I’m still conflicted as the means in which we have to tread to solicit action.
My main action this year was to try to make something new, with a friend and a far better writer than I. Velvet Glove is Matt and I’s labour of love to the Philadelphia art world. The highlight to dear 2017 is the amount of solidarity and strong artwork I've seen pour out of recent months. The people I've met, observed, interviewed, and photographed, don't feel a product of the trauma of 2017. The artists making work are consuming this time but positing greatness. They are reimagining the future with the present as their fuel. They are Emma Sulkowicz continuing to take on the authority long before the me too moment, Mariel Capanna rushing her paintings to capture the past image running away from her, Huewayne Watson finding an approachable moment at the ICA.
It is easy to dismiss a year and look forward to the next. The ending siren song of 2016 was fuck this year but has 2017 been any better? Rather than look endlessly forward to a new year with little hope for complete upheaval I’m going to try and focus on what’s possible to change. Like finishing an article your not sure will reach the audience you’d like or going to the bike protest even though the early post election crowds have died down to five people. Or participating in local politics and electing the most badass district attorney, Larry Krasner! Kudos Philly for that one.
There’s a quote from Masha Gessen, the journalist and Russian dissident, that comes to mind while trying to remain hopeful as we go into the new year. Her message comes from an interview on Samantha Bee’s underrated show, Full Frontal, and her advice for surviving the Trump era is an anti-apathy mantra I’ve often repeated.
“The thing I think to do, and this is my recipe, is actually to continue panicking — to continue to be sort of the hysteric in the room and to keep saying ‘This is not normal.’ Keep doing that, and just remember why you’re panicking.”
It's not unique to history to have a demagogue leading us, or for white supremacy and bigotry to be in full force. But now we can see it. It’s in plain sight. So in Gessen’s words, let’s keep panicking.