Highlights of the Year in Australian Arts and Culture
The Monthly invited a panel of 25 eminent critics, curators and practitioners to nominate the artistic works that they most admired and enjoyed over the past year. The resulting selection highlights the best of Australian arts and culture in 2018.
The Monthly thanks the members of its Arts Issue selection committee:
Alison Croggon David Marr
Anna Goldsworthy Wesley Enoch Jonathan Holloway Stephanie Bishop Christos Tsiolkas
Delia Falconer Terri-ann White Jenny Valentish Michael Williams Alexie Glass-Kantor Callum Morton
Katrina Sedgwick Gideon Obarzanek Lisa Havilah
Brian Ritchie Julian Day
Claire G. Coleman Deborah Conway Shelley Lasica Susan Cohn Miriam Cosic Helen Elliott
In an age when both reality TV and comedy have trended towards people looking straight at the camera in declarative mode, often brutally narcissistic, the ABC’s You Can’t Ask That is like an apology for past misdemeanours. Each of its episodes, across three series now, is smart and savvy, humorous and heartbreaking. Each is the product of a deep understanding of the work of cultural representation, and the beauty of personal expression – in one’s own voice – and the act of listening.
Producers and directors Kirk Docker and Aaron Smith give “marginalised” people in our society the forum to introduce the features of their lives that have made them distinct from the “majority”. People who live with divergence, and possibly prejudice, by dint of the circumstances of their birth, their life choices, or what someone else has done to mark them out as “damaged”.
The format is simple: a set of questions collected from mainstream society – sometimes ignorant or aggressive in tone, sometimes merely curious – is posed to the reference group of each 30-minute episode (titles include “Eating Disorders”, “Survivors of Sexual Assault”, “Swingers”, “Refugees”, “Blind People”). The participants, set against plain backdrops as singles, pairs or trios, respond with remarkable generosity, sharing the real, often raw, experiences and issues they live with constantly.
As with life, even the most harrowing stories have lightness, resilience and, regularly, humour. There is a warm rapport, usually, between the people sitting together on camera, and a weirdly wonderful and subliminal-level score that nevertheless keeps the viewer focused on the talking. I’m a serial watcher, laughing and crying and in love with the extraordinary humanness and intimacy on display. Two quick tips: the episodes titled “Down Syndrome” and “Drag” are magnificently illuminating.