For the Best of 2012 In Print, see the December Issue of Artforum.

Steve Roggenbuck, Fuck IRL, 2012.


THE BEST PAINTING OF 2012 was the botched Jesus, the inexpert restoration of a nineteenth-century religious fresco. You can Google the restorer’s name and the location of her church if it matters to you; the painting interests me as one that unfolds online, shared and liked and collaged by thousands of nameless users. I suspect it went viral for the same reason that videos like Double Rainbow do: It expresses a selfless, raw awe at beautiful mysteries. Early twentieth-century biology demonstrated that a tick perceives nothing but its thirst for blood and the body temperature of animals that can satisfy it; viral media have revealed the appeal in the idea that the human animal is as singularly hungry for the sublime as the tick is for blood. The painting is an Ecce Homo, about the moment when Christ’s wounds are pointed to as proof of his fleshy humanity. In the new version Christ looks like a beast. His hair and his crown of thorns blend in a hedgehog’s spiky coat. His gaping mouth and eyes are splayed flat as a flounder’s. Christ is an animal, and the clumsy and loving hand that made him so moved with an animal craving for divinity. That’s the beauty of the botch.

Cats, like humans, are animals that have withdrawn from natural environments to made ones. Cat videos go viral when they show the cat engaged in some sort of strange play that speaks to human dreams and anxieties. Maru—a Scottish Fold from Japan with over 185 million views on YouTube—sees the Void in an empty paper bag and barely pauses to contemplate it before plunging in headfirst, filling it with the whole of his Being. Maru’s existential heroics were honored with a People’s Choice award at the Internet Cat Video Film Festival, organized by the Walker Art Center this summer (and viewable online as a YouTube playlist). The Harvard Film Archive followed suit with a festival of its own shortly thereafter. Institutional recognition can’t improve cat videos. Cats don’t need its validation. But the fact of the festivals suggests a readiness to reflect on new, popular forms of visual media and their anthropological implications.

Get Adobe Flash player
play
Full screen available while playing

The cat Maru.

Alt lit flourished in 2012. It’s a kind of pointedly botched poetry whose writers cultivate bad spelling, weird punctuation, sincere statements of the obvious, and a spontaneous expressivity evocative of erratic pubescent passions. It’s a lit that manifests itself not in discrete, re-readable texts but status updates, tweets, digital collages, PDFs that are opened once and then lost among desktop clutter. Some call alt lit a “movement” but it’s fundamentally un-modernist; it prizes not motion but the animated stasis of sitting at a keyboard with distant friends and strangers, accruing digital ephemera that occupies space on some remote server. Alt lit’s most visible figure is Steve Roggenbuck, an MFA dropout and itinerant motivational speaker, and it has a number of other distinctive voices (among them Crispin Best, Melissa Broder, and Michael Hessel-Mial), but it thrives as a mass mutual exchange of texts and responses. As Roggenbuck put it in one of his manifestoes: “what we are doing is bigger than and aside from abstract ideas of literary merit. we are making each others lives better.” Or as Best tweeted: “there’s no i in teen.” Social being is their sublime and it’s happening all the time online.

Brian Droitcour is a writer based in New York.