Dunst, Dreamers And Drones: The Double Negative Awards 2015

We have asked our critics to name their cultural winners of 2015: who will make the cut?

What to say about a year where The Double Negative discussed shame with Jon Ronson? Watched Shia LaBeouf man an existential call centre? Debated the General Election’s effect on contemporary art? Saw The Whitworth gallery return to glory? Said goodbye to Wes Craven and Brian Sewell? Visited BrusselsGhana, Gujarat, and Reykjavík? Printed an indispensable city guide?

Possibly one of The Double Negative’s most important experiences this year was being able to commission new arts writing. Through our Be A Critic programme — inviting broadcaster, writer and Royal Academy director Tim Marlow to Liverpool to deliver a public lecture and masterclass to 15 aspiring art critics — plus the fantastic Contemporary Visual Arts Network North West (CVAN NW) bursary, we’ve been mentoring, commissioning and publishing new arts writing. Not only creating a snapshot of ambitious, diverse contemporary British arts culture, these two programmes have demonstrated the power and urgency of supporting new writing from North-West England’s talent pool. We certainly hope to keep doing more of the same next year, in addition to providing more editorial support, mentoring and access to practical advice from those — like Marlow and last year’s Be A Critic guest, ArtReview’s Oliver Basciano — who have managed to champion critical thinking throughout their careers.

I’d like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to The Double Negative this year, as always; feeding into a continuing, vital source of arts criticism and cultural commentary that looks outwards and onwards, whilst acting — and publishing — locally.



In The Eyes Of The Animal: Marshmallow Laser Feast for AND Festival (pictured above)

Nominated by Laura Robertson

London-based studio Marshmallow Laser Feast arrived in Grizedale Forest (Cumbria) with a bang in September. Commissioned to make the focus artwork for art and tech fest Abandon Normal Devices (AND), they created In The Eyes Of The Animal: utilising drones, lasers and 3D animation to create a heightened, virtual reality experience of the forest from the perspective of its creatures. Essentially recording a bubble or full-sphere view of the landscape, by flying drones out over and through the trees, wearers of special VR headsets were able to get ‘inside’ that sphere whilst sitting on tree stumps on the forest floor. The result? A painterly, out-of-body experience; and a peek into the startling future of personal-use VR.

Comma Press, Beta Life


Comma Press

Nominated by Mike Pinnington

It was with a degree of irony that I’ve chosen publisher Comma Press – described on their website as being “dedicated to promoting new writing, with an emphasis on the short story” – as my pick of the year for 2015. I’ve always been ambivalent about short form fiction; often when I read a good short, I don’t want to let go of the ideas and characters after so brief a time, but sometimes it is more to do with a nagging feeling that what has been committed to the page is little more than a sketch, an idea that went for a walk but ran out of steam.

This year, however, with the science fiction collection Beta-Life (2015), I was introduced to Comma Press. Pairing experts with writers – a practice that goes some way to addressing each of my concerns about the form – readers get both great fiction and the science behind it into the bargain.

There was a fitting sense of coincidence, too, in my choice. Last week (22nd December) we celebrated National Short Story Day, and you can visit this page for more info and recommendations.

Max Richter: The Blue Notebooks (2004)


Max Richter performs The Blue Notebooks (2004) at ATP 2.0: Nightmare Before Christmas (Prestatyn)

Nominated by Laura Robertson

I was first introduced to contemporary composer Max Richter at university; one of my tutors made a copy of The Blue Notebooks for me on CD. They thought I’d be into it. I’d never given classical music much time… but I’d never heard anything like this. An abstract and poetic interpretation of Franz Kafta’s Blue Octavo diary extracts, using typewriters alongside birdsong, violin, piano and organ, with an unexpected vocal performance by British actress Tilda Swinton, it completely floored me. This record was one of the most exquisite things I’d ever heard. A rare chance to see it performed live and in full came this year with the UK return of ATP Festival: Richter seemed to stop time in the freezing cold, bedraggled surrounds of the Welsh holiday camp venue. A heavenly, poignant contemplation of the human spirit.

Kirsten Dunst, Fargo


Kirsten Dunst, Fargo (Channel 4)

Nominated by Jack Roe

Kirsten Dunst. Her portrayal of Peggy Blumquist in the second series of Fargo has been little short of bewitching. Her frazzled, twitching, beautician’s update on Lady MacBeth is a triumph of characterisation on the part of the writers, but there is something in her wide-eyed repetition of self-help mantras and increasingly erratic behaviour throughout the series that is absolutely compelling. And all that from someone who, let’s face it, wouldn’t make the top of many lists beforehand. There is always something thrilling about seeing a formerly mercurial actor quietly and assuredly take things up a gear.

A Small Cinema Liverpool


A Small Cinema (Liverpool)

Nominated by Mike Pinnington

Now a regular feature in our Culture Diary, how did we ever manage without A Small Cinema? A self-professed “project exploring what cinema used to be, and what form it might take in the future, through research, events, experiments, film-making and community dialogues”, ASC is a model its founder, digital artist Sam Meech, has explored previously, and with success – in North Manchester’s Moston, as well as a currently under construction “sibling project” as he calls it in a former church in St. Helens. The project is fully supported by BFI Film Hub North West Central, which means that the three venues can bring specialised and independent British Film to their local audiences. March 2016 will see ASC Liverpool celebrate its first 12 months; it has quickly become not just a welcome addition but a fixture in the cinematic make up of the city.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Joint winners: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J. J. Abrams)

Nominated by C. James Fagan

My cultural highlight of 2015? If I’m honest I have to give the award to two blockbusters: Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Simply because these two cultural events have been the ones which had me thinking and talking about them long after seeing them.

For me, both films served as reminders of what’s great about blockbuster cinema: the thrill of spectacle mixed with a heroic story. How that, in turn, acts as a spur to the imagination. Ultimately, however, I’ve selected Mad Max and Star Wars simply because they were so much fun!

Nominated by Jack Roe

There may (certainly) have been films that are more interesting, have more artistic integrity and have provoked more critical thought and discussion, but I will unashamedly swing for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The task of giving an absolutely monumental, not to mention rabid, fanbase the film that they wanted seemed like an unforgiving and perhaps impossible task. This film is better than most of us had any right to expect.

Advantageous (Jennifer Phang, 2015)


Advantageous (Jennifer Phang)

Nominated by Stuart Ian Burns

Bought for distribution at Sundance by Netflix, ironically causing unfortunate obscurity, Jennifer Phang’s indie wonder Advantageous glimpses a dystopian future in which an older woman is given the choice of losing a job which guarantees her child’s future, or sacrificing her own identity.  Tense, impressionistic, refreshing and warm filmmaking. Classic.



Liverpool International Festival Of Psychedelia 

Nominated (and photo) by Pete Goodbody 

As impossible to define as to predict, Psych Fest was a revelation and only in a good way. Set in the Baltic Triangle and using stages in both Camp and Furnace and District, it was clear on arrival this was going to be something special. There was that kind of atmosphere pinging around that you can almost feel and touch. Apart from having a passing familiarity with the camp theatre of Evil Blizzard and their thunderous four bass, one drummer line up, none of the other names on the bill meant anything to me. No matter, I didn’t see a bad band all weekend. The fuzz of Holy, the Latin rhythms of Fumaca Preta and the stripped down funk of Throw Down Bones were just three of the bands who have since taken up a more or less permanent residence on my iPod.

But it was more than just the music. There were enough bars to cope with the crowds, good street food, Psych Cinema, a pop-up record shop and a Hookah tent. This festival was very much more than the sum of its parts, impeccably organised and a showpiece for the versatility of its venues. I was buzzing for days afterwards.

Sir Terry Pratchett


Sir Terry Pratchett

Nominated by Jack Roe

The passing of Sir Terry Pratchett was, for many reasons, one of the more culturally significant moments of the year. The man’s unfaltering consistency, the fertility of his imagination and his wonderfully skewed, moralistic take on satire ensured that his works move beyond the sci-fi/fantasy genres and into something much more in touch with contemporary British society. The tragedy of the manner of his death ensured that the outpouring of emotion was huge from within and outside literary society, and yet the darkly comic bent was perfectly fitting with a man whose flights of fantasy could never quite avoid betraying a beautifully pitched cynicism. In the words of his brilliantly, and altogether human, take on the grim reaper: ‘AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.’

Laura Robertson

Posted on 31/12/2015 by thedoublenegative