Legend has it that when Zhou Enlai was asked what the significance of the French Revolution of 1789 was, he replied: “Too soon to say.” Tank has been publishing since 1998; it may be that when looking back, what is recent always appears most interesting, but the last decade and a half has surely been among the most tumultuous periods in history. Here is a modest attempt at an archaeology of the last 15 years – events and artefacts from across the world that seem likely to have a lasting influence. In the realm of fashion, there can be no doubt who is the most influential designer of our era. Miuccia Prada, a relatively quiet voice in 1998, has become the designer most consistently celebrated by critics, and the rise and rise of her eponymous business attests to her popularity and commercial acumen. Her collections of the past decade are referenced so widely that it is no longer possible to sit through a fashion season anywhere in the world without seeing some of her old ideas resurrected as new by brands large and small, old and young. In her omnipresence, she comes to resemble not merely a maker of fashions in our time but the spirit of fashion itself. A designer for all seasons, Prada holds up the ideal mirror to an age of change, chance and tumult.
AW 2013 / Jeremy Deller
This year sees Jeremy Deller represent the UK at the Venice Biennale, a striking achievement for an artist whose work – whether by re-enacting a contested event as in The Battle of Orgreave, or paying tribute to popular creativity as in his Folk Archive – connects with a neglected British tradition of dissenting, socially conscious art.
SS 2012 / Documenta
The hyper-ambitious 13th edition of Documenta, the sprawling five-yearly contemporary art show that takes over Kassel for 100 days, cemented its status as the agenda-setting event in an increasingly globalised art world.
AW 2011 / A Separation
Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation, the first Iranian film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Picture, marked a watershed in the country’s rich cinematic tradition. Matching its success on the international festival circuit with box office returns at home, the film broke with the self-conscious meta-fictions of an earlier generation to provide an uncompromising social portrait of Iran.
SS 2010 / The Clock
Christian Marclay’s 24-hour montage stitches together thousands of film clips from across cinema’s rich history. Unfolding in real time, each hour strikes on screen, the minutes marked by clocks or watches in shot, or spoken in snatches of dialogue. The sheer simplicity of the idea belies the intricacy of its effects. The Clock at once addresses the oldest human concern – our predicament as creatures trapped in time – and stands as a second-by-second monument to the dizzying archival possibilities of the present.
AW 2009 / CCTV
The two towers of China Central Television Headquarters in Beijing collide in a great loop, a twisted circuit that acknowledges the endlessly rolling nature of 24-hour news. Rem Koolhaas’s OMA studio aimed to create “an alternative to the exhausted typology of the skyscraper”. The cantilevered forms of the CCTV building represent not only a remarkable feat of engineering but also a unique visual signature, an Eiffel Tower for the 21st century.
AW 2008 / Beijing Olympic Stadium
The Beijing National Stadium, a.k.a. the Bird’s Nest, was a joint venture by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron and artist Ai Weiwei. Though its design was based on traditional Chinese ceramics, it stood as a wholly contemporary emblem of China’s new self-confidence on the global stage.
AW 2007 / For the Love of God
Priced at £50 million when it went on display in the summer of 2007 – just before the credit crunch hit – Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull was both a lavish last hurrah for ’90s Brit Art and a self-conscious parody of vacant art-world excess.
SS 2006 / Twitter
With its 140-character limit, Twitter refashioned the SMS into a pithy tool for taste-making and opinion-shaping – as well as a weapon for protest and activism. Today, over 340 million tweets are sent daily, making it an important global public sphere in its own right.
AW 2005 / Hurricane Katrina
The third deadliest hurricane in the history of the US tore apart the city of New Orleans, causing hundreds of casualties and billions of dollars’ worth of damage. The near-apocalyptic scenes of an urban civilisation in meltdown revealed vulnerabilities and divisions within the world’s greatest power.
AW 2004 / Facebook
Based on the yearbook format of US colleges and high schools, Facebook altered the online landscape. With more than a billion active users, it has since become the dominant form of social media.
SS 2003 / Anonymous
Emerging from the depths of the online forum to the front ranks of digital activism, the Anonymous collective’s loose internal structures, vast membership and global reach embody – for good or ill – the new form of democracy in the online age.
SS 2002 / The Wire
Just when we thought TV was dead, The Wire redefined it, combining a sharp depiction of Baltimore’s sociopolitical institutions with the complex plots and long story arcs commonly associated with 19th-century fiction. It kick-started the era of the box-set, giving dramatists a new, lavish canvas and achieving global cult status.
SS 2001 / 9/11
The terrorist attacks that shook New York and Washington, DC sent instant reverberations round the world, and have defined global politics in the 21st century.
SS 2000 / Tate Modern
The former Bankside Power Station was reinvented by Herzog and de Meuron to become London’s essential venue – a cultural landmark that has made contemporary art into a form of mass entertainment, surpassing football in the size of the audience it attracts.
SS 1999 / Google
The most visited website in the world, Google quickly achieved the conspicuous success of having its brand-name become a verb. Its omnipresence has made it both indispensable and alarming: its instant recall is at our fingertips even as the world beyond its algorithms disappears from its voracious virtual memory.
Hair: Bianca Tuovi @ CLM UK
Make-up: Jo Frost @ CLM UK
Model: Lena Hardt @ Viva London
Casting: Ben Grimes
Printing & retouching: Graeme @ Touch Digital