In Situ: How to Reasonably Believe in God


The New York Public Library and Creative Time, a “public arts organization that works with artists to contribute to the dialogues, debates and dreams of our times,[i]” are working together on a current site-specific series of conversations “paring leading artists and public intellectuals to address critical topics of our time[ii]” called In Situ.  I attended one of these events on March 16th, 2017 in Manhattan at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the topic being: ‘How to Reasonably Believe in God.’

The conversation paired prominent//provocative “intellectual”, Slavoj Zizek and visual artist, Janine Antoni, with Sister Helen Prejean as moderator.  An unlikely pair, Zizek and Antoni did not seem to be on the same page at all during the one hour conversation—making it feel a lot more like three hours.  Sister Helen tried her best to moderate the discourse into some sort of dialogue of back and forth, but it seemed that confusion from Antoni—in regards to Zizek’s thick Slovenian accent, and a general lack of understanding of his key points and counter arguments—was the downfall of the conversation.

Janine Antoni was not the original scheduled participant for the event; Shirin Neshat, an Iran-born New York City visual artist, was originally scheduled to be in conversation with Slavoj Zizek but had to cancel at last minute.  Because of Janine’s unfulfilling participation in the event, I wondered constantly if it would have been a better time, had Neshat not had to cancel.  I spent a great deal of time frustrated by Antoni’s lack of participation and seeming disinterest of what Sister Helen or Zizek had to say throughout the night.  I do not think this is something to blame the New York Public Library or Creative Time for, as an email was sent out promptly before the event, explaining the sudden change-of-participant—though, I do wish their understudy was someone who ‘fit the bill’ more properly.

‘How to Reasonably Believe in God’ began with a short introduction from Reverend Patrick Malloy, PhD; Paul Holdengraber, Director of Public Programming at NYPL; and Nato Thompson, Artistic Director of Creative Time.  The remarks given by Reverend Malloy were thoughtful, substantial, and relevant; he spoke of inclusiveness in a time of division, giving your neighbor the benefit of the doubt, and learning to listen to those that do not believe/worship in the way that you do.  He held the audience in the palm of his hand upon every word, though delivered just a short enough speech that I’m sure he was overshadowed by the events of the night, for some listeners.  For me: the power of his concise and beautiful words ruminated with me throughout the night and onto many days later.

Paul Holdengraber and Nato Thompson were not as elegant in their speaking as Reverend Malloy.  The couple tripped upon their words and did not speak very elegantly, as if they had forgotten they were in a church and not a college auditorium.  The two repeated the same things, apologized for their under-preparedness, and left me hoping that it was not to be a reflection of the night to come.

Between the opening remarks and the conversation was a performance from Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir.  This was a marvelous act that left me yearning to applaud and participate—which was offered in the call-and-response form of ‘Amen’ and ‘Hallelujah.’  Reverend Billy and his band left a lasting impression on the audience as they finished their final song, slowly walking down the aisle, chanting in whisper “black lives matter” and “standing rock”—in response to the current Black Lives Matter movement that is so prominently erupting throughout the world, and the Standing Rock Native American Reservation where people have been protesting the installation of the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline since the Summer of 2016.

Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir are a well-known musical group that have been protesting and addressing key issues through their music and their presence for over 13 years.  The band describes themselves as a “radical performance community” of “wild anti-consumerist gospel shouters and Earth loving urban activists,[iii]” advocating against Militarization and Consumerism in the modern world.  Their performance at In Situ was heartbreakingly short; with only three songs, they most certainly left the audience longing for an encore.  The Stop Shopping Choir and Reverend Billy spoke and sang of: environmental justice, President Trump’s travel ban, Corporate Greed, and the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.  It was a performance unlike any other, topped with expressiveness, inclusiveness, and many choir members dressed in drag.  This performance was perhaps my favorite part of the event.

The moderator, Sister Helen Prejean, is an inspiration to many.  Through her moderating of the night she made it known that she had a lot more she could’ve said on the subject, but continuously, and graciously, fell victim to the statement, “it’s not my time to talk.”  Sister Helen is most known for her “instrumental sparking [of] a national dialogue on the death penalty, [and for] helping to shape the Catholic Church’s newly vigorous opposition to state executions.ii” She is the author of Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States and The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.  Sister Helen is a one-of-a-kind human; she spends most of her time counseling death row prisoners and educating citizens about the death penalty and is currently writing her third book.


And so it began, after the opening remarks, the musical performance, and a short introduction from Sister Helen: Janine Antoni, a self-proclaimed Buddhist, and Slavoj Zizek, a self-proclaimed Agnostic, started a discussion on How to Reasonably Believe in God…but not really.  Slavoj Zizek is a very eccentric man, with what seems to be hundreds of ideas flowing from his mouth a mile a minute. Janine, on the other hand, conducts herself in a more slow-talking, thoughtful kind of way.  The two did not mesh well—which was, admittedly, some of the point of the conversation to begin with.

We do not get to a conversation about believing in God, without the anticipation of some ‘stirring of the pot’, yet at times it seemed Antoni was completely ignoring Zizek’s counter-points, and perhaps not understanding what he was speaking about (verbally—because of his thick accent, but also conceptually, as it was clear he was much more intelligent than her).  It is not always important, when in conversation with someone, to have the same brain capacity, or to necessarily share the same beliefs—in fact, this night it was specifically chosen that the two participants came from a different backgrounds of thinking—yet Antoni’s sheer impudence during the conversation began to undermine her credibility as an opposing voice for how Zizek could/should reasonably believe in God.

Throughout the night, Antoni responded to many of Zizek’s accusations and key points by meditating and dancing.  Even Sister Helen seemed to be a bit confused about her actions, as Janine strutted across the stage, banged on the floor with her feet, and swirled her long black hair in the air.  She referenced much of her art throughout the talk, but did not give examples as to how these pieces fit into the discussion.  At times it felt almost as if the NYPL was in a complete bind when Shirin Neshat cancelled and ended up choosing the only artist that would participate on such short notice.  There was definitely an air throughout the audience when she would counter-act Zizek’s thought-out, serious accusations and topics with completely one-sided conversations about how she believes in her God—not trying at the least bit to debate the topic with him.

Though Janine Antoni’s participation was at times strenuous to sit through, her hubris did not overshadow the pure intellect of Slavoj Zizek.  Some of the key points he made, which were chiefly ignored by Antoni—though some were addressed by Sister Helen—had great resonance with me.

He spoke of “faking it till you make it”—in terms of people pretending to believe in God, or believing in God/worshiping only when they need something or it is convenient for them.  He gave the assertion that “When we want something, we also want the obstacle of gaining it”—in regards to devout religious persons dedicating their lives to the possibility of an afterlife and forgetting and/or undermining the importance of a life on earth.  Quoting an international proverb, “an enemy is [someone] whose story you weren’t ready to listen,” Zizek intentionally set up Antoni at this point of the conversation only to have her, once again, ignore the allegation.

I attended this event for a few reasons: 1.) to support the New York Public Library, 2.) out of a deep respect for Slavoj Zizek and Sister Helen Prejean’s work in their respective fields, and 3.) to perhaps gain insight on How to Reasonably Believe in God.  Unfortunately, I did not gain much understanding into the latter.  Though there was not much discussion on the topic, I did not leave the event feeling my attention could’ve been better utilized somewhere else that night.  I made a friend in Reverend Billy and The Stop Shopping Choir, was graced with the amazing presence of two people I deeply admire, and—when all else failed—was captivated by the architecture of Saint John the Divine, a structure throughout the night referred to as “this hollowed mountain.”



[i] Creative Time. Creative Time, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <>.

[ii] New York Public Library. 16 Mar. 2017. How to Reasonably Believe in God [Brochure]. Creative Time.

[iii] Mar 16  •  By Reverend Billy Talen  •  Share, and Mar 15  •  By Reverend Billy Talen  •  Share. “Reverend Billy & the Stop Shopping Choir.” Reverend Billy & the Stop Shopping Choir. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.


Sister Helen Prejean. Ministry Against the Death Penalty, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <>.

“In Situ at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine: How to Reasonably Believe in God.” The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library, 16 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017. <>.

Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon


On Saturday, March 18th, 2017 I had the privilege of observing and helping my colleague, Digital Services Librarian of the School of Visual Arts Library, Phoebe Stein, lead an event—the “Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon @svalibrary.”  This event was in coordination with a series of events, over a week’s time, presented by the SVA Library called ‘RESIST!’ and a satellite event of the international Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon—an event that has been going on since 2014 and that was just one of over 280 events worldwide that take place every March.

Art + Feminism is an organization focused on the inclusion of women artists in Wikipedia articles.  Since the Wikimedia Foundation—a charitable, nonprofit, organization dedicated to “encouraging the growth, development and distribution of free, multilingual, educational content, and to providing the full content [of] wiki-based projects to the public free of charge[i] ”—found that less than 13% of its contributors identity as female, Art + Feminism made an initiative to help expand the representation of women—and LBGTQ persons—as Wikipedia authors, and to edit and correct the existing articles involving the art of women/LBGTQ persons.  A large group of: librarians, professors, artists, students, and art workers/lovers “committed to contributing specific knowledge” to the Wikipedia articles involving women in art: Art + Feminism explains themselves as a community of people with “different perspectives and practices but [who] share the belief that art is fundamental to thriving societies and [who] strive to make visible the lives and work of underrepresented artists.”  Patrons of the event were encouraged to sign in, in order to ensure Art + Feminism get the funding from the Wikimedia Foundation.

Phoebe gave a PowerPoint presentation about how to navigate and explore the vast world of Wikipedia, followed by hands-on practicing and guiding for the participants.  She went over the basics of: how to create a Wikipedia account with a unique username; how to edit, comment, and start conversations about preexisting Wikipedia articles; how to find articles that have been flagged as ‘in need of assistance’; and how to create your own articles.  The presentation and training sessions were offered twice throughout the day, as well as options of things to work on based on your constraint for the allotted time—ranging from 1 hour or less (set up Wikipedia user page and make some simple edits to existing pages), to 2-4 hours (create a new article).

Phoebe’s presentation began with suggestions of what a novice Wikipedia user’s first actions should be; the most important being to engage in conversation with the Wikipedia community and to read articles before you begin editing or writing your own.  She stressed the importance of having a neutral point of view when editing/writing and notability, as well as the issue of conflicts of interest (not to partake in editing or creating articles that are somehow affiliated with your personal life, such as: places you have worked for, organizations you donate to, etc.).

In regards to notability, Phoebe urged the patrons to use secondary sources for citations, as primary sources are often frowned upon within the Wikipedia community.  A creditable Wikipedia article will always have multiple sources, independent sources, quotes, and all of its citations in the same format.  Sources must also be published and available to the public.  Phoebe suggests patrons utilize ‘Wikipedia Teahouse’, a “friendly place to help new editors become accustomed to Wikipedia culture, ask questions, and develop community relationships.[ii]

A link to the handout given, and helpful outside sources such as video tutorials and ways to navigate around Wikipedia to get the answers you need as a contributor, and online training sessions from Art + Feminism were also made available.  Phoebe remarked that “most anything that you want to do can be found by searching Wikipedia itself,” meaning that if you need help regarding articles, go to ‘Wikipedia: Your First Article’, and if you want to learn more about Wikipedia’s sandbox, navigate yourself to: ‘Wikipedia: About The Sandbox’.

Phoebe’s presentation gave concise, easily understood guidance and was conducted in a casual, yet professional way.  Observing and assisting her in this event ensued thoughts in me of: how I would conduct an event in a Library on my own; the way people responded to certain design aspects in the PowerPoint; what was retained by the patrons, and what needed to be reiterated after the presentation.  There was an odd occurrence that not many SVA students showed up to this event, and that most of the patrons had heard about it from an outside source.  The demographic present was widely women over the age of 50.  Towards the end of the day, two Wikipedia volunteers were available to help us with instructing the patrons further.

“Wikipedia Volunteers” are people who dedicate a significant amount of time to editing and creating articles on Wikipedia.  These are people of all sorts: retirees, professors, teenagers, etc. and have “proved themselves” to be reliable based on their history on the website.  When looking for a creditable writer on Wikipedia, it is important to check how many articles they have written and contributed to, their user history, and if anything they have participated in editing/writing has been flagged as incorrect or biased information.  Wikipedia has created algorithms called ‘bots’ to “flag and queue articles for quality and revision.[iii]” The realization that some Wikipedia users are merely using the resource to vandalize articles has forced the site to create these algorithms and survey articles more carefully, especially as Wikipedia becomes more creditable in the intellectual community as a source—currently the fifth most visited website in the world.[iv]

“Wikipedia thrives only as long as legions of volunteer editors practice protocol labor as they learn and share conventions for structuring different kinds of pages and writing encyclopedic forms of prose. iii”


The Wikipedia gender gap is not a new concept, and I, personally have always been told by Art Professors that one of the most useless, incorrect topics on Wikipedia is Art History.  This, in conjunction with the underrepresentation of women artists on the site, creates a larger problem that many people are attending to.

In 2016, Art History Professor, Jamie Ratliff of the University of Minnesota Duluth created an assignment for her students to each conduct research on a Latin American female artist and create a Wikipedia page on the person.[v]  Events and activities in this nature are going on throughout the country and the world as more people become aware of the gender gap.  In a CBC news March 2017 interview with Alexandra Bischoff, program coordinator of the Belkin Art Gallery in Vancouver, Bischoff said that “many accomplished female artists [were] notably absent from the platform.[vi]

In her presentation, Phoebe used the juxtaposition of the Wikipedia articles “Baseball Card” and “Doll” as an example of another type of underrepresentation of women present on the website.  In this example we must regard ‘doll’ as something feminine and ‘baseball card’ as something masculine—though this is not always the case.  It was clear that the baseball card article had received much more attention than the doll article.  “Baseball” contains about 5,400 words and 9 ‘see also’ links; while “Doll” has roughly 2,850 words, zero ‘see also’ links, and a significantly smaller table of contents.  *Though it is amazing that since this event (not yet 2 weeks ago), the ‘doll’ article has been very much bulked up.  Hopefully this is in part from Phoebe’s mention of the issue.

“The organizers of Art+Feminism are deeply disturbed by the sheer amount of fake news on social media, and its influence on the recent US election. We believe this makes our work even more pressing. Now more than ever we must gather together to improve Wikipedia and affirm work of women, people of color, immigrants, [and] the LGBTQIA+ community and other marginalized peoples.i”

The work that was put into this event by Librarian, Phoebe Stein was impressive: reaching out to work with Art + Feminism, creating and lecturing on her presentation, and helping the patrons after the fact to do justice to the cause.  I was happy to help out, and excited to learn new information about Wikipedia, and about the work being done by the community for women artist representation on Wikipedia.  As the world becomes more aware and active in women’s rights, the work that Art + Feminism will surely act as a catalyst to serve as a valuable protocol of activism, intellectual aide, and feminism as Wikipedia—and the internet—continue to  expand.





[i] “Art + Feminism.” Art + Feminism. Art + Feminism, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.0

[ii] “About.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

[iii] Downey, Greg. “Making media work: Time, space, identity, and labor in the analysis of information and communication infrastructures.” Media technologies: Essays on communication, materiality, and society (2014): 141-66.

[iv] Alcantara, Chris. “Wikipedia Editors Are Essentially Writing the Election Guide Millions of Voters Will Read.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 27 Oct. 2016. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

[v] Lawler, Christa. “BYO-Laptop: Wiki Edit-A-Thon for Arts & Equality Kicks Off…” Duluth News Tribune. Duluth News Tribune, 05 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

[vi] News, CBC. “Women Get Far Less Recognition on Wikipedia than Men, and a Group of Artists Is Tired of It.” CBCnews. CBC/Radio Canada, 10 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.


“Doll.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

“Baseball Card: Revision History.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

Encore. “Arts + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon Scheded for Saturday at UMF.” Sun Journal. Sun Journal, 20 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

White, Alan. “12 Spectacular Acts Of Wikipedia Vandalism.” BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed, 2 Jan. 2014. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

“RESIST! AN EVENT SERIES PRESENTED BY SVA LIBRARY.” Blog post. Kaleidoscope RSS. School of Visual Arts Library, 28 Feb. 2017. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.

“Kaleidoscope Blogs.” SVA Library Main Page. School of Visual Arts Library, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.


Kelsey Gallagher, Information Professionals LIS651 Thursdays 3-6, Spring 2017

“Fancy Pictures” and the Ethics of Documentary Photography

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In Methodology Matters: Doing Research in the Behavioral and Social Sciences, Joseph McGrath regards ‘doing research’ as “…the systematic use of some set of theoretical and empirical tools to try to increase our understanding of some set of phenomena or events.”  Mark Neville’s conversations with David Campany in his new book, Fancy Pictures, are an exemplary case of McGrath’s definition.  The book chronicles Neville’s ‘documentarian’ photography projects from 2004 to 2016 in which he immerses himself in an environment, be it a small working-class town of Scotland in The Port of Glasgow; the Helmand Province of Afghanistan in The Helmand Work; or the Lloyds of London and the London Metal Exchange in Here is London.  For our purposes, I will focus my time on The Port of Glasgow project from 2004.

“I physically go into communities and, over time, I negotiate some kind of performance from the people I’m with.” –Mark Neville

In applying my knowledge from Methodology Matters and The Ethics of Fieldwork (a publication of PERCS) to this photography book, I found Mark Neville to be a mastermind of the game in his The Port of Glasgow project.  He and David Campany discuss the issue of photography commodifying people and ways in which to “interrupt or subvert that commoditization of people and their bodies.3

As a photographer working primarily on grants and residencies—at the time—, Mark Neville applied and was awarded a grant of £106,000 ($132,076) for a public art project in the west coast of Scotland.  Neville had preconceptions of what his project was to become: “[an] expensive coffee-table book of social documentary photography” and it appeared to him that a book like this “[would not be] aimed at the kinds of people who were in the pictures… there was a real contradiction, a hierarchy, exploitation.”  So Neville decided instead to make his final publications available only to those living in the community, and to have an open relationship with the people being photographed in regards to: how they wanted to be portrayed, what they were okay with publicly showing, and what events Mark was allowed to attend (i.e.: parties, church services).

This method of research would most likely be described by Joseph McGrath as a ‘field study’—meaning that “the researcher sets out to make direct observations of ‘natural’, ongoing systems, while disturbing those systems as little as possible.1”—although, the fact that Neville invites his subjects to comment on the way they are portrayed may skew some lines in the exact definition.  I would consider this type of work to be extremely ethical, based on The Ethics of Fieldwork and my own biases of ethical behavior.  In production of this book, Neville was highly open with his subjects, gaining the trust of the community for the two years it took to complete the project.  He answered the question “Are there ways we can gain the information we need without hiding our purposes? 2” with a ‘yes, of course!’ as he laid everything out on the table before and during production, field work, and research.

In going about his project this way, Mark thought he would “avoid stereotypes and assumptions [as well as] alienating [his] participants. 2” , but that was not the case with all of the Glasgow residents.  Although many were proud and excited about the high production value and the solidity of the book—some even going to lengths of emailing Mark about their enthusiasm—others were not as happy.  The residents of ‘Robert Street’ saw the book as too representative of the Catholic pubs and clubs in the town and that there were not enough depictions of the Protestant culture; these people collectively decided to burn their copies of the books in the streets.

“I literally got a call from the fire station telling me a pile of my books was on fire.3” –Mark Neville

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A January 2004 article from The Greenock Telegraph interviews Nursery teacher, Claire Scott on her feelings of the publication and the negative repercussions she believes it may have on how the town sees itself but also how the rest of the world will see them.  Scott believes the publication to have negative stereotypes of what “people expect [Glasgow] to be like… ‘A dirty wee Port’” and regards Neville as “an outsider looking in with a prejudiced view before he started.”

“We have to live here after his lens is gone.” –Claire Scott

So the question arises: ‘Can researchers conduct adequate analysis that serves the initial question(s) of their study, in a way that makes the subject feel comfortable during, and content with the results after?’

The Ethics of Fieldwork brings up similar questions: How do we record (or do we record) the discoveries within a community that the community itself does not know or recognize in a systematic way?; How can we show out participants as whole people while still focusing on key elements of their lives?; How do we establish rapport within the community we are studying?; Is it possible to be seen by your subjects as anything more than an outsider?

Indeed there are ways of getting around these preconceptions: learning local norms of conduct, making the subjects feel that they are in control of the situations—or that ‘you need them more than they need you’, learning local concerns in regards to the project, and above all: being truthful to your subjects.  Neville’s primary mistake may have been sheer hubris—that he did not realize he was alienating his subjects by indirectly defining them as exotic or exemplified of their environment, while forgetting to check if there were any embarrassing revelations from the people being portrayed.  He may have taken the necessary steps to try to conduct an ethical research project, but he must’ve overlooked something, somewhere.

It could also be true that it is inevitable you are always going to offend someone—that no matter how hard an individual tries to report clear, concise, unbiased information, there will always be at least one person that will disagree with the content and message of the work.  McGrath regards the research process as “…at heart, a social enterprise resting on consensus. 1” But can we all ever really be in general agreement?  The answer is quite confidently, ‘no’, as we can see—on a societal level—in cultural reviews of books and movies, trends of fashion, what our taxes should go towards, climate change, etc.  No matter how convincing, accurate, or honest the reporting and information may be, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. 4

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1 Mcgrath, Joseph E. “METHODOLOGY MATTERS: DOING RESEARCH IN THE BEHAVIORAL and SOCIAL SCIENCES.” Readings in Human–Computer Interaction(1994): 152-69. Web.

2 “The Ethics of Fieldwork.” Elon University 34.5 (1993): 2. Http:// PERCS: The Program for Ethnographic Research & Community Studies, Web. 18 Feb. 2017.

3 Neville, Mark, and David Campany. Mark Neville: Fancy Pictures. Göttingen: Steidl, 2016. Print.

4 Lydgate, John. “A Quote by John Lydgate.” Goodreads. Good Reads, 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.


Neville, Mark.  View from the Ropeworks Building. 2004. Neville, Mark, and David Campany. Mark Neville: Fancy Pictures. Göttingen: Steidl, 2016. 24. Print.

Neville, Mark.  Betty at Port Glasgow Town Hall Xmas Party. 2004. Neville, Mark, and David Campany. Mark Neville: Fancy Pictures. Göttingen: Steidl, 2016. 13. Print.

The Greenock Telegraph. January 12 2004. Neville, Mark, and David Campany. Mark Neville: Fancy Pictures. Göttingen: Steidl, 2016. 13. Print.

“The first email response to Port Glasgow from a Portonian. 2004. Neville, Mark, and David Campany. Mark Neville: Fancy Pictures. Göttingen: Steidl, 2016. 13. Print.

Neville, Mark.  Boys at Devol. 2004. Neville, Mark, and David Campany. Mark Neville: Fancy Pictures. Göttingen: Steidl, 2016. 1. Print.

Neville, Mark.  Ancient Order of the Hibernian Social Club (Donna). 2004. Neville, Mark, and David Campany. Mark Neville: Fancy Pictures. Göttingen: Steidl, 2016. 25. Print.


Kelsey Gallagher, Information Professionals LIS651 Thursdays 3-6, Spring 2017