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Communities to Come: A Toolkit

A selection of projects and recordings from our archive organized in response to COVID-19

Values


Fields of Knowledge
  • Curatorial practice
  • Health / Sustainability
  • Pedagogy
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions

Slought

Organizers

Eduardo Cadava, Aaron Levy

Contributors

Marina McDougall

Acknowledgments

With special thanks to Graciela Iturbide for so kindly permitting us to use her beautiful image.

Opens to public

05/18/2020

This photograph, taken by Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide in the Sonoran desert in 1979, belongs to a series she took of the Mexican Seri people for the ethnographic archive of the National Indigenous Institute. The mysterious woman in the photograph—donning traditional clothing and walking in a landscape that appears to have existed forever—seems to be walking into the future, with a boom box in her right hand.

Entitled Mujer Ángel (Angel Woman), the photograph presents a woman that seems to move gracefully between different worlds. Crossing the desert on foot while listening to recorded music, she combines old ways with modern ones. She is alone, but belongs to a community that is in a state of transformation, one sign being the transmission device she carries with her. Like an angel, she seems to hover between ground and sky, and heaven and earth; as Iturbide has noted several times, she seems about to fly, carrying her portable archive of music and news with her. Although we cannot identify with this woman or the particularity of her precarity—she is bound to a set of traditions, histories, and vulnerabilities that we can learn about but never experience directly in the same way as she does—we find ourselves in a similar moment of transition between the past, the present, and an unknown future.

We do not yet have a language to match the scale, speed, and destruction wrought by the globalization of the COVID-19 virus. If we have turned to this photograph—Iturbide has said it is the favorite of her photographs—it is less to read it in all of its specificity and more to evoke it as an inspirational image to help us imagine and perhaps call forth a different future. As we face the precipice of an unknowable future, we too rely on technology to hold onto sociality and pursue education, even in our isolation. We think of the Slought archive as an analogue to the boom box in this Seri woman's life, which was secured through a process of exchange in which she offered something she and her community had made. Our archives have similarly been formed through a series of social exchanges and cultural collaborations and have always relied on different informal, cooperative economies that welcome participation and resist capitalization of any kind.

In these times, we offer here a selection of projects and recordings from our archive as a means of exchange that can permit us to remain in touch with everyone who has supported us for nearly two decades now, and as a way to engage new and widening audiences. There are many things that both Slought and our communities need now, including different ways of listening to the stories of others, thinking about the devastating and transformative traces this virus will leave on our lives, and connecting to other times, spaces, and communities—sometimes very different than ours, and sometimes infinitely more vulnerable than ours, too.

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When we announced the temporary closing of Slought's galleries on March 16, 2020, we stated that "how we respond to crises like the ones we face today reveals our values, commitments, and our sense of how we share the worlds in which we live and even die." With today's announcement, we are inaugurating a series of online programs, several of which will reactivate elements from our vast archive of events over the last 18 years. We hope these audio recordings will resonate with the issues we most need to consider and think about. We hope that these archival traces can provide an opportunity for us to reflect on different social justice matters that remain at the heart of the current crisis. Drawing on resources that we have gathered from the day we first opened, we hope to emphasize the wisdom and strength offered to us by the arts and the humanities in general.

This curatorial project can perhaps offer a kind of training manual for living together in this unprecedented global health crisis. It can perhaps provide us with resources for thinking about our present situation even as it can give us strength and reinforcement in this uncertain time. Our wish is that the Slought portal can help create personal, portable, and hopeful opportunities for learning and critical thinking. We hope this learning can be shared with others and transformed into a public power that can generate a broader sense of activism and, as Emerson suggests, help us parry the present crisis together.

Because we will certainly have to invent new ways of imagining sociality now and in the foreseeable future, and to find ways to join what is singular in us to what binds us to one another, we invite our audiences and constituencies to contribute to this ongoing curatorial work. Please join us in thinking together about what we can learn from the current crisis and how we might better prepare for future ones.

In a pandemic, we are only as safe as the most vulnerable among us. This moment is especially precarious for our most vulnerable communities—among so many others, the poor and the disenfranchised, indigenous and minority populations, the elderly, those with chronic illnesses, the incarcerated, the undocumented and homeless. We will continue to advocate for the importance and even duty of community care, and we welcome any suggestions and resources that we can share and further disseminate.

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"Will you say, the disasters which threaten mankind are exceptional, and one need not lay his account for cataclysms every day? Aye, but what happens once, may happen again, and so long as these strokes are not to be parried by us, they must be feared."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Fate," in The Conduct of Life (1860)  
 

"Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it."

— Arundhati Roy, "The pandemic is a portal," Financial Times, April 3, 2020