A Good-feel Playlist Made by Curator López de la Oliva, and other Ressources Online for Constructive Frolicking on the World Wide Web

In the last couple of weeks, it has been increasingly painful to get curators around the globe to speak about themselves or their ongoing projects. Many are making all kinds of arrangements following the postponements or cancellations of their shows and curatorial projects. Whatever the stages they were at in their process, or their level of involvement, the losses are real. Some had to leave ongoing residencies or even their jobs, at least temporarily. Galleries and museums are closed in many countries at the time of writing, and so are the activities usually surrounding exhibitions. Going back home or closer to family pushed some via a steeplechase-like journey through airport hurdles and barriers, combining other means of transportation in a creative but taxing way, to finally get to their destination all the while dreading the journeying itself. Indeed, the voyaging virus seems to like traveling and mingling too, just like us in the art world.

Keeping upbeat thanks to the power of music and film.

“I am catching a flight before they close the borders” joins the range of leitmotifs that accompany this period, along with “I am dancing alone in my house in confinement”. I am grateful for the last one, because it is nothing but inspiring, and there is something that we can do about it. In fact, thanks to Manchester-based Spanish curator Nuria López de la Oliva, we can try a little spin at home with her feel-good disco playlist. She explained how and why she begun creating it a couple of years ago: “I started this disco music playlist “THE TIME (disco)” when I became a freelancer, as I’m constantly looking for any kind of motivation to keep my positive energy flowing. Feeling positive and energised helps me be more creative. It also helps me to establish good relationships with the people I’m working with for a given project (artists, other curators and producers, etc.). This playlist really cheers me up at any time and I always play it when I’m tired or in a bad mood, not just because of the uplifting lyrics and rhythms, but also because of the good memories it brings me. I really believe in the power of music! I invite you all to listen to this playlist for the best moves and vibes”. You need a Spotify account, but it is free so…here is López de la Oliva’s Playlist. Some of her favourite tracks include (youtube links added): “Dance a Little Bit Closer” by Babert, “Lost in Music” by Gay Marvine, and “She Can’t Love You” by Chemise.

López de la Oliva also proposes to move some of her programmes online. Since she is the curator and producer of MIRA Film Nights, an artist film programme in Manchester that she launched in early 2019, she decided to launch the films online for a period of time. The aim of the programme is to support early and mid-career artists who work with moving image, promote diversity, female artists in particular since they are still notably underrepresented in the area of film. “Each event of MIRA presents two films by two different artists who have aspects in common, followed by a Q&A with them. For these difficult times we are all experiencing, I’m making a digital version of MIRA, and I’ve asked previous MIRA artists to share one of their films online and make it accessible to everyone for a few days. Two films will be available online during the same time window (by two different artists that I chose and who share aspects in their practice), and I’m planning to do at least a series of three of these digital events each week beginning in the end of March. It will be advertised very soon!” she shared, also adding that there will be an option for giving donations that will be split between the participants. “Any donation is welcome, as we freelancers and creatives are one of the most economically affected communities right now.”

Curator Nuria López de la Oliva Talk at MIRA Film Nights, PS Mirabel 2020
Curator Nuria López de la Oliva Talk at MIRA Film Nights, PS Mirabel 2020

Learning online. Some curators are also educators, and they suddenly found themselves uploading online material so their students could still go through the classes they cannot longer attend in person. We can all be online students, and for that, there are so many ressources available. One of them is no other than the BBC, that has developed a series called “Only Artists” in which they pair two artists in dialogue. Invited artists come from various cultural fields at large, writing, visual art, and music. In this episode from the first series in 2017, double bass player Chi-chi Nwanoku visits artist Yinka Shonibare in his studio and compares notes about their respective fields, the world of orchestras and that of contemporary art, and asks him if it is possible to separate art-making from one’s identity. They are also talking about overcoming obstacles in life, such as a career-changing personal injury and chronic illness. Nwanoku got a knee injury that shattered her athletic career as a sprinter, but because of which she ultimately became the musician she is today. As for Shonibare, he had a virus in his spine when he was seventeen that left him completely paralysed in one side of his body, yet he is one of the most established British artists today. “When a window closes, another opens” he reminds us, not even about his paralysing illness, but about that time when he was struggling to pay for art school and got rejected for a job as a social worker.

In “A History Of The World in 100 Objects” art historian and former museum director Neil MacGregor uses objects to talk about episodes in the history of the world and England. In the world of curation, objects can be a contentious subject, are they still relevant in art? But in this BBC series while clearly taking the side of objects and focusing on one historical one at a time, we are soon taken into a deeper reflexion on society and its many layers. See in this episode based on an etching by David Hockney, where MacGregor talks about human liberties and acceptance. The etching was published in 1967, and as MacGregor says, it could not have been published any earlier because it represents two male lovers. Homosexuality was banned in the UK until then. Courageous and provocative art, referencing Greek poet Cavafi, and the notion that human rights begin in small places close to home (one of the speakers quotes Eleanor Roosvelt), are all the important notions unpacked by MacGregor in this episode.

Listening and watching to the avant-garde and listening to more curators’ lists.

Since she cannot hangout in artists studios and exhibitions anymore, Lisbon-based independent curator Manon Klein recommends lingering on the online archive, UbuWeb, where “you can read, listen, and watch gems of the literary and artistic avant-garde” she says. “This addictive website, a kind of time-machine for artistic travels, was founded in 1996 by American poet and critic Kenneth Goldsmith as an anti-institutional platform operating without money thanks to the work of volunteers. Its content are entirely free, open to all, and without ads. In just a few clicks, we can read uncanny visual poetry from the 16th century, listen to Alice B. Toklas read her recipe for Hashish Fudge or watch a monolgue by Jean Cocteau in 1962 addressing the people of the year 2000. In particular, I would recommend listening to “The Dial-A-Poem Poets”, made after the now famous concept of a poetry hotline developed by John Giorno in 1968, where anyone could reach Giorno Poetry by phone and listen for free to a poem from various live recordings. An inspiring format in these times of confinement”.

Jean Cocteau in 1962 addressing the people of the year 2000
Jean Cocteau in 1962 addressing the people of the year 2000

Thanks to Klein’s recommendation, you can also look through the choices made by other curators, writers, and artists, who published top ten lists on the Ubu archive. Lists made by curator Naomi Beckwith or Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev have open access, or you can jump around for yourself and see, for example, an experimental five minute short made by Olivier Assayas with Maggie Cheung with no sound, or watch “The House is Back” a 22-min grim but poetic film that looked inside a leper colony by Iranian controversial and intriguing female poet Forough Farrokhzad.

A Course On Happiness

Finally, to reset from it all you can always enrol on a self-paced online course on The Science Of Happiness that The Greater Good Science Center based at the University of California, Berkeley, offers for free until June 2020. The institution is dedicated to the study of “psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society” and approaches happiness from a scientific point view, but also an empowering one. Curators are human first, and we are thinking of all of you.

Art critic and writer.

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