Four Reads by Four Curators
Marina Dias Teixeira
15 Apr 2020, 4:01 pm
Four international curators share with us some of the reads that have touched them over the years. Check out what Barbara Tannenbaum (Cleveland Museum of Art, USA), Margot Norton (New Museum, USA), Théo-Mario Coppola (Independent, France) and Elizabeth Cronin (The New York Public Library, USA) recommend for those who love art and good reads.
Cleveland, 9th April 2020
I turn to books to explore the world through others’ eyes and especially in times of stress like now, distraction. One of my recent favorites is a book that was so good, the minute I finished it, I started it again from the beginning: Paul Beatty’s The Sellout: A Novel. Published in 2015, it won the Man Booker Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction, and the John Dos Passo Prize for Literature, so I’m not the only person who finds it an amazing read. It’s a comic novel—actually a wicked satire—that addresses serious issues ranging about urban life, fathers and sons, and most tellingly of all, racial inequality.
The narrator was born and lives in an “agrarian ghetto,” a rural black and Latino suburb of Los Angeles that has lost its name and been swallowed up by the city. He decides to reinstitute slavery and segregate the local high school, actions that surprisingly lead to good things for his community but end up making him the defendant in a case tried at the U.S. Supreme Court. The journey in between is a wild and humorous ride, peppered with plenty of action, references to popular culture, pithy asides, and commentary that contains profound insights.
One of those insights addresses the nature of history and seems particularly relevant to our current, historically significant situation. What will we remember from the COVID-19 era, the statistics and purifying rituals or the feelings of isolation and community?
“That’s the problem with history, we like to think it’s a book — that we can turn the page and move the fuck on. But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on. It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you.”
New York, 11th April 2020
CAConrad wrote While Standing in Line for Death following the tragic murder of their partner and the police’s subsequent negligence in investigating the crime. The book contains a series of what Conrad calls “(Soma)tic Rituals” and their resulting poems, which the author sees as creative tools for healing. Conrad’s writing is raw, personal, and political. It does not gloss over the violence and trauma that comes with being human, yet it is hopeful, in that it celebrates the transformative potential of the creative act, and demonstrates that life often finds a way. Conrad’s rituals and poems seek to break us out of the quotidian, to question the systems designed to oppress us, and to embolden the connections between us, and between us and the planet. I also highly recommend following CAConrad on Instagram (@caconrad88), where they have recently posted a series of poems titled “CORONA DAZE,” relating to pandemic-life.
The following excerpt of a poem was written following a ritual CAConrad performed in Nicole Eisenman’s exhibition “Dear Nemesis” at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia in 2014.
“…now that the present is so endangered we
can stop worrying about the future Dear
United States of America I do not
understand how any kinds of Love exist
but we need every trickle to stop the
hemorrhaging wounds we created in our
Paris, 9 April 2020
Since the beginning of the lockdown, there has been a shift in the sound balance between car traffic, bird tweets, and other signals in the city. From dawn chorus to evening clapping, my aural perception has been hugely transformed. So has my desire for new narratives. This is a chance to pay attention to aspects I might have neglected in everyday life and within the arts.
In 1997, Stuart Hall wrote that the “emergence of new subjects, new genders, new ethnicities, new regions, new communities […] have acquired through struggle, sometimes in very marginalized ways, the means to speak for themselves”. My personal “plan piloto” will be an attempt at supporting sound- and voice-based practices. Alternative mediums could help bring a critical change in our way of approaching art as life and life with others.
Making It Heard is an astute and ambitious book, which approaches sound experiments throughout the arts in Brazil in the twentieth and early twenty-first century. The funk Odebrecht SoundSystem conceived by Vivian Caccuri, the Parangolé capes designed by Hélio Oiticica and performed by Caetano Veloso, and the international network of cassette exchange set up by Paulo Bruscky and Daniel Santiago are among the works discussed in this collection of essays. Through a polyphonic choir of voices, sound art is envisioned both as an opportunity to collaborate beyond disciplines and a means for political resistance.
“[…] No territory is offered, but each is always continuously and collectively negotiated. This process has been going on for a substantial amount of time, and the activation of a sonic material layer is not just one more gesture but a symptom that demonstrates a mutual vibrational process with significant density and consistency, which emerges in a timely manner and spreads its connections. Intensive processes are in fact collective and group-related, and they certainly would not be recognized if it was not for their resonant affective fields that capture our bodies and connect us, produce movement and, in variable and diverse ways, reverberate – visibly and invisibly – while, at the same time, leaving physical marks and traces whenever an audience is reached.”
New York, 13th April 2020
I would like to recommend A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) by Betty Smith. The novel is an American classic and one of my favorite books which I only read for the first time a few years ago. It’s an amazing journey that follows the life of a young girl growing up in Brooklyn. Francie witnesses all kinds of behaviors and hardships and her observations are astute and wonderfully poignant. The heartwarming story is about the joys, challenges, and tragedies experienced in life. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to be taken into another world as they will be completely absorbed by this emotional tale.
There are many memorable quotes from the book. Two of them are particularly apt for sharing during these trying times: