artist / participant
Communities to Come: A Toolkit
A selection of projects and recordings from our archive organized in response to COVID-19
18.05.2020 - 10.08.2020
"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
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.