ON CURATING, ON TABLES
By: Danilo Machado
I write this from our kitchen table, where I write most things nowadays. On it, my silver desktop rotates, and my coffee mugs and water glasses orbit the sometimes-shaky surface. The table is set against a window sill of plants, rocks, candles, and light. The trees outside are mostly green, and the eye-level electric cables are like the bars of sheet music. In the near distance, I see the towers of Kings County Hospital. Gloves litter the street below. Bikers pass by wearing masks. I hear the ambulances down Brooklyn Avenue, but not as often as before, I think. At least the birds seem more audible.
Most nights, we pull the table out to make room for dinner. My desktop goes gently on the floor in the corner, the wireless mouse and keyboard often atop notebooks. We set three placemats and a record. Sometimes I’ll do some writing after dinner, but sometimes I wait until the next morning to lift my computer back up and place it on the table for the day. Where it is placed dictates what the other rectangular Zoom screens see behind me. One spot—prone to dog cameos—shows the rest of our living room and kitchen. Another is in front of an olive green wall with a grid of framed records, Aretha Franklin’s You at the center. If I sit on the opposite side of the table, a floating shelf of red books is visible below a framed postcard of a painting by Alice Neel. The furniture where we keep records is topped with plants. Above them is a print I pulled myself, shades of blue and yellow, and green reading “YOU BELONG HERE.”
I hear my partner teaching math from our bedroom and tell me about how the virtual classroom is impacting students and their work as an educator. I’ve heard from my brother and how he finished the semester virtually, now unsure of how next semester will take place. And, of course, I’ve been able to share space with the Young Exhibition Makers of No Longer Empty, who have curated this urgent and thoughtful show.
They have chosen a dynamic grouping of artworks created by their peers and have done the hard work of collective learning and collaboration—no easy feat even under non-pandemic circumstances. Along the way, they have delved into curatorial practice, artist process, and exhibition writing, bringing in their own lived experiences. This selection shows a striking range of observations, emotions, and concerns—creating one portrait of being a young person in this historic moment.
The ripple effects of this pandemic will be significant and long-term. Even when the city begins to reopen, many businesses, organizations, and institutions—including those with art programs and pipelines for young people—will downsize or close. Many have already shown where their priorities are.
We’ve seen how artists and educators have been specifically impacted and will continue to be among the many vulnerable. There is still significant uncertainty around when in-person exhibitions, programs, and classrooms will be possible again. An exhibition I was curating was set to open in April but will now tentatively open in January.
Still, I see potential. In my own work, I’ve adapted the reading series I co-curate online, raising money to pay poets and featuring readers from around the world like never before. I help to produce programs that now have a global reach. I see potential in how more accessible frameworks and practices we’ve developed can continue to be a standard part of more inclusive organizations and communities. I see more people building and supporting mutual aid efforts, learning from the survival strategies developed by marginalized folks.
Curators, programmers, and educators have an outstanding capacity to collaborate and to uplift artists and communities. But, as much as the modes of creation are energizing and often urgent, they are not always possible or easy. Daily, our emotional and physical capacities fluctuate alongside a whirl of news. It’s ever-clear that the way that we care for ourselves and for others allows us to do this work, and in turn, becomes the work itself. Many everyday threats to safety and sustainability demand it.
Earlier, out my window, a police helicopter floated on blue sky. The clouds are bigger, and the green trees are closer. There was another protest a handful of blocks away. Masses in masked proximity, in mourning and rage, rage and mourning. It’s dark now, and I still hear helicopters. I’m at the same table, but the scene feels different.
Language feels lacking.
The helicopters continue, as have the demonstrations. I hear them both. I don’t know what to write.
Let’s return to the table. I’ve set it to welcome you. We’ve been growing new plants: basil, tomato, violet. They surround us, too, positioned for direct sunlight. The table and our daily, nightly ritual leave some questions, perhaps they are useful. How is room made? Where does light come in? Who has a chair and a glass and a plate? Let’s sit together.