One thing I have always enjoyed about research is the moment when an inclination or simple curiosity takes me down a different path, when I find what I didn’t know I was looking for. Serendipity.
In late March—sometime in between replying to emails, scouring the internet for free stock photos of libraries, comparing and reviewing screencasting software, and pulling together resources for library tutorials—I decided to make time for art and culture. That is, to dedicate no less than 15 minutes to experience an art exhibition, performance, or cultural event (i.e. virtual dance party) during the week.
The first day of my experiment, I conducted a Google search for “virtual museums” and scrolled through social media to get me started. A friend’s Facebook post spotlighting Google Arts and Culture’s online exhibition “Facing Frida” caught my attention. The exhibition celebrates the work and life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. It includes Kahlo’s sketches, paintings, and personal correspondence, as well as the work and commentary from contemporary artists who are inspired by Kahlo’s art. As a storyteller, I am also drawn to Kahlo’s work because she explores the themes of disability, the limitations of the body, embodiment, and pride. Viewing Kahlo’s autobiographical paintings inspired me to reflect on how I similarly use art— whether writing, martial arts, or dancing— to make sense of my (invisible) disability and to reconnect with my sense of self. In the remaining five minutes of my (twenty-minute) break, I decided to browse an additional collection. I happened upon the collection of Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic. Like Kahlo, Abramovic is interested in the limitations and possibilities of the body. Although I was familiar with Abramovic’s work, finding her pieces online at the same time as Kahlo’s was a wonderful surprise. A surprise that’s akin to browsing the stacks and spotting an interesting title (or two) beside the book I initially intended to checkout.
The second day of my experiment, I visited the Social Distancing Festival. The festival showcases the work of dance, theatre, music, and visual artists from around the world whose performance/ exhibitions were canceled because of COVID-19. During my scroll through dance performances, a piece entitled “Frida-My Two Accidents” caught my attention. Performed by Malta’s Moveo Dance Company, the work imagines what it may have been like for Frida Kahlo to have gone through what she considered her two accidents: the streetcar accident that left her in constant pain, and her relationship with her husband Diego Rivera. Here too, I found something I wasn’t quite expecting. But while finding similarly themed collections (or book titles) may be the result of algorithms or the work of hero catalog librarians, this (accidental) discovery just seemed like pure luck.
It is said that the more you notice coincidences, the more likely they are to occur.
Austin- East Austin Frida Kahlo Mural, by Wally Gobetz. Photo courtesy of Flickr.