Will you stop reading this if we start with the words, “A year ago we were…”? We’ll risk it. A year ago we were scrambling to convert our annual oral history exhibit from the in-person, pop-up event it had been for almost a decade into an online equivalent. Our students braved new digital tools, adapted their scopes and scales once it became clear they wouldn’t have access to their planned fieldwork, and created films with b-roll of the would-be installations they’d instead built at home. We built a VR experience that didn’t really work but gave our visitors a thrill. The words we kept coming back to were valiance and grit.
Seemingly without pause as the year wore on, oral history and adjacent fields in public memory launched into the production & archiving of knowledge about the present moment. Resources about remote interviewing started circulating and evolving. Fieldwork resumed and began. All year it seemed new projects were popping up, about Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter in particular, and about their intersection. Yet as sustaining as it has felt for many of us to be creating during this time, to record essential voices and to trust that essential voices are being recorded, we find ourselves wondering about our colleague Luis C. Sotelo Castro’s simple provocation: “How do we know that people are listening?”
What if we ask it first of ourselves: How do we know that we are listening? How do our narrators know they are being heard?
Across more than a dozen live events over two weeks & paired exhibits that will remain live into the summer, you’ll be invited to experiment with listening. Some events & exhibits may ask you to immerse in a shared present time and you may forget your body at your computer as you join something global. Some may sink you soundly back in your body and release you from time for a while as you reconnect with what is very local. Some may even ask you to step away from the screen. Some may be easy for you to listen to wherever you happen to be and some may be hard. What do you hear when you’re not able to listen?
Last year our goal with going virtual was to create an equivalent experience, and we used technology to approximate dynamics of connection and conversation that we already had in mind. This year we offer only a place to start: LISTEN HERE. We offer this first instruction with urgency, for the oral histories curated within contain vital knowledge, and with curiosity: How will you listen? How will you know that you are listening? What will enter your body? What will come next?
—Carlin Liu Zia & Amy Starecheski, Listen Here Co-Curators
April 9, 2021