Unlived Lives: Art Curator

It was the late 2000s, long before the term ‘curation’ became banal across various fields and scenes. With two of her closest friends, she uncovered their shared passion for art curation, each having nurtured their curatorial skills independently. They decided to merge their talents and create a collective, a teenage curatorial powerhouse.

Pooling their resources, they secured a charming space below a small canteen shop in the suburbs for a modest amount. Well, it was actually more because they received financial assistance from one of their friend’s parents who, for some reason, agreed when they presented a three-page proposal at that time. Their mission was simple yet profound: they aimed to curate thought-provoking exhibitions that showcased the works of local teen artists struggling to find their voice in the tumultuous art world. Within the nurturing embrace of their gallery, these artists found solace and support. The space slowly became a hub for art enthusiasts seeking the next big thing.

In 2009, during her postgraduate years, she stumbled upon a remarkable opportunity. A visionary developer who was transforming an old warehouse into a cutting-edge collaborative art space approached her. They wanted her to curate and oversee the artistic direction of this venture, envisioning a space akin to an artistic haven for the creative minds of the city—an early glimpse of what would later inspire similar initiatives like the 19th century’s version of “yadda for yadda’s sake”. At this time, all the fears she once imagined about writing a curatorial piece and releasing it to the public for multiple interpretations turned out not to be as dreadful as she had thought. It still made her anxious, but it was manageable.

Today, she’s a seasoned curator, renowned for her obsession with avant-garde sound art. But she keep found herself pondering why an abundance of conventional and utterly boring pieces had somehow managed to sneak into her way.

Standing in front of the open refrigerator, she stared at her phone screen. Since last night, she had been trying to compose a reply to her designer. She was always like this, overthinking the message she would send. Dozens of drafts piled up in her notes. Some were sent, some were not. Some she revisited to understand what was on her mind in the past. Hereditary, she believed. Her late father loved to write. Most of them are poems for her mother to be broadcasted on his friend’s session at a local radio station. One of her main childhood memories was listening to cassette recordings of her father’s radio broadcasts. (And ruin it). She thought he would also obsess over every word before it was aired.

Funnily enough, on various occasions, when discussing family, she always mentioned that her interest in art was greatly influenced by her late uncle, a renowned painter with a big name in a distant city. Of course, it was a lie. Stories about her parents were always a sensitive topic for her. She always steered far away from that subject.

Taking a glass filled with leftover chocolate ice cream, she sighed as she reread the reply she had prepared. Why am I so heavily invested in this, she thought. It’s just a choice of font for the exhibition catalog. No one will probably notice. But she can’t help it. It matters to her.

She often found herself deeply engrossed in preparing things like this. Sometimes, she couldn’t care less about the artworks. But the catalog, the invitation, the sound system, the poster, the meals, the schedule filled her mind. Despite what she often heard from her dealer colleagues when casually arguing, she wanted visitors to appreciate these details.

She felt a nudge at her feet. Alpen, her grey tabby cat, seemed very interested in the glass in her hand. As if on reflex, she put the glass down, placed her phone haphazardly on the sofa, and lifted Alpen onto her lap. Alpen seemed to know what would happen next. A cuddle attack from her human, and a few sniffs between her eyes and cheeks as if she was in a hurry to inhale oxygen.

Ignoring the draft reply she had composed earlier, she continued scrolling through her phone. She could hear the sounds of construction in the distance. The housing complex where she lived wasn’t particularly large. You could practically hear the neighbors across the street if their children were having a fight at home. But she preferred it here to her previous place. One reason might be the white bougainvillea trees in front of her neighbors’ houses. From a distance, they looked similar to her favorite baby’s breath flowers. Hm, baby’s breath, she now had a new idea for a centerpiece arrangement on the gallery’s front desk for next week.

34 likes, 2 new chats popped up in notifications. She could see that one of the names that popped up was his.

A few years earlier, she found herself entangled in a whirlwind relationship with a local artist. At first, it was filled with shared passion for art. His inflated sense of self-importance and inability to accept criticism began to overshadow their once-charming connection. It mirrored the same arrogance and egoism she had encountered in many other artists she had worked with. That was the last time she wanted to have a romantic relationship with anyone from the art world.

Friday, the opening night.

The chat reply had been sent. The font had been chosen. The flower arrangement had been changed. The rundown had been adjusted. All the guests seemed to be enjoying the evening. The gallery spaces were filled with stylish people. In the restroom, she crossed paths with a group of art students from her alma mater who were serving as ushers. They looked gorgeous in their chosen uniforms, she thought.

In these past two hours, she had already checked the home’s pet camera three times. After engaging in a fanciful conversation with her cats at home, she approached her favorite young art collector in town who was in conversation with the artist exhibiting solo tonight.

Time passed. She could hear the cleaning staff tidying up wine glasses and cake plates. One of them caught her eye, and they exchanged smiles. She returned her attention to her conversation partner. As they engaged in discussions about art, life, and dreams, the curator and the artist consistently uncovered shared yet uninspired passions and concealed secrets. Amid this exchange of ideas and emotions, her own art remained a silent masterpiece—a complex narrative of a soul bound by destiny, yet hindered by the haunting echoes of unspoken desires. Deep down, she still grappled with insecurities from her early art school days.

She longed for a world where unpredictability reigned, and where avant-garde art was as normal as breakfast cereal.

She wasn’t home.

🎧 Listen to my playlist ‘Curator Ballads‘ on Spotify.

The “Unlived Lives” series represent short fiction of the roles that might have been destined for me in an alternate dimension, purposes I believe were meant to be mine but remained unfulfilled in the present life.

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