The Curatorial Incubator V.16: Living in Hope – Program #5

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From Billie…To Me…And Back Again, 2002, 4:20, Dana Inkster

Vtape presents

THE CURATORIAL INCUBATOR v.16:
Living in Hope – program #5

The fifth edition of this year’s Curatorial Incubator starts Friday, December 11, 2020, with an Instagram Live introduction by emerging curator Karina Griffith at 7pm ET followed by the first title in her program, From Billie…To Me…And Back Again by Dana Inkster.

This year’s Curatorial Incubator has just crossed the mid-way point of its duration. This year we invited eight incubatees to each make a program that responds to the theme of Living In Hope. In keeping with the restrictions of COVID-19, we are taking the entire program on-line, unrolling one title per week with an on-line Zoom conversation at the end of each program featuring the curator and the artists.

On Friday, January 8, 2021, Karina Griffith will be in conversation with artists Dana Inkster, Thirza Cuthand, Penny McCann, and Abdi Osman at 7pm ET on Zoom. Check the Vtape website for a link to this conversation.

PROGRAM #5 Curated by Karina Griffith
The Age of Endarkenment.

What if darkness were not the opposite of light, but instead could do and be everything light can do and be, and much more? This programme looks at moving images through Cynthia Dillard’s concept of “endarkenment” (a response to Enlightenment that imagines a new world order centring Black feminist thought). These short films and videos flip the switch to turn darkness and mystery into something that can be illuminating, broadening and blazing.

The proposed curatorial investigation asks: “How can moving image reflect an endarkened way of experiencing the world, and despite that experience, live in hope?” These “epistemologies” or ways of knowing and learning shift what is considered “normal” to make room for diverse intersections of gender, indigeneity, class and ability. To apply this concept to moving image, I engaged with Dillard’s methodology of “research as responsibly” to search the Vtape archives for examples of what she calls “life notes”: the words and writings and revelations of women when they are free to speak from the heart rooted in storytelling practices: the song, the dance, the poem, the lullaby. It meant looking through the titles to build on femme expressions of life to create a new canon distant from white male ableist supremacy.

The program seeks to find filmic texts that reflect endarkening not only in content but in form, through reversals and bold contrasts in their treatment of sound and cinematography, light and dark.

Karina Griffith is a visual art, film scholar and curator based in Berlin and Toronto. Her moving image, textile and paper works explore the themes of fear and fantasy, often focusing on how they relate to belonging. Griffith writes for Texte Zur Kunst, Canadian Art, Berlin Art Link, Missy Magazine, Shadow & Act, among others. She is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto’s Cinema Studies Institute. She holds a lecturer position at the Institute for Art in Context at the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK).


The Age of Endarkenment.

Dana Inkster, From Billie…To Me… And Back Again, 2002, 4:20
A radio dedication evokes an ephemeral encounter in this short experimental film by Dana Inkster. Exaggerated performances of high and low voices play with gender expectations of Black love before the soundtrack gives way to Billie Holiday’s You’re My Thrill (1949). Reverse photography of a pair of hands switches the perspective, a denial of film convention that turns light and dark. Billowing smoke in the tight frame obscures the image and the identity of the lovers, as does the shadow play of two heads joining in a kiss. The film’s cyclical form and use of repetition fit the narrative like a needle in a record groove, a visual and sonic expression of open, endarkened love.

Thirza Cuthand, Sight, 2012, 3:33
The unseen of endarkened perspectives is given literal form in Thirza Cuthand’s work Sight. The film tells the true story of a relative of Cuthand, who lost his vision and her bout with temporary blindness to question Western ideas about sanity and the treatment of mental illness. Cuthand manipulates Super 8 footage to obscure images of exteriors and speaks in the irresistible deadpan tone typical for her work. Sight is about seeing as much as it is about how we are seen – by family, by institutions and by the Enlightenment ideologies that create structural inequalities in Canada.

Penny McCann, Marshlands, 2000, 6:07
Endarkenment opposes Enlightenment, where Dillard positions “white feminism.” However, similar to intersectionality, I feel through endarkenment as space from which many orientations can question established. Penny McCann’s films challenge western expectations of women through narratives of femme magic in rural Canada. Her experiments in super 8, 16mm and video evoke the unseen energies of endarkened possibilities. The short, experimental film Marshlands set in and around Sackville, New Brunswick, a town in Eastern Canada, opens with fortune-telling. This claiming of the unknown situates the film in a defiant witchery. Visually, McCann expresses this with overexposed images, changes in lighting and contrast. The alarming sound of barrelling trains and blurred images of their approach affectively stimulate alarm. McCann’s sparse on-screen texts describe the memory-soaked air, and her defiant attempt to escape it: “The marsh is a place of unsettling dreams, of tides, and impossible structures. I wait for the train.”

Karina Griffith, Repair, 2017, 5:47
I looked at my work through the gaze of endarkened perspectives and found them in Repair, a film about my grandfather’s house in Georgetown and the rainforest in Guyana. It is estimated that more Guyanese live outside the country than in it — my diasporic longing for home and my great aunt’s knowledge about the healing properties of plants come together in these filmic field notes. Similar to the hidden stories of McCann’s Marshlands, the mystery of forgotten oral histories hang in the air between the rains in Repair. I was struck by a similar approach in another work in the Vtape archive, Maigre Dog (part of Yaniya Lee’s programme fractured horizon – a view from the body). Donna James explores the riddles of Jamaican patois with elders – storytelling with cryptic still life video treatments. Creole is the equivalent of a secret language, an endarkened and empowered tactic for living hope in colonized spaces.

Abdi Osman, Labeeb, 2012, 4:23
Endarkened perspectives encounter performance in Labeeb. Sumaya, a mesmerizing Somali trans-woman, plays with expectations and with the spectator, taunting the gaze on her performance of a Somali ritual. The narrative is veiled and opaque, like the translucent shawl between Sumaya’s fingers. Where other endarkened cinemas in the programme skirted film convention with photo reversal, Osman balks at expectation with cuts that jump the axis and a dissected frame of diptychs and creative triptychs created with a mirror. Moments of silence further assert the right to be opaque.

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