The Curatorial Incubator V.16: Living in Hope – Program #6

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Hope, 2007, 9:21, Dana Claxton

Vtape presents

THE CURATORIAL INCUBATOR v.16: Living in Hope – program #6

The sixth edition of this year’s Curatorial Incubator starts Friday, January 15, 2021, with a Zoom Live introduction by emerging curator Robin Alex McDonald at 7pm ET followed by the first title in their program, Hope by Dana Claxton.

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, February 5, 2021, Robin Alex McDonald will be in conversation with artists Dana Claxton, Gary Kibbins, Jorge Lozano and Rokhshad Nourdeh at 7pm ET on Zoom Live. Check the Vtape website for a link to this conversation.

PROGRAM #6 Curated by Robin Alex McDonald
“It could be a good day. It needs to be treated carefully.”

In the 1998 novel The Hours, Michael Cunningham’s fictionalized character of Virginia Woolf awakens one morning into a liminal state, still half-present in the lush green park she was dreaming of moments ago. As she moves from the park into her bed and then into the bathroom, she carries the feeling of the park — its “banks of lilies and peonies, its graveled paths bordered by cream-colored roses” — with her. Crucially, Virginia avoids looking into the bathroom mirror above the basin, where she knows she will be met with an image that holds the potential to startle and disturb her. Neither does she enter the kitchen, where her servant Nelly awaits. Honouring the fragility of her memory of the park, of her concentration and will to work, of the day itself, she heads straight to her desk where she can buoy the feeling of the park and her own spirits through writing. She declares: “It could be a good day. It needs to be treated carefully.”

Virginia understands that her cautious optimism must be handled with care, like an object prone to shattering. Adopting this same delicate and protective approach, “It could be a good day. It needs to be treated carefully” showcases works in the Vtape collection that present hope as “an inherently risky, fragile project.”1 Each of the four works present narratives of hope anchored in a fragile object – a bowl, a doorway, a butterfly, and a line, respectively. Highlighting precariousness as a fundamental feature of hope’s structures, the underlying question of the program asks: how might we hold out for hope without falling victim to forms of “cruel optimism”?2 Poetic and anxiety-provoking, desirous yet wary, these four works invite us for a walk along the tenuous line between hope and dejection.

Robin Alex McDonald is an academic, independent curator, and arts writer. They currently work as a part-time faculty member in the Fine and Visual Arts department at Nipissing University in North Bay, an instructor in the Visual and Critical Studies program at OCAD University in Tkaronto/Toronto, and a PhD Candidate in the Cultural Studies Program at Queen’s University in Katarokwi/Kingston, Ontario.


“It could be a good day. It needs to be treated carefully.”

Dana Claxton, Hope, 2007, 09:51
In Dana Claxton’s Hope, a pair of hands carefully repairs a broken bowl, each piece fitting neatly back into its original position. Just when the bowl appears whole again, the hands begin to disassemble it and the process repeats. Though Claxton is Lakota and resides on Coast Salish territory, I cannot help but draw a connection between the bowl in Claxton’s video and the Dish with One Spoon territory: the land on which I spent the first twenty years of my life and on which Vtape’s offices are located. That “we all eat from the same dish” with a single spoon serves as a reminder of our shared responsibility to care for the land—but like the bowl in Claxton’s video, this sense of mutual cooperation is brittle. While every destruction of Claxton’s bowl is swift, each repair becomes increasingly more difficult.

Gary Kibbins, Doorway, 2017, 07:30
Positing the titular space as both an existential and literal interstice, Gary Kibbins depicts the doorway as a bridge between two realities: what is, and what might be. Doorway presents a dramatic narration of the artist’s encounter with a particular door, one equipped with a well-worn Nina Olivari lockwood 13-60 handle and laden with promise and potential: “However unexceptional in my life, I could still visualize a different life. A better life. A life full of success, love and adventure on the other side of that door,” he explains. For Kibbins, the arc drawn by the door’s pathway as it swings open creates a kind of hammock, a space where hopes and possibilities can be temporarily suspended, cherished, and cradled. Although this hopeful space is easily (fore)closed, its mere existence serves as a reminder to viewers of our own abilities to wilfully transform quotidian sites into experiences of expectation, anticipation, delusion, and disappointment.

Jorge Lozano, The Butterfly Effect, 2018, 06:44
For a young Jorge Lozano growing up in Columbia, the act of spotting a Blue Morpho butterfly served as a token of good luck. In The Butterfly Effect, Lozano’s camera scans frantically, possibly hoping to catch a glimpse of another Blue Morpho, but the video’s text informs us not to get our hopes up: “good luck and happiness are rapidly disappearing.” Like Cunningham’s fictitious Virginia Woolf, Lozano’s reference to Daoist philospher Zhuang Zhou’s “butterfly dream” suggests that the line that divides dreams from reality (just like the line that divides self from other, or presence from absence) might be more nebulous than we assume.

Rokhshad Nourdeh, Raid-Line, 2006, 02:07
While all four works in “It could be a good day. It needs to be treated carefully.” explore the figurative line between hope and dejection, Rokhshad Nourdeh makes this line literal by dragging red chalk across the floor below her. In Raid-Line, a pair of bare feet struggle to walk the red streak like a tight-rope, bleeding and blurring the chalk as they endeavour to grip the ground. Anxious and uncertain, the feet draw figure-eights in the air as if divining where, exactly, to land. Eventually, they untether themselves from the chalk line, gliding and pivoting across and around it and exposing the false dichotomy it creates.

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1. Amy Billingsley, “Hope in a Vice: Carole Pateman, Judith Butler, and Suspicious Hope,” Hypatia 30, no. 3 (summer 2015): 599.
2. See Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham: Duke University Press), 2011.