INDUSTRY INSIGHTS

HANNAH DOUCET

 WRITTEN BY: OLGA BERGMANS

Watch in Awe, still from video, 3 minutes 24 seconds, 2021
Watch in Awe, still from video, 3 minutes 24 seconds, 2021

Q+A

Can you talk about your most recent project, ‘A Wish Stays With You,’ and how its meaning has evolved over the years?”

“I started this project back in 2019, so it’s been an ongoing body of work that I’ve been building for a while. The centre point of the project is the idea of Disney wishes from kids who are critically ill and are granted a wish through a wish-granting agency. Half of all children in North America wish to visit Disney World, which is what I wished for when I was 10, after having cancer for a couple of years. I was fascinated by this pilgrimage of sick kids and their families going to Disney World. Specifically, there’s this place called ‘Give Kids The World Village’, which is a not-for-profit resort that sick kids and their families stay at when visiting Disney. I was always thinking about the way fantasy and illness coexist in that space. Over the years, the project has grown into something so much bigger than I could have ever imagined and there’s been tangents of research looking more critically into corporate philanthropy and why all these wish-granting agencies exist, which have made the project a lot richer. It’s gone beyond personal experience since I’ve gotten to interview some people that have also had the Disney wish or have had siblings that have had the Disney wish so hearing different people’s experiences was really cool.”

Untitled (A Wish Stays With You), digital photograph, 2021
Untitled (A Wish Stays With You), digital photograph, 2021
Untitled ( Princess), digital photograph, 2021
Untitled ( Princess), digital photograph, 2021

Why did you choose Disney World for your wish?

“It’s interesting because I made the wish when I was 10 but I’m 31 now, so it’s all a bit fuzzy, but I remember specifically in 2001-2003 when I was sick and laptops were becoming a bigger thing, I was obsessed with the idea of having a laptop. I remember talking to my parents about the wish-granting agency we were working with. They were going to bring my whole family to Disney World but my parents were like, “We’ll buy you a laptop”. They didn’t end up doing that, but I think that’s kind of a common theme and something I’m interested in; the idea of people wishing for other things (like a laptop) but then getting pushed to Disney either by the agencies because it’s a feasible wish or by family members. I also think sometimes kids don’t understand the concept of wish-making within this context where it’s not something truly magical, it has to be something that can actually happen.”

Wish Fountain, still of interactive website, coding by Johnnie Regalado, The Wish Fountain website was originally commissioned by Number 3 Gallery and supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, 2022.
Wish Fountain, still of interactive website, coding by Johnnie Regalado, The Wish Fountain website was originally commissioned by Number 3 Gallery and supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, 2022.

What’s one of your favourite projects you’ve worked on?

“There is a project called Wish Fountain that I was approached by from this curatorial project called Number Three Gallery in Vancouver. This was during the pandemic when they were doing this project called Spam (Special Presentation Art Mail) where they’d commission a collaborative artwork and then that work would get sent out via email. I already really liked the project. When they approached me, it was when I was coming out of grad school and feeling kind of depressed thinking, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ I didn’t even know if anybody looked at my art or knew about my work and then they just reached out to me out of the blue. It felt like a really good space for this project I’d been imagining, which is this interactive website I made with Johnny Regaldo where you put a wish into the fountain and then you’re offered someone else’s wish back. It was a really exciting new avenue of both a socially interactive project and also a way to expand the way I was thinking about wish-making within my work and make it a community-building tool. Even right before this interview, someone submitted a wish to the wish fountain. There are all sorts of wishes about intense political things that are happening in the world. There’s been so many Free Palestine wishes and so many things about Trans rights. It’s great to see the list of things people are hoping for. They can be really silly and playful but then they can also be really large or systemic change that we’re working towards.”

Untitled (A Wish Stays With You), digital photograph mounted to colored acrylic on wooden shelf, 2021
Untitled (A Wish Stays With You), digital photograph mounted to colored acrylic on wooden shelf, 2021

Who’s an artist that you’ve been loving recently or someone that you go to when you’re looking for inspiration?

“There’s this one artist who’s also a pal named Gabi Dao, who’s from Vancouver. They’re a video installation artist and I’m just continually amazed, interested, and impressed by their practice. They combine video, sculpture, and performance in a really interesting way. It’s the kind of work between documentary and fiction and the writing they include is so interesting. I think they bring together a lot of different ways of working in a really cool, boundary-pushing way. They’re definitely someone that I’m continually inspired by and also know personally. I also recently saw this artist Lisa Smolkin’s work who’s based in Toronto and I also think that their work is super cool. I think what I like about Lisa’s work is that she addresses all these bigger dark existential anxieties but in a really funny dark comedic way. I think that’s something I’m always looking for in my work. I read the script for a piece I’m working on right now and I was like ‘this is so depressing,’ but then I thought, I’m always trying to hit the notes of beauty in darkness critically and comedically. I think that’s my ideal space that the work exists in. I feel like that is very much a common theme within my work; finding ways to make light of very serious, heavier topics.”

Watch in Awe, still from video, 3 minutes 24 seconds, 2021
Watch in Awe, still from video, 3 minutes 24 seconds, 2021
A Wish Stays With You, Installation: satin curtain, monitor with looping video, vinyl wall mounted photograph, framed photograph, digital print mounted to colored acrylic, fountain cut out with vinyl image, documentation of exhibition at PLATFORM Center for Photographic and Digital Arts, image courtesy of Tayler Buss, 2022
A Wish Stays With You, Installation: satin curtain, monitor with looping video, vinyl wall mounted photograph, framed photograph, digital print mounted to colored acrylic, fountain cut out with vinyl image, documentation of exhibition at PLATFORM Center for Photographic and Digital Arts, image courtesy of Tayler Buss, 2022

What do you think are some of the main themes that you try and explore work that you feel yourself constantly kind of revisiting when coming up with new projects?

“I think illness has been an overarching theme in some of my earlier work. It addressed thinking about representations like body dysmorphia. Then over the last while, I think having cancer at a young age was such a seminal life experience that it’s come up in my work in a lot of interesting ways. I feel like I’m often thinking about what photography does and doesn’t do, and thinking about the flatness of the image, or the materiality of the image, so I use a lot of photos printed on fabric.”

Self Portrait, digital photograph, 2016
Self Portrait, digital photograph, 2016
The impossibility of stitching the body on a scale of 1-1, steel, acrylic, sewn fabric photographs, 2017
The impossibility of stitching the body on a scale of 1-1, steel, acrylic, sewn fabric photographs, 2017

Can you talk about being one of the former co-directors of Blinkers and how you got involved in the project?

Blinkers was a project that I and three friends started back in 2017. I used to live in Winnipeg most of my life and was based there. It’s an awesome city with an awesome art scene but it’s a lot smaller. I think we saw that there was a lack of space supporting emerging artists and we were fresh out of art school or undergrad and we wanted to start a space. Inspired, we decided to start showing artists from Winnipeg but we wanted to bring up emerging artists from other places in Canada. At times, especially when you’re in the early stages of your career, there’s not much intersection between emerging artist communities because everybody’s kind of in their little bubbles. So that’s why we wanted to support breaking that idea especially because Winnipeg can be so geographically isolated. That was a really exciting project that we ran for many years which we ended up passing off to our friend, Luther Konadu, who has been running it for the past couple of years. They’ve undergone a rebrand and renamed it, so they’re now known as C-cap which stands for Centre for Cultural and Artistic Practices. He’s doing such amazing things with this space. I think Blinkers emphasizes the way I want to be an artist; it’s not just an individualist pursuit. I love being part of a community of artists and I think that’s what was so exciting about it.”

Untitled ( I Never Reocgnized Her Except in Fragments), Digital Photograph, 2016
Untitled ( I Never Reocgnized Her Except in Fragments), Digital Photograph, 2016
Untitled ( I Never Reocgnized Her Except in Fragments), Digital Photograph, 2016
Untitled ( I Never Reocgnized Her Except in Fragments), Digital Photograph, 2016

It’s a bit of a cliché but do you have any advice for young upcoming artists?

“I feel like one really special thing about Toronto is that the art scene is so big that I feel like there’s a niche for everyone. Find the people that are interested in the same things as you because there definitely are people whereas maybe in a smaller scene, you feel like the odd one out. Apply for lots of stuff, and put yourself out there because you’re gonna get rejected a lot but it means nothing about your worth as an artist or as a maker so just keep putting yourself out there.”

Perpetual Curtsy, digital photograph mounted to colored acrylic on wooden shelf, 2023
Perpetual Curtsy, digital photograph mounted to colored acrylic on wooden shelf, 2023
Hannah Doucet

Hannah
Doucet

Hannah Doucet (she/her) is an artist, arts educator and cultural worker from Winnipeg (Treaty 1 Territory) currently based in Tkaronto/Toronto. She is a visual artist working within photography, video, and sculpture to explore fantasy, illness, the body, anxiety and performativity. Her work extends the photographic medium into sculptural and installation works that emphasize the failure, artifice, materiality, and malleability of the photographic medium. Her current body of work A Wish Stays With You explores personal, political, theoretical, and aesthetic inquiries embedded within the themes of illness, fantasy, and wish fulfillment, all observed through the lens of her own experience receiving a wish trip to Disney World when she was ten after two years of treatment for Lymphoma.

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