Cruel Optimism

July 14 ,  7:00 pm

All times are listed in Eastern Daylight Time (EDT)

Alliance of the Southern Triangle (Diann Bauer, Felice Grodin, Patricia Margarita Hernández, & Elite Kedan), Patricia Domínguez Claro & Nicole L’Huillier, VLM (Virginia L. Montgomery), Zeesy Powers, Tabita Rezaire


Curated by Claudia Mattos


We live during an age in which crisis and calamity have become familiar conditions of the everyday. On a global scale, the already tenuous health of our social, political, economic, and environmental systems is threatened by the interrelated effects of widespread pandemic, soaring inequality, un- or underregulated industry, climate change, and political violence. Against the backdrop of accelerationist capitalism, the pace of progress is slow and the state of our future is unstable and uncertain. 


"Cruel Optimism" is a screening program that reflects on this uneasy reality. It brings together a series of moving image works—by the Alliance of the Southern Triangle, Patricia Domínguez Claro and Nicole L’Huillier, VLM (Virginia L. Montgomery), Zeesy Powers, and Tabita Rezaire—that meditate on the slow pace of change and proffer varying strategies to destabilize (and endure through) the destructive forces that define the present. These strategies include technological activisms, ancestral spiritualities, and speculative protocols, each employed in distinct capacities as tools to more fluidly navigate the precarious landscapes of this moment. Adapted to the techno-capitalist structures that prevail during our time, the featured works alternate between fast-paced digital aesthetics and slower, more meditative, almost hypnotic narrative methods; this push-and-pull works to unsettle the viewer, mirroring the turbulence of our global state of affairs and bringing them crashing into focus. 


Central to the context of "Cruel Optimism" are themes of enmeshment between capitalism and the technological and our co-dependence with their joint infrastructures. The works touch upon the promises and failures of techno-utopianism; the realities that might confront us in a hyper-capitalist future; and the utility of the internet, social media, and smart devices to frame our understanding of the world in mediated unity. Positioning the artist in the critical roles of both teacher and agitator, each video addresses these urgent topics beyond the staid modes of conventional media and education. 


The screening borrows its title from a book by Lauren Berlant, whose writing meditates on our attachments to ideas of what it means to live a good life during times of endemic crisis. Berlant approaches our hopes for the future as fantasies that soothe the uncomfortable realizations that the present—“crumbling at a threatening pace”—can no longer sustain the infrastructures for attaining a good life. Our optimism becomes cruel when we are too attached to our hopes for these failing systems to see that they are hurting us; and the resulting effect is a paradox of self-preservation/self-endangerment measured against the risks of losing what we now have as we work towards a better reality. 


Through their various propositions, the videos in this screening bravely imagine a world unbound from capitalism’s structural impasses; they do the curative work, in Berlant’s terms, of “[distorting] the present”—within their diverse narratives—“on behalf of what the present can become.” In light of shifting terrains, and equipped with the awareness that conditions might veer down ever rockier paths, the works in "Cruel Optimism" are catalyzing agents to help us all envision therapeutic, stabilizing, and hopeful outcomes for the future.


— Claudia Mattos

Protocols For the Phase Transition: Towards New Alliances

Alliance of the Southern Triangle (A.S.T.; American, est. 2015)
USA | 2020 | DIGITAL | 13 MIN


Protocols For the Phase Transition: Towards New Alliances by Alliance of the Southern Triangle is an eight-part series that presents dynamic approaches for navigating the volatility of the present. The works each emphasize the need for new, adaptable networks between societies and the external systems that govern them. 


Please view the list of protocols here.


Leche holográfica (Holographic milk)

Patricia Domínguez Claro & Nicole L’Huiller
CHILE | 2021 | DIGITAL | 15 MIN


Merging spirituality and quantum physics, Leche holográfica (2021) by Patricia Domínguez Claro & Nicole L’Huillier is a plea to the Gran Madre (the Great Mother): they ask her to bestow a stream of wisdom upon the world and awaken humanity’s potentials to access this knowledge to traverse the troubled waters of today.


VLM (Virginia L. Montgomery)
USA | 2016 | DIGITAL | 16 MIN 


VLM’s SOS ONSHORE OFFSHORE (2016) is a fragmentary narrative about economic and environmental injustices—tax evasion, sea-level rise, and turning political tides. Montgomery communes with water at various sources, supernaturally wielding an enchanted ponytail that, like a lamprey, latches onto these complex issues to investigate and expose them.


Zeesy Powers


Spreading information as a resource toward actionable change, Zeesy Powers’ SMART CITY (2019) series is a collection of three Public Service Announcements supporting Toronto’s successful #BlockSidewalk campaign to halt an ambitious urban development proposal by Google-owned company Sidewalk. The videos raise concerns about privacy, privatization, and control of public space.

Premium Connect

Tabita Rezaire


Tabita Rezaire’s Premium Connect (2017) traces the origins of our present information networks to the spiritual technologies of African divination, Dogon astrology, and other indigenous knowledge systems. The artist envisions the liberating possibilities for humanity in a future where physical, spiritual, and technological realms connect.

  • Alliance of the Southern Triangle (A.S.T.; American, est. 2015) is an initiative founded by Diann Bauer, Felice Grodin, Patricia Margarita Hernández, and Elite Kedan: a working group of women in the fields of art, architecture, and urban design. Their collaboration explores how artistic, technological, and cultural possibilities can be reimagined as strategies for understanding climate change. A.S.T. have produced projects with Sharjah Biennial 13, Sharjah, UAE; IMT Gallery, London; MKC (Multimedia Cultural Center), Split, Croatia; SFMOMA’s online platform Openspace, and others. 

  • Patricia Domínguez Claro (b.1984, Santiago de Chile) is an artist, educator and defender of the living. Bringing together experimental research on ethnobotany, healing practices, and the corporatization of well being, her work focuses on tracing relationships among living species in an increasingly complex cosmos. She is currently director of the ethnobotanical platform Studio Vegetalista.

  • Nicole L’Huillier (b.1985, Santiago, Chile) is a transdisciplinary artist who works with sounds, vibrations, resonances, and multiple transductions to explore sound as a construction material that intertwines agencies from the micro to the cosmic, stimulating new imaginaries, sensitivities, and collectivities.

  • VLM (Virginia L. Montgomery) is an American multimedia artist who works across video, performance, sound, and sculpture. Her artwork is surreal, sensorial, and symbolic, and explores atomic consciousness from a metaphysical feminist POV. VLM’s diverse artistic movements interrogate the complex relationship between physical and psychic structures via her own resilience, agency, and empathy. VLM received her MFA from Yale University in Sculpture in 2016 and currently lives in Austin, TX, USA.

  • Zeesy Powers explores the unstated systems that shape our society. Her work has shown at festivals and exhibitions in the Americas, Europe, and Asia in community, activist, and institutional contexts. Zeesy is currently researching digital kidnapping through the history and production of deepfakes.

  • Tabita Rezaire is an artist-healer-seeker. Her cross-dimensional practice envisions network sciences - organic, electronic and spiritual - as healing technologies to serve the shift towards heart consciousness. Embracing digital, corporeal and ancestral memory, she digs into scientific imaginaries and mystical realms to tackle the colonial wounds and energetic imbalances that affect the songs of our body-mind-spirits. Tabita is based near Cayenne in French Guyana, where she is birthing AMAKABA - her vision for collective healing in the Amazonian forest. Tabita is devoted to becoming a mother to the world.

Co-presented with

  • Queen's University

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Images Festival would like to acknowledge

The land on which we gather and organize is the territory of the Anishinaabe, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, the Huron-Wendat, and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. Today, the meeting place of Toronto is home to many Indigenous peoples.

A territorial acknowledgement can demonstrate a coming to awareness, and provoke thought and reflection, all of which are essential in beginning to establish reciprocal relations. This acknowledgement should not function as closure, resignation, or acceptance of the structural conditions of settler colonialism that remain in effect today. The Images Festival will continue to ask what it means for us to keep open a spirit of sustained inquiry into the complexities of our context.