Programmed by Kiera Boult & Dustin Lawrence
May 20–May 26, 2021
View the program here at www.imagesfestival.com
May 27–June 9, 2021
View the program at
In life, trust is a large umbrella. When we consider the collection of work we hold at Vtape, it’s easy to see the trust first-hand in the presence and preservation of so many different formats – from open-reel to VHS to Betacam to USB keys. However, that is just the surface. It’s the videos – the artworks – that embody that trust in us, as each waits, patiently, to be watched again. It's far more than having faith or believing; it is knowledge, an understanding that we will do everything in our power to let the voice of each artwork be heard, that patience will be rewarded, and that trust will be returned.
The curating of this exhibition is a discussion about trust, its inheritance, its experience, and its stewardship. We looked to works by Jude Norris, Shu Lea Cheang, Emelie Chhangur, David Findlay, Ming Yuen S. Ma, and Nik Forrest to guide us through the complicated transition when trust is pressured into faith. This exhibition is the first of many necessary gestures of good faith.
(The following is an edited version of a conversation between Kiera Boult and Dustin Lawrence from March 2021.)
KB: When did you first experience the responsibility to our artists and the medium of video art?
DL: I first experienced the responsibility of our artists and all of the work when I started in the Distribution department and Wanda van der Stoop started to mentor me and give me guidance. Even though I had worked at Vtape for a few years doing other smaller positions, I never really got into the forefront of everything until I got into the Distribution role that I'm in now. I think the main part was connecting to where the work was going, and through that interaction, connecting with who is renting the work and where the work was showing was really, I think, where I experienced that responsibility of the trust placed in Vtape. To have that trust from the artist to do all of this work for all of these titles and know that it's going to the right place to show to the right group of people.
DL: When did you first experience it?
KB: I first experienced that responsibility my first week at Vtape, when Kim Tomczak showed me the process of digitization. And what I saw was how specific capturing (digitizing) the work is, but while you're capturing the work you have to capture the intention of the artist. And what I saw was 40-plus years of experience working with this technology but also somebody who's been working 40-plus years with these artists, and he knows them so intimately and he knows their work so intimately that he's able to pick up these incredibly small details that I wouldn't even know to look for. To see him digitize works by friends who have passed away, and see that he is responsible for the legacy of that work. It made me realize how quickly the role of administrator/cultural worker can become caretaker. This was my first experience of the responsibility and I think the most profound experience of the responsibility that we have.
DL: I would also echo that in a way to getting that Tech role—in addition to my role in Distribution—and then working on the capturing and digitizing with Kim, it was a lot.
KB: Yeah, and it must be strange. I imagine when you're digitizing somebody's work, how well you get to know it and them as well. It must feel like a kind of—maybe Dr. Frankenstein is the wrong comparison—but there must be many times where you're bringing something back to life.
DL: There's a literal sense, like when we hear of the times Kim had to put a tape in a whole new housing because the original one had broken. That's really saving the tape’s life literally. In the figurative sense, it’s pretty incredible to think about actually. I never thought about it that way—that we’re bringing work back to life.
And with our program SAFE KEEPING, it’s like bringing works back into the light that maybe people haven't seen for a while.
KB: My favourite part of our office is to look at the tapes on our shelves. They’re like seeds, they're so patient and they hold so much genetic information but also codes for living, surviving, and making artworks that you don't know that you need until you activate them.
DL: You're never going to know until you take that tape, plant it into the player, watch the work, and hopefully experience an “Oh, this is the tree of knowledge that I've been waiting for” kind of moment. It's a pretty impressive thing to look at that whole level of trust and patience in every work. And it's all being passed on to us.
When I first started interacting with educational markets through educational streaming purchases and DVD rentals, I could see that was where change was going to happen—through the educating of young minds that are looking to gain this knowledge and gain this information for a better future for everyone.
That's really where I feel that change will be made. And that's really big when we work with those educational markets.
KB: And when I think about how I understand what trust is, I had a really hard time describing it. So I read what the definition was and found there was an emphasis on consistency and reliability. And I understand trust to be something that happens outside of yourself with someone else as a kind of transaction. And that transaction involves consistency and the patience required to maintain this consistency.
With this program, I wanted to look at curating the same way – as something that happens outside of myself. It’s similar to what it's like to be in distribution, trust is this exercise in faith, a very prolonged sense of gratification, it’s almost funny.
DL: I guess I was just going to echo pretty much what you're saying about consistency and reliability. When you think of trust in a person-to-person relationship, you meet someone and you have to build that trust up.
But with this responsibility that we're undertaking, it's kind of like the trust is already built (between Vtape and the artists in distribution). So the consistency is something that we already have and we have to match what's already expected. What's expected in that high level of trust in a relationship that's already so strong when you and I are just starting this relationship, if that makes sense.
KB: It absolutely makes sense. I think that's the place where the institution or the structure comes in. The strange part about Vtape is that the majority of the staff have been there for so long that we think about those relationships as personal with the staff as opposed to with the organization itself.
Trust is like a type of currency that is inherited. And it’s passed down to us based on the relationship with the original person that held it.
DL: It really puts us in a precarious position. It's not a burden but it's such that you have to really balance everything extremely well. As soon as it starts to slip one way and we lose that consistency with one person then it might as well be lost with everyone. That's where a large weight of the responsibility comes in because it's not just taking on one. It's taking on, you know, 1500-plus artists, 6000-plus titles, and giving all of those the same amount of justice and keeping that same relationship growing.
KB: Yeah, and I think that anxiety, and I'm going to use the word anxiety,
I think that so much of that anxiety is what has been at the root of this curatorial premise for us, or at least for me, I won't speak for you. But I want this exhibition, and I want this piece of writing to speak to the artists who are inheriting us, that we feel that pressure and allow for this to be the first of many gestures toward trusting us. This is how I hope the exhibition comes to be seen.
DL: Yeah, viewed in a way that can be taken as an example of how we can show the responsibility that we're taking on and that we're not taking things for granted. Maybe that's the wrong word, but you know if you see the care that we're putting in and the thought that we're putting into this it's quite an exercise in trust, and it's a really great showcase of what we are capable of and how we are able to take on this responsibility.
Kiera Boult discusses her choices for SAFE KEEPING