Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival
Yoshua Okón , Pulpo [Octopus], (video still), 2011. Courtesy of the artist.
Curator's Reading List

Zoë Chan

Curator Zoë Chan shares some of the rich resources she drew on when developing  Performing Lives at Trinity Square Video (now an online exhibition), which presents video works by artists Bertille Bak, Lisa Jackson, Yoshua Okón, Helen Reed, and May Truong.

Performing Lives showcases documentary-inspired works by artists interested in collaborating with various communities to tell a range of stories. In the course of my research for this exhibition, I studiously tried to catch up on my film history, but for pleasure, I turned to autobiography and traditionally confessional genres like poetry. My reading was inflected by such questions as: How do you tell the story of a life? What is shared and what is kept private?

Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942)
in I Love Myself When I Am Laughing…And Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader, ed. Alice Walker (New York: The Feminist Press, CUNY, 1979) 

I love ZNH’s confident voice and witty sense of humour:

This is all hear-say. Maybe some of the details of my birth as told me might be a little inaccurate, but it is pretty well established that I really did get born.                                               

—from “I Get Born”

Find Dust Tracks on a Road at the Toronto Public Library
Read Dust Tracks on a Road online

Edmund White, My Lives (New York: Harper Collins, 2006)

Divided into chapters with titles like “My Shrinks,” “My Hustlers,” and “My Genet, this memoir is rife with self-deprecating remarks and pithy observations:

My taste, probably like everyone’s, was assembled out of a hundred chance remarks made by friends who possessed the authority of glamour or conviction of strong personal style or experience.

— from “My Friends”

Find My Lives at the Toronto Public Library

Dionne Brand, Land to Light On (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1997) 

My immigrant heart breaks every time: 

My life was supposed to be wider, not so forlorn
and not standing out in this north country bled
like maple. I did not want to write poems
about stacking cords of wood, as if the world
is that simple […]

— from “I have been losing roads” 

Find Land to Light On at the Toronto Public Library


Zoë Chan is Assistant Curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery. As an independent curator, Chan has organised exhibitions at galleries across Canada. She has contributed to C Magazine, esse arts + opinions, and Momus, among other publications. In 2015, she was awarded the Canada Council for the Arts’ Joan Lowndes Award for excellence in critical and curatorial writing.