A Wish Stays With You: Hannah Doucet at PLATFORM Centre

12 December 2022

By Sophia Larigakis

At the centre is a bright yellow fountain, its three brimming basins ascending like a tiered wedding cake. Perfect circular droplets, forming chains of liquid beads, cascade from the top. This sculpture, Hannah Doucet’s Wish Fountain (2022), installed at PLATFORM as part of her solo exhibition A Wish Stays With You, is doubly deceptive. To create the “water,” the artist printed a photograph of the liquid onto fabric, made folds in the textile, photographed that, and then made vinyl images out of its composite. The result is both painterly and deeply digital, evoking a Hockney pool by way of The Sims, with all the flattening of density that entails. Approaching Wish Fountain, it is clear that this is no ready-made; it is not a functioning, real-life fountain, nor does it pretend to be.1 As the viewer moves around the sculpture, however, even its slim claim to verisimilitude (in that it is a recognizable form) is called into question. What appears at first to be a three-dimensional sculpture is in fact images on vinyl on two separated pieces of wood, the space between them the space of fantasy itself—the fantasy of dimensionality, of immersion, of liveliness. 

Image: Installation view of A Wish Stays With You, 2022 by Hannah Doucet. Photo by Tayler Buss courtesy of the artist and PLATFORM Centre.

When Doucet was ten-years-old and two years into a treatment plan for Lymphoblastic Lymphona, she made a wish. Luckily for her, this wish had a history, a carefully manufactured precedent. She wished to visit the “happiest place on earth:” Disney World, in Orlando, Florida. “The illness,” the artist writes about this experience, “has taken the place of the ritualistic wish object: the wishbone, the wishing well, the shooting star—instead, the child wishes on their illness.”2 By the grace of the magical philanthropic industrial complex, her wish became A Wish™ and she was whisked off to Give The Kids the World Village (GKTWV), a resort for critically ill children and their families on their visit to Disney World. There, kids and their families can “get away from the worry of illness,” and child visitors, the president says, should feel like they “can conquer anything because [they’ve] got this happiness.”3 As Doucet writes, wish-fulfillment agencies such as GKTWV ask “the wisher maintain hope and attachment to capitalism, fairy tales and Disney in order to maintain hope about anything at all.”4 At GKTWV, something extra enchanting is on offer: liberation from sickness. There, such tedious afflictions as illness or melancholy, or the weight of history or struggle can be vani$hed with the wave of a plastic wand or shuttered out with faux-palatial barricades.

Image: Installation view of A Wish Stays With You, 2022 by Hannah Doucet. Photo by Tayler Buss courtesy of the artist and PLATFORM Centre.

In 2019, at age 26, and again in 2022, at 29, Doucet went back to the Village. A Wish Stays With You takes her experiences there as a child and then again as an adult as a point of departure, and the resulting works—which span video, sculpture, and photographs—grapple with the sickly constructions of desire and gratification under capitalism. Arranged on colourful shelves, pasted directly onto the wall, or installed in overlapping layers as if vying for attention, Doucet’s untitled photographs hone in on moments of rupture, where shiny signifiers of “happiness” morph into monuments to decay, while revealing their constructedness to the viewer. In one photo, the arm of a bulldozer is frozen mid-swing amid piles of rubble as a cartoonish, eggplant-purple tower looms in the background; in another, we see the blank verso of a welcome sign shaped like a rabbit; while in two others, Doucet shows us pipes painted the color of rocks they are mimicking, camouflaged to hide their industrial—and as such—real, connotations. Splitting apart the seams of this carefully assembled world, the artist is interested in revealing the bolts holding the architecture together. Her works lay bare the electrical wires creating movement, that is, animation, that is, the appearance of life, and the miles of glistening plastic that embalm this never-never land, suspending youth and joy in synthetic amber.

Although she shows her face only once, in the video 135 000 Plastic Stars (2021), Doucet’s body is present in this exhibition a few other times—albeit in disguise. She dons two bodysuits, printed with photographs made at and around GKTWV, and one anthropomorphic sun-mascot getup, in the looping videos Forever Replicating Brightness I and II and Watch In Awe (all 2021). Her hand also appears twice in photographs, once gloved and in the other instance pointing at the entrance to a “Castle of Miracles.” Just as Disney World “brings to life” its namesake’s characters and constructs human-scaled versions of its diegetic universe, so too do Doucet’s subjects spill out of the screens and frames that try to hold them. 

Image: Cast Members Only, 2022 by Hannah Doucet. Photo by Tayler Buss courtesy of the artist and PLATFORM Centre.

However, while the former is populated with, and operated by costumed workers, the sculptures in A Wish Stays With You offer only relics of embodiment. Eighteen gloves, printed with her collaged photographs, hang in rows on a green screen-green wall. The body- and sun-suit costumes dangle at eye-level in the gallery, their feet just skimming the floor. Arranged as such and in relation to their counterparts onscreen, the garments are abject, even morbid, shed skins once animated by the artist’s body. In 135 0000 Plastic Stars, Doucet is shown singing a heartfelt rendition of a Disney song against a green screen. However, the video is silent. The effect is uncanny, like so many works in this show; trompe l’oeils and references to the not-quite-alive abound. These formal gestures implicate the artist not only in her own work, but also in Disney’s vast cosmos.

Disney’s world-building, writes theorist Vicky Osterweil, is a “massive project of flattening history, future, technology, and science into an eternal and consumable present, sold as a perfect childhood experience.”5 The project is also, as Doucet’s work elucidates, about desire. The corporation cultivates the wish to return to a childhood innocence—visitors to its World can experience a controlled, heavily mediated regression to a fictional state of purity. They can attempt, with ritualistic conviction, to shed their skins, which are contaminated by the harsh, material conditions of existence under capitalism. For the sick child, however, the experience is one of attempting to don a new innocence (to life, to pain), like a costume. Where wishes for health and longevity cannot be granted, desire is funnelled into escapism. The proverbial wishing well, the effervescent fountain of youth, represents the collective—but unevenly fulfilled—desire for a better life. In Doucet’s work, this vessel is Disney-yellow, flattened into an image, reshaped, and flattened again, revealing engineered happiness to be a placebo.

Image: Detail (Cast Members Only), 2022 by Hannah Doucet. Photo by Daisy Wu courtesy of the artist and PLATFORM Centre.

One element of A Wish Stays With You lives on in the virtual realm: a GIF replica of Wish Fountain is accessible on the artist’s website (and via a sticker on the sculpture itself). “Visitors” can click-and-drag a sparkling, lo-fi gem into the animated fountain along with a wish of their own. It is here that Doucet’s project is revealed to be as hopeful as it is critical. The artist asks: after the conditions of life and sickness under capitalism have been laid bare, where can we still find magic? Where can we put our hopes for a better life?

  1.  However, the public is invited to use it as a real wishing fountain in the digital version of this work.
  2. https://platformgallery.org/exhibition/a-wish-stays-with-you/#.Y0B-X-zMLst
  3. https://www.gktw.org/hope-is/happiness/
  4.  https://platformgallery.org/exhibition/a-wish-stays-with-you/#.Y0B-X-zMLst
  5. Vicky Osterweil, “The Daddest Place on Earth,” The New Inquiry, December 6, 2013, https://thenewinquiry.com/the-daddest-place-on-earth/.

A Wish Stays with You ran from September 16 – October 22, 2022 at PLATFORM Centre for Photographic + Digital Arts in Winnipeg, MB.

Feature Image: Installation view of Forever Replicating Brightness, 2022. Photo by Daisy Wu courtesy of the artist and PLATFORM Centre.