Artists

At Offsite, the Vancouver Art Gallery’s public art space, Mumbai-based artist Reena Saini Kallat provides a unique platform for generating dialogues about geographical movements and ensuing conflicts. Woven Chronicle traces human migration and cultural diaspora throughout the world. Handwoven electrical wires are entwined to create an intricate web that maps the continents of the world, with countries depicted in different colours that correspond to various modes of industrialization and manufacturing. [1] The map is overlaid with strands of single wires that outline common routes that connect people and commodities, while simultaneously contributing to cultural barriers.

In the context of Vancouver’s changing urban and cultural landscapes, Woven Chronicle points to the origins of diversity. While this city celebrates a myriad of ethnicities and cultures, issues of discrimination and inequality are present among immigrant and resident populations. Historically, tens of thousands of immigrants have woven themselves into the fabric of Canadian life. Canada is a country largely populated by people of various nations who have made the difficult decision, usually out of necessity, to leave their indigenous countries to enter the uncertain territory of an unknown place and future. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are more than 50 million displaced people in the world, an increase of 28% worldwide since 2008.

Today Canada is among several wealthy Western nations that have become increasingly wary of foreign visitors. Controversial new legislation currently being discussed by the Stephen Harper government has the potential to see Canada join the more than 70 countries requiring biometric data (fingerprints and iris scans) from all foreign citizens requesting Visas. Perhaps due to increased border restrictions for asylum seekers in 2008 to its current position of the sixteenth. [2]

Kallat’s map, woven by the artist and her assistants in Mumbai, implicates a form of meticulous labour that is often taken up by migrants from rural villages who travel to urban centres for economic survival - not only in India, but throughout the world. Canada has a long tradition of utilising foreign employees, including the more that 10,000 Chinese immigrants who were brought to British Columbia to work temporarily on the Trans Canada Railway in the early 1880s. In 1973, Canada launched its own Temporary Foreign Workers Program following the lead of several European countries that had created programmes to fill labour shortages following the Second World War. At first Canada’s program was limited to importing agricultural workers and live-in caregivers, but in 2002 the program was expanded to include a wide range of low-skilled workers. [3]

Woven Chronicle was originally conceived for Goteborg Konsthall as part of the Goteborg International Biennale for Contemporary Art in 2011. A smaller iteration, titled Untitled (Map/Drawing) (2011), utilized wires to create a drawing that would trace migration patterns globally, wherein a multitude of actors interact without knowledge of the overall situation. Kallat is interested in the linear formations of the work and the inherent contradictions suggested through the use of barbed wires and electrical conduits, which suggest both channels of transmission and barriers of entry. In discussing her work, the artist explained: “By changing the instrument of this quassi-cartographic drawing from a pencil line to a wire, I’m interested in the notion of the map as a stream of dynamic, ever changing and transferring data that is in step with the global flows of energies and people as the courses of these travellers intersect.” [4]

The wires comprising Woven Chronicle map an active network of information and energy transfers, which is accentuated by the ambient soundtrack evoking the buzz and reverberations of telecommunications, industry and travel. Kallat’s use of electrical wires provides further reference to the global nature of the internet- a network that simultaneously connects and isolates its users. As a multi-layered work, Woven Chronicle recalls and questions the democratization of the World Wide Web, a network that tends to break down geographical and social borders at the cost of more meaningful physical interaction.

In it totality, Woven Chronicle offers insights into the complexities of human convergence and its accompanying narratives, providing a contemplative sketch of a globalised world.

Notes

[1]Oxford School Atlas, 32nd Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)

[2]MichaelEnright, “The Global Refugee Problem,” statistics from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in The Sunday Edition, May3, 2015, http://www.cba.ca/radio/thesundayedition/men-will-be-boys-the-refugee-problem-christiana-pflug-ve-day-1.3055705/the-global-refugee-problem-1.3055999.

[3]CD Howe Institute, Commentary 407, online edition, published, April 17, 2014, www.cdhowe.org

[4]Reena Saini Kallat, artist statement for Untitled (Map/Drawing) exhibited at Goteborgs Konstall, Sweden, 2011
Copyright © 2015 Vancouver Art Gallery
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