Creating a Climate Narrative to Inspire Hope and Gravity with Traveling Installation TRACES
What are the most important stories and challenges of our time, and how are we telling them? Climate changes and the decline of our environment, with an estimated loss of 50,000 animal and plant species each year, is the most universal and timely story; yet it’s difficult to take in, in real time. Embracing the gravity and hope needed to suggest a poetic path forward, the traveling installation TRACES reflects the collaboration necessary to rise to the occasion. Beginning its tour at the Canada Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai. The installation conflates architecture and object, nature and our social spaces, with strong material concepts evoking shared history and deep time. It asks us to wonder at nature’s perfectly-imperfect beauty, and at the implications of the built environment, which can be occupied with more or less attention to outer effects. TRACES is an original concept and production of KANVA, with Creos supervising overall technical production and touring., as well as technical development amongst the project’s many partners. This includes multimedia design and art direction by co-creator Etienne Paquette and production by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB).
Photo courtesy of Gerry O’Leary
Through eight “sites” or theatrical vignettes, TRACES unfolds a story of evolution and potential as well as memory and nostalgia. In it, our protagonist the bird becomes a symbol of both ourselves and the “other” in nature, the aspirational potential of humankind, and the connectedness of our natural world that knows no boundaries of country or state. Species decline and extinction is a global issue that presses on our human health and survival, and Dubai’s world stage was a fitting debut for the fossilized birds to start their journey. Complementing the Expo’s themes of Opportunity, Mobility, and Sustainability,TRACES’ creators are committed to being social actors in the field of art, and living by such values.
TRACES unfolds in a series of boxes, to be experienced individually and collectively. Visitors are invited to move through a series of multisensory and interactive experiences. One of TRACES’ distinctive features is a series of “fossilized” birds in amber resin. KANVA’s original hand carved forms made of birds in flight were digitally scanned, animated to have particular movements, and then 3D-printed at various scales. These forms were then anchored in suspension and poured-over with a tinted medium.. The exothermic reaction of the composites mixing gives these elements a jewel-like transparency and glow, with natural flow and movement, suggesting fossilization in flight, as if somehow we could crystallize extinction in a moment. This is true of the gem-like display of “The Jewel”, featured atop a pedestal, centered in its value as an aesthetic object, an object of beauty.
Photos courtesy of Gerry O’Leary
In “The Nearness” we see a vertical wall of murmuration symbolizing mass collective movement, bringing it close. Light seeps in from behind, emphasizing cracks and textures, the mystery of the object, as evidence of the birds migration and a sense of geologic pressure. Implied are the centuries of evolution that created such species capability, to move quickly, physically, as one. We may think of the air as a symbol of human intellect, where it meets physical action, taking form. The birds embody our will and its outcome on the greater whole.
Next, “The Memorial” symbolizes a tomb, a site to pay tribute to a fallen species. We can consider it a flash-forward for many creatures that we love, including our own. Here fossilized birds hover over a landscape of wood strata. The light and layers evoke a stark desert sunset or a kind of heat emanating from the ground, with temperature on the rise. Viewed from above and side views, what once was up is now down, laid to rest, should we perhaps let it be so.
Photos courtesy of Serge Maheu and KANVA.
In “The Forgotten,” lit amber cubes containing fossil prototypes are placed to the side, piled in an un-esteemed position. This choice emphasizes their dismissal, the lack of appreciation we may have toward creation, and the many phases of development it can take to arrive at meaningful, long-term solutions. In “The Seat,” we come upon a school desk, representing our obligation to learn and be accountable, as well as perhaps the mixed messages we have culturally received in our attitudes and responsibilities toward nature. As a visitor opens the desk, they come upon a seascape of black ink, a bird struggling to free itself from the symbolic oil spill, the sound of water accompanying its struggle for life.
Speaking as well to communal values and social spaces, “The Gathering” places a lit amber cube of fossilized birds at the center of a table, accompanied by distressed bird sounds which over time become soft, soothing harmonies. It’s as if the fossilized species could invoke us to speak on the matter collectively, bringing it to the center of our lives, our homes and our dinner tables, suggesting we are ready to metabolize it.
Turning toward possibilities, occupying the entirety of the cube for “The Sanctuary” is a shadow animation and bird soundtrack received through a white shroud, a sign of respect and preservation. Birds swoop and fly, thriving in our absence from their protected space. Stop motion technique gives an intimate, retro-mechanical, some might say nostalgic tone to the work. Finally in “The Awareness,” an empty birdcage hangs above chairs. As visitors take their seats, tranquil bird songs filter in, calling, or re-calling, empathy and hope into awareness. Narrative filters in through multiple media, drawing us back into the senses, an essential way of relating to other living beings.
Photo courtesy of Serge Maheu
As a touring exhibit, from concept to installation and audience interaction, TRACES takes into account its message and environmental footprint. It joins many other impactful public interactive installations in the Creos portfolio, available for new destinations that are eager to challenge visitors, raise awareness about the growing threat to ecosystems, and present art in a new form. As public art, meeting its viewers where they are, narrative converges through multisensory experience, opening up new perspectives, nuanced and meaningful, and more important than ever.
Original Concept, Creative Art Direction and Production Design: KANVA
Multimedia Design and Art Direction: Étienne Paquette
Production: National Film Board of Canada (NFB)
Production and Touring Production: Creos