Capital value? Multi-artist exhibition at Contemporary Calgary looks at immigration policies and Canadian history


The first installation visitors to Contemporary Calgary’s multi-artist exhibit, Human Capital, will see is a work by Nurgül Rodríguez from 2017 that occupies two walls and presents a line of porcelain fragments scattered on the floor.

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In A New Land… Be Longing deals with issues of immigration and identity, a common theme in the work of the Turkish-born, Calgary-based artist. One wall has a row of headless shoulders made of porcelain, stretched out to resemble the skeleton of a spinal column. On the other hand, there are tablets that have words and phrases culled from immigration documents, including “NOT VALID TO TRAVEL,” “watch code,” and “sponsor,” hinting at the often cold bureaucratic process of becoming a immigrant on land in Canada.


The piece is meant to be interactive. Specifically, visitors are invited to walk on the broken shards on the ground. Granted, whether out of general Canadian courtesy or the hands-off rules that generally guide art exhibits, many early visitors to Human Capital carefully avoided walking on the shards and instead took the long way around.

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Pictured is Calgary-based artist Darija Radakovic's work Lean on Me, left, and Reminding Is a Microaggression at the Human Capital exhibit at Contemporary Calgary.
Pictured is Calgary-based artist Darija Radakovic’s work Lean on Me, left, and Reminding Is a Microaggression at the Human Capital exhibit at Contemporary Calgary. Azin Ghaffari/Post Media

“It really is a time when you want to break down those barriers, but it’s also a time to step up, whether it’s the choice to move to a new land, whether it’s the choice to break down barriers or build barriers. ,” He says Kanika Anand, Associate Curator and Manager of Public Programs at Contemporary Calgary. “So it’s really an interpretive piece. He would like people to cross over and break this into dust.”

Walking through the shards makes for an oddly satisfying crunch, adding a nice visceral touch to viewing Human Capital, a powerful multi-artist exhibit that runs at Contemporary Calgary through January 29.

It’s the second iteration of the multi-artist show, which debuted at Regina’s MacKenzie Art Gallery. Curated by Tak Pham, Associate Curator at MacKenzie, it has been updated to include work by four Calgary artists, including Darija Radakovic, Nura Ali, and Marigold Santos.

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Pham visited the studios of numerous Calgary artists to find works that fit into the larger theme of Human Capital, which finds many of the artists taking a critical look at immigration policies and the history of this country.

“It includes voices of immigrant artists,” says Anand. “It also looks at the ideas of belonging and identity and loss. He really questions this idea of ​​who is Canadian on multiple levels and at a time when, coming out of COVID, there has been a huge backlog of immigration and refugees. So there’s this uptick in conversation in a period when people are really struggling to reunite with family, to escape unfortunate circumstances. The idea of ​​Human Capital goes back to the idea of ​​the human being as a unit of capital. Canada has a point system for immigrants. Look at a person as a capital value.”

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Another interactive piece is Radakovic’s Lean on Me from 2019. The The Bosnian-born conceptual artist built an archway made up of generic metal chairs held together by vinyl.

“These are folding chairs that you would normally find in meeting rooms,” says Anand. “It’s the whole idea of ​​being new to a country and waiting for people. It is the idea of ​​constantly waiting but being among this group of other people who are also waiting. He is talking about that moment of precariousness: Will I get there? I will not do it? Who leans on whom? Once again, people are invited to go under to answer (the question), Are you welcome or is it a barrier?

Human Capital features the work of 12 artists from across Canada and from different backgrounds, presenting pieces in a wide variety of mediums and tones.

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All Right by Ontario artist Aleesa Cohene is an often disturbing video that mixes horror movie footage with sound clips for news broadcasts and a snippet from an actual training video. It shows a curiously aggressive immigration officer relentlessly questioning a would-be immigrant, whose cheerful smile fades as the interrogation continues.

Jin-Me Yoon, of Korean descent, inserts some humor in Souvenirs of the Self (Rocky Mountain Bus Tour), 1991-2000, a large-format reproduction of an earlier series that featured the Vancouver-based artist photographed on a postcard . as funds in Banff. Her new job shows her sadly aloof and attentive in front of a group of jovial older white tourists who have just presented her uniformed bus driver, who is also South Korean, with a Chinese scarf.

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“She’s playing with that idea of ​​how we look physically,” says Anand. “Many times immigrants are asked ‘Where are you from? Where are you from originally? Because you look different. Here, it’s like ‘They’re Asian’. But they have different identities and they have different regions and different cultures. So she talks about all those things. It’s a bit ironic.”

One of the most powerful pieces is Jeannie Mah’s multimedia installation Train: Les Arivees, which mixes a looping video that takes viewers along the Trans-Canada Railway with projected ghostly black-and-white images of Chinese workers who helped lay the tracks. on each side. In front is a series of fragile porcelain cones showing the faces of members of the artist’s family.

“There is this very conscious act of exploring a story that has always been on the fringes or absent from mainstream historical review,” says Anand. “Whether they are oral traditions or written traditions, they are specifically excluded. Across multiple cultures, there is this interest in really looking back. What is this story? Why has he been absent for so long?

Human Capital is at Contemporary Calgary through January 29, 2023.

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