For the 2020 Capture Photography Festival, Franco-Canadian, Paris-based artist, Kapwani Kiwanga has created Counter-Illumination (2020), a site-specific commission. This work is featured on the façade of the Dal Grauer building, a modernist power structure, partly obscuring its dominant glass façade.
Kiwanga’s practice queries embedded power structures and encourages what she describes as “exit strategies” in order to visualize alternatives and negotiate a different future. In her recent work, Kiwanga has been interested in surveillance and how it manifests itself in legislation and architecture. She is equally interested in ways individuals and groups counter forced visibility and reconnaissance through cloaking techniques whether physical, behavioural, or digital. Kiwanga’s still life photograph, Counter-Illumination, comprises objects and materials that are related to seeing and obscuring: curtains, blinds, mirror, and glass. This image, covering a major portion of the building’s façade, is in direct dialogue with the edifice which is supporting it, evoking questions of visibility, transparency, and their use in surveillance and control.
Completed in 1954, the BC Hydro’s Dal Grauer Substation was designed by the young architect Ned Pratt and artist B. C. Binning. The building was commissioned by the B.C. Electric Company, under the helm of then-president Edward Albert “Dal” Grauer, to bridge functional design and public art. The substation would go on to serve as a three-dimensional “canvas” that was said to resemble a Piet Mondrian or De Stijl painting.
The modernist philosophy with which the building was designed emphasizes the link between art, architecture, and everyday life. With this in mind, Capture Photography Festival has commissioned artists annually to create new site-specific works to be installed on the Dal Grauer Substation’s facade. Drawing on the building itself, these projects temporarily emphasize the substation in the streetscape and reassert it as an architectural icon.
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