Toronto’s Power Plant gallery, which turns 30 this year, has dedicated its 2017 exhibitions program to Canada’s 150th anniversary. Recognizable by its brick smokestack and waterfront views, the contemporary art space’s showings throughout the year will serve as illustrations of the country’s history of immigration, slavery, and multicultural population. “These themes are incredibly timely and relevant to current events internationally,” says Gaëtane Verna, the gallery’s director. For the winter program, on view until May 14th, three arresting solo exhibitions invite visitors to consider those who lived before Confederation in 1867.
Upon entering, Brazilian artist Jonathas de Andrade’s film, O peixe (The Fish), makes you take a seat. Shot like a National Geographic-style documentary, the film presents an ancient predator-prey ritual: a succession of fishermen cradling their catch like infants, up until the fish take their last breath. In the main space, his work Cartazes para o Museu do Homem do Nordeste (Posters for the Museum of the Man of the Northeast) hangs from the gallery’s soaring walls and ceiling. Through dozens of staged portraits of actual workers from Brazil’s northeastern region—the men were found by placing ads in a popular local newspaper—de Andrade blurs fiction and reality to reveal his country’s long history of racial inequality. “This conversation certainly continues in Canada as well,” adds Verna.
Brooklyn-based performance artist Maria Hupfield activates a neighbouring space with her video piece, The One Who Keeps On Giving. A member of Wasauksing First Nation near Parry Sound, Ontario, Hupfield incorporates Anishinaabe oral tradition and professional powwow dancing; the artist is joined by her siblings in a performance inspired by memories from a seascape oil painting her late mother made. The video is accompanied by a selection of felt items from her previous works that challenge the viewer to understand the hidden meanings behind material objects.
Upstairs, artist Kapwani Kiwanga explores the ways in which institutional architecture has been manipulated to discipline society with the light installation A wall is just a wall. The Hamilton, Ontario-born, now Paris-based conceptual artist recreated behaviour-regulating interior design tactics used in penitentiaries and public spaces for a trippy spatial experiment. Kiwanga painted one corner of a bare corridor a shade of pink proven to calm violent prisoners in jails. In another, blue florescent lights flood the ceiling reducing the visibility of veins—a tactic used in public washrooms to discourage intravenous drug use.
“We consider these artists’ approaches to be extremely important in regard to the discussion of pressing issues facing our world today: immigration, colonial pasts, the promises of a neoliberal future, African diaspora, and climate change,” says Carolin Köchling, the gallery’s curator.