A poetic vision of an uncertain future and a reflection upon our present, the TRACES art installation situated on the Canada Pavilion site at Expo 2020 Dubai, challenges visitors and raises awareness about the growing threat to ecosystems caused by climate change.
KANVA, a Montreal-based firm renowned for meaningful projects extending beyond the boundaries of architectural shapes and forms, is proud to unveil TRACES, a multisensorial, thought-provoking exhibition on the grounds of the Canada Pavilion at World Expo 2020 Dubai. Commissioned by Global Affairs Canada and produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) to populate the Plaza grounds leading up to the pavilion Entry Hall, KANVA has taken a national, yet universal approach to designing a public installation that aligned with both Canada’s participation at the Expo and Expo 2020 Dubai’s themes of Opportunity, Mobility, and Sustainability.
“The concept for TRACES began with the location of the Canada Pavilion in the sustainability section of the Expo grounds, and with the main exhibition being inspired by Canadian landscapes and natural diversity,” explains Rami Bebawi, a KANVA partner and lead architect of the TRACES project. “We wanted to create something that would emphasize the threats that climate change and global warming pose to those same landscapes, and more specifically, to the species that inhabit them.”
Striking a chord
The project struck a chord with core values long embraced by KANVA, and the firm embarked on a mission to connect hearts, heads, and hands in pursuit of a brighter future that reinterprets relationships between inhabitants of the planet. In developing a concept that would be artistic and poetic, yet also touching and meaningful, they studied multiple aspects of global warming and habitat degradation before embracing a visual that captured the very essence of their message – a rising murmur of birds, swirling across the sky in a massive, collective movement.
In order to capture and convey a message of urgency surrounding the issue of rapid habitat decline, KANVA came up with the idea of fossilization of an inhabited landscape, where birds are suspended in motion in a fossilized form that preserves ‘TRACES’’ of their existence.
“Whether due to climate change, or oppressive human development, as landscapes fade away, so do the species that inhabit them” notes Bebawi. “They are simply erased from memory, and our collective amnesia allows us to persist in their destruction. TRACES reinterprets that cycle by fossilizing the species to ensure that it is not forgotten”, adds Olga Karpova, architect and senior project lead at KANVA.
Thinking inside of the box
KANVA’s expression unfolds in a series of eight boxes, spread across the plaza grounds of the Canada Pavilion in seemingly random fashion as a counter to the traditional linear grid of human development. Each museum box, measuring 8’ x 8’x 8’, contains a precious object that embodies the beauty of dynamic life in suspension, complemented by multimedia interactions developed with artist Étienne Paquette. As visitors weave their way towards the entry hall of the pavilion, they are invited to move through a variety of multisensorial experiences of discovery and self-appropriation.
The Jewel initiates the conversation by placing fossilized birds on a pedestal, with integrated lighting that presents them as beautiful, but troubled jewels. The journey transitions to The Nearness, the most impressive in terms of scale, featuring a wall of extraordinarily filtered light highlighting the movement of birds within a vertical landscape. The Memorial strikes a more emotional chord, symbolizing a horizontal tomb where visitors find themselves paying tribute to a fallen species. The rectangular base with integrated lighting showcases fossilized birds as they hover over a stunning landscape of wood strata.
The Forgotten symbolizes the careless discarding of objects we once cherished, with stacked cubes of illuminated prototypes that have been cast aside and underappreciated. The Seat invokes a sense of individual responsibility, seating visitors alone at an old school desk. Upon opening the desk, waterscape sounds and a 3D printed bird is unveiled in a seascape of black ink, depicting the effects of ocean spills through the distressed gaze of a bird struggling mightily to survive. The Gathering focuses on collective responsibility, embodying the process of problem solving around a dinner table, and inspired by a glowing cube of fossilized birds emerging from the center of the table. Unsettled sounds of distressed birds gradually evolve into soft and soothing harmonies that symbolize hope as visitors sit together at the table.
By contrast, The Sanctuary is an extraordinary enclosure devoid of human interference, with its white canvas animated by a flowing stream of birds immersed in a human-free world. KANVA’s eighth box delivers the starkest message of all. The Awareness consists of four chairs, one in each corner of the box, with an empty bird cage, door open, suspended from the ceiling. Intensifying white noise indicates that something is wrong and, as visitors take a seat and face each other, the ambiance softens to a soothing garden serenade of singing birds. But the cage is empty, and the bird has left.
In addition to the eight artifact boxes, KANVA also designed a mural that stretches along a large, curved wall of the entry hall to the Canada Pavilion. The mural features a multiplicity of flocking birds, at different depths and distances, on a background that can be interpreted as sky, mountains, forests or water. While the mural is a fixed presentation for Expo 2020 Dubai, the eight cubes are destined to travel the world, where they will persevere as flocking ambassadors of hope.
A truly rewarding experience
Developing TRACES was an extremely rewarding experience for the socially and environmentally conscious firm. Beyond the disciplines of traditional architecture, the project immersed the firm in global issues of concern, as well as the deep study of bird species and their diverse movements and sounds. In creating their art, KANVA also indulged in processes such as scanning, hand sculptures and animating 3D prints of hundreds of different scales and movements, with each one enhancing their conviction along the way.
“We couldn’t be prouder of this work, which has the capacity to be light, beautiful, and entertaining, yet also serve as a conduit of education, consciousness, awareness, and urgency,” concludes Rami Bebawi. “Hyper development has left so much damage behind, and the time has passed for simple acknowledgement. Responsibility must now turn to action.”