Culture & Conversation

A Fascinating, If Meandering, Trip

For thousands of years, humans have been traversing this ever-shrinking planet, etching their imprints onto the physical environment while allowing their surroundings to seep into their consciousness, influencing thought, culture, and migration. With increased travel and communication, it is not only people who circumnavigate the globe, but also ideas, objects, animals, and plants, all of which have impact on the cultural and natural landscape.

This idea is tackled in the Canadian Centre for Architecture’s newest exhibit, Journeys, which pinpoints specific examples of intercultural change and exchange, and the impact of these shifts on the physical world. The exhibition depicts 15 different stories, ranging from an explanation of why imitations of Southern American colonial architecture can be found in Liberia, to the harmful impact of the importation of Sacred Ibises from Egypt to France, and the ubiquity and tenacity of coconuts. It shows a world in which every culture is inextricably intertwined, and capital, aesthetics, and bodies are constantly jumping around the world haphazardly, engendering environmental shifts.

The exhibition uses these case studies to illustrate conceptual issues such as “Classification,” “Way finding,” or “Opportunity.” A picture emerges, showing that these concepts are not limited to specific parts of the world, but are universally relevant in dialogues of movement and change. It evokes the sayings of Heraclitus, the woeful Greek philosopher, who wistfully contemplated, “Everything flows and nothing remains as it was.”

Nevertheless, it is during this endeavour to create a global narrative that the exposition’s cracks begin to show. In an attempt to reveal the vast network of links created by movement, the exhibition becomes difficult to follow, and lacks a sense of flow or cohesion. While the categories the CCA chooses to represent are interrelated and relevant to the exhibition’s mission, the examples used are overwhelmingly diverse and it is challenging to understand how Inuit methods of navigation relate to the mathematical processes used to determine the appropriate curvature of a cucumber. While each section is independently interesting, the visitor lacks sufficient information to fully appreciate the exhibit’s message.

Canada is the nation most represented in the display, with 3 of the 15 sections focusing on impacts of movement on Newfoundland, Ontario, and the Arctic. While the examples chosen from other countries are fascinating and accurately illustrate the international nature of the themes explored, the exhibit would have been more effective had the museum chosen to concentrate on the various ways movement can impact one nation or region. To see the influence of globalisation and migration upon the Canadian environment would have helped to create a more united, consistent narrative.

As a whole, the CCA presents an exhibition that successfully depicts the various types of hybridization within our world, despite its lack of success in uniting the themes it explores. Like a series of short, tenuously related vignettes rather than a coherent, involved novel, Journeys has merit, but fails to construct an overall thesis that would lend a greater degree of meaning to the stories presented.

Journeys: How travelling fruit, ideas and buildings rearrange our environment is on display at the CCA until March 13th, 2011.

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