TRACES exhibition designed by KANVA studio in the Canadian Pavilion at World Expo 2020 Dubai


Gerry O’Leary,


Exhibitions, Expo,

Exhibition, Event,

A poetic vision of an uncertain future and a stimulating reflection on our present: the TRACES art installation, designed by the Montreal-based KANVA firm inside the Canadian pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, challenges visitors and raises awareness of the growing threat to ecosystems caused by climate change.

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TRACES exhibition designed by KANVA studio in the Canadian Pavilion at World Expo 2020 Dubai 
We all know about the climate change that is taking place, from drought and devastating fires on one side of the planet, to destructive floods on the other. Indeed, to many of us, it seems evident that we have reached a point that many define as being “of no return”.
However, it is one thing to see images of these disruptive events on a device or to be able to live a direct experience, not necessarily traumatising. It is precisely for this reason that the Canada pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai is hosting TRACES, a multi-sensorial and thought-provoking exhibition on the subject. Commissioned by Global Affairs Canada and produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), the Montreal-based KANVA studio starts off with a national, yet universal approach to design a public installation that aligns both with Canada’s participation in the Expo and with Expo 2020 Dubai’s three important themes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability. Starting from the location of the Canadian pavilion, in the sustainability section of the Expo grounds and with the main exhibition inspired by Canadian landscapes and natural diversity, “We wanted to create something that would emphasise the threats that climate change and global warming pose to those same landscapes, and more specifically, to the species that inhabit them&rdquo, explains Rami Bebawi, KANVA partner and lead architect of the TRACES project.
But how can this process be made visible and, above all, intelligible? The architects studied multiple aspects of global warming and habitat degradation before arriving at a visual that captured the very essence of the message they were trying to convey: a flock of birds, swirling across the sky, in a massive collective movement. To capture their message, KANVA came up with the idea of fossilisation of an inhabited landscape, in this specific case consisting of birds suspended in motion, in a fossilised 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 Rami Bebawi. "They are simply erased from memory, and our collective amnesia allows us to persist in their destruction. TRACES reinterprets that cycle by fossilising the species to ensure that it is not forgotten", adds Olga Karpova, architect and senior project lead at KANVA.
In addition to the mural extending along a large curved wall at the entrance to the Canadian Pavilion, the architects also designed eight display boxes, measuring 2.4 x 2.4 x 2.4 m, distributed across the square of the Canadian Pavilion in a seemingly random way, in stark contrast to the traditional linear grid of human development. Each of the eight boxes has a name – The Jewel, The Nearness, The Memorial, The Forgotten, The Seat, The Gathering, The Sanctuary, The Awareness – and contains a precious object, complemented by multimedia interactions developed in collaboration with Canadian artist Étienne Paquette. Stages that offer multi-sensory experiences of discovery and self-appropriation, where the visitor is confronted – using the same bird imagery – with the major and unprecedented problems caused by the human species, in a playful-poetic manner.
The eight display cases are destined to travel the world after the end of Expo 2020 Dubai, continuing to transmit their important message and the hope that we can still change course, thanks also to art, a language which as such is able to reach deep and touch our most intimate sensitivity.

Christiane Bürklein

Project: KANVA
Location: Dubai, Expo 2020
Year: 2021
Images: Gerry O’Leary


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