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A journal for storytelling, arguments, and discovery through tangential conversations.
Present Futures: in conversation with Kapwani Kiwanga on power, archival research and plants
Friday, February 5, 2021 | Ella den Elzen
Research can be an opening to the inaccessible, the unknown, or the forgotten. Kapwani Kiwanga explores this fact in her work, perhaps due to her background in anthropology and comparative religion before becoming an artist. By materializing details and histories often pulled from documents, she brings us closer to things that, though, seemingly obscured by dominant narratives, are actually in plain sight. It was during a research project of my own investigating the architectural details of carceral environments that I first encountered Kiwanga’s works pink-blue (2017) and A Sum and Its Parts (2017). These pieces struck me in the way they transformed archival documents and photographs into affective experiences. The method Kiwanga used specifically, unearthing the specifications of carceral spaces and other architectures of control and translating them into large-scale immersive installations was immediately alluring to me as both a researcher and designer. My own research examined the architecture of Canadian immigration detention centres, specifically looking at the ways in which these government-sanctioned facilities that detain undocumented migrants further reinforce ideas of illegality and criminality. The government often refuses journalists and researchers access to these centres, and very few photographs of the interior architecture of the buildings themselves are available. So, when I began analyzing them, my primary interest evolved into a question of how to access this inaccessible information.