As we go about our daily lives, we enter into and are confronted by spaces designed to shape and regulate our behaviour, whether we notice it or not. For example, the colour Baker Miller Pink is believed to reduce aggressive behaviour. Used for wall paint in various penitentiaries, it is meant to calm aggressive inmates. In the early 20th-century hygiene movements in Europe prescribed specific paint treatment for walls in institutional settings such as hospitals and workplaces. Today, in public spaces, the use of fluorescent blue lights are becoming increasingly widespread; with the goal of reducing the visibility of veins on one’s arms, they aim to deter intravenous drug-users from frequenting these areas. One-way mirrors offer up another mode of control: used for surveillance in interrogation rooms but also found in office buildings protecting workers from the gaze of passersby.
Though the intention of such architectural decisions may be to reform or to protect, the actual outcomes produced by them can be ambiguous or even harmful. In her exhibition, Kiwanga exposes these underlying structures by placing the material mechanisms before us in their bare forms: the wall paint and the blue lights. These material forms are often unquestioned, as we rarely look to architecture and design as the culprits of the psychological or physiological effects they covertly produce. However, arranged by the artist, these elements are subject to scrutiny. Confrontation with the raw materials of these subtle yet powerful relational dynamics forces us to think about their social implications: do the blue-lit bathrooms prevent users from injecting drugs? Or does the space now simply facilitate a more dangerous environment for doing so? And so, the question remains, whether architectural attempts to control bodies and their behaviours work to counter the problems they aim to prevent or merely force their relocation. Kiwanga’s gestures remind us that as with any design, ways to circumnavigate it quickly emerge, and so the ageless tussle over space—that is, who can access it and who cannot—reemerges.
The artist further delves into disciplinary architecture in her new film A Primer, in which she deconstructs the physical and psychological qualities of different built environments including schools, prisons, hospitals and mental health facilities. The work offers up the potential for our built environments to predict and affect human behaviour in both the subtlest and most forceful of ways. The newly commissioned film A Primer is co-produced by The Power Plant, Toronto and the Logan Center Exhibitions, University of Chicago.
— Nabila Abdel Nabi, Assistant Curator, The Power Plant
The exhibition Kapwani Kiwanga, A wall is just a wall (and nothing more at all) is organized and circulated by The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto. The exhibition is curated by Nabila Abdel Nabi, Assistant Curator, The Power Plant. It was sponsored by TD Bank Group.
Support for the development and production of new works for the exhibition provided by Esker Foundation.
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