From the ARCADE Issue 34.2 feature, “Architectures of Migration: A Survey of Displacements, Routes, and Arrivals.” Articles from the issue will release online over the following weeks. Subscribe to receive ARCADE in print.

Woven Chronicle Reena Saini Kallat

Woven Chronicle, 2015, at Vancouver Art Gallery Offsite. 648" × 192", circuit boards, speakers, electrical wires, and fittings. 10-minute single channel audio. Photo: Rachel Topham, Vancouver Art Gallery

Flows and movements of travelers, migrants, and labour across the world have had major social and economic effects and produced new forms of cultural exchange. They have not only freed cultural identities from physical places but also entwined us all in a symbolic web.

Shown at the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Offsite space in 2015, my outdoor public project Woven Chronicle uses electric wires to trace migration patterns. I originally created this work for the Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art in 2011. The biennial, curated by Sarat Maharaj, was titled Pandemonium: Art in a Time of “Creativity Fever,” a reference to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which reflects on the chaos and disorder surrounding creativity, transformation, and the emergence of new worlds.

Treating electric wires like yarn, I traced migrant routes of indentured labourers, settlers, contract workers, professionals, asylum seekers, and refugees. The project’s audio component resonates with high-voltage electric-current sounds drowned within deep sea ambient noise, slow electric pulses, humming busy tones from telecommunications, a mechanical drone, factory sirens, ship horns, and migratory bird calls. At Offsite, the reflections of this map over water evoked fiber optic connections, and people walked over a pathway of stones to interact with the piece.

At the heart of this work are issues of discrimination and inequality felt among immigrant and resident populations where there are impediments to cross and prejudices to overcome. Even as cultures blend and technology and commerce blur geographic boundaries, with a greater movement of people and information, borders are increasingly controlled and monitored. The electric wires in the piece act as both conduits and barriers, serving as channels of transmission and barbed wire or fencing.