Throughout 2019, the Contemporary Art Gallery is producing a major public art initiative in partnership with TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s transportation authority. Five Canadian artists —Diyan Achjadi, Patrick Cruz, Rolande Souliere, Erdem Taşdelen and Anna Torma—have been commissioned to graphically wrap the exterior of a series of articulated buses traveling on major routes in Metro Vancouver.
The nature of this project—public transit vehicles enveloped by visual imagery and traversing the space of the city—offers a lyrical opportunity to explore connections between images, meaning and movement. Buses and trains are not the only transit systems that we navigate in our everyday lives: visual images constantly transport ideas and meaning from one place to another. The English word commute is derived from the Latin commutare, which means to change or transform. Each of the five artists featured in this project has an artistic practice that is deeply attentive to the commute of visual language across time and space.
The work of Vancouver-based Diyan Achjadi is fundamentally concerned with print media’s profound role in the transit of knowledge throughout the world. In a nod to traditional Chinoiserie wallpaper and textiles, Achjadi envelops her buses in NonSerie (In Commute) (2017/2018), a swirling, riotous reconfiguration of historical illustrations that depict an imagined Indonesia—its landscapes, architecture and fauna—from the perspective of the 17th and 18th century Dutch settler. An Indonesian herself, Achjadi’s project is a critical response to the cross-cultural influences, contaminations and fantastical imaginings that result from the colonial project.
A personal history of migration is also mapped across the surface of Patrick Cruz’s highly gestural canvases and visually cacophonic, immersive installations. The artist emigrated from the Philippines in 2005 and now lives and works in Toronto. For this project, Cruz wraps his buses in a variation of his installation Step Mother Tongue (2017/2019), whose pictographic imagery is in part derived from a pre-colonial Philippine language suppressed by the Spanish during the centuries of their occupation. Cruz’s gesture is one of reclamation, but he also misreads, embellishes and transforms that language, such that his pixelated brushstrokes become a reflection upon the time and space through which the imagery travelled to reach him and a statement about capitalist society, globalization and an imagined post-colonial future.
Rolande Souliere, whose work will concurrently be featured in a solo exhibition at CAG, is an Anishinaabe artist and member of the Michipicoten First Nation. Working across numerous modes and media, Souliere’s practice combines hard-edge abstraction with the handmade. Her bus wrap Frequent Stopping, Part III (2018), which evokes the pattern of caution tape, uses metaphors of the road to consider land claims (both settled and unsettled) and governmental control, as well as to how these boundaries shift according to current socio-political events.
Erdem Tasdelen’s artistic practice makes subtle inquiries into the nature and representation of subjectivity and personal identification, often deploying a diverse set of references to playfully question his own existence in various social realms. His design is a reconsideration of his collage Essentials of Psychological Testing (2018), drawn from a psychology textbook borrowed from the public library, from which all the drawings, charts, diagrams and graphs were scanned and all textual information erased. Devoid of decipherable messages, the collaged imagery resembles cryptic puzzles and points to the impossibility of encapsulating subjective experience.
A self-described storyteller and descendant of generations of needle-workers and embroiderers, Anna Torma’s work offers us a glimpse into an extraordinary world in which the domestic and fantastic collide through whimsical imagery drawn from her own children’s drawings and family history, Hungarian folklore and personal memory. Wandering between the representational and the abstract, the marvelous and the mundane, Torma’s contribution to How far do you travel? is drawn from her major suite of works Abandoned Details (2018). The imagery prompts a consideration of the complex nature of diasporic experience, the desire to remember the details from one’s past and the act of both translating and transporting them into the context of the present.