Breathless at the Power Plant

The collaborative installation, Breathless was launched at the south entrance of the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in May 2022. Flaka Haliti, Marguerite Humeau, Donna Kukama, and Julius von Bismarck have devoted themselves to this partnership in order to bring awareness to crucial environmental problems, such as the global pandemic, forest fires, and carbon emissions, as well as racial injustice (“I can’t breath”).

The transparent shell of the installation was designed by the curatorial team lead by Ala Roushan. It followed the concept of the architectural plan of the House of the Future (1956), by the 20th-century architect partners Alison and Peter Smithson. This futuristic architectural design is contradictory to the Five points of the New Architecture that was proposed by Le Corbusier in 1927. Instead of the courtyard being in the middle of the house with trees and grass, that coexists with the inhabitants, Breathless stands out with its detachment from the external space. In the closed transparent pavilion of Breathless, the only way to interact with the outside is using the metallic conduit, similar to the wire acoustic system that was used in the House of the Future. 

Flaka Haliti, Marguerite Humeau, Donna Kukama, and Julius von Bismarck, BREATHLESS. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

During the daytime it’s hard to see through the wall of the misty air-filled pavilion to observe the internal arrangement until one opens the wooden door and steps into the space. By entering the asymmetrical pavilion, the first to appear are the undulant blue microparticles that remind us of sand piled over the floor by artist Flaka Haliti. The internal space seems to both simulate the ocean and the sapphire blue sky, drawing our awareness towards the dangers of losing both due to human destruction.

Flaka Haliti, Marguerite Humeau, Donna Kukama, and Julius von Bismarck, BREATHLESS.

Marguerite Humeau, an artist interested in the transition between animals and minerals, has contributed a post-modern sculpture titled Waste I – 1 (a respiratory tract mutating into industrial waste) placed at the center of the installation. The creature seems to have taken the shape of the human vertebral column, with the addition of eight prominent air chambers. With Donna Kukama’s pre-recorded audio imitating the respiration process, the tube inlaid on the back of the futuristic creature also seems to be breathing air in and out. Among the vast blueness of sand, placed on a transparent base, the sculpture seems to be on an isolated island in the middle of the ocean, radiating loneliness and helplessness.

Marguerite Humeau, Waste I – 1 (a respiratory tract mutating into industrial waste), 2019 (in front).

Every day after dusk, Julius von Bismarck’s video installation Feuer mit Feuer (Fire with Fire, 2021) will play directly on the transparent pavilion from multiple angled projectors. Multidisciplinary artist, von Bismarck’s practice is defined by an in-depth and complex exploration of the phenomena of perception and experimentation. In his video he captures the boundless beauty of the powerful and devastating elements of fire. In order to complete this video he visited many fire sites in Germany, Sweden and across California. When viewing the glowing artifact at night, audiences may take a step further away from it to see its full-screen projection. People can enter the flaming forests by fully immersing themselves in its fire and smoke.

Flaka Haliti, Marguerite Humeau, Donna Kukama, with video by Julius von Bismarck, BREATHLESS.

This installation, which is located by the lakeside of Toronto, has blurred the boundary between technology and nature. By deconstructing the familiar elements in the ecosystem, the artwork is asking us to reconsider our actions towards nature, leave our ignorance behind and have an honest look into the future.

Vivian Sun

Images are courtesy of the Power Plant.

*Exhibition information: Breathless / Flaka Haliti, Marguerite Humeau, Donna Kukama, and Julius von Bismarck, May 20 – October 30, 2022, Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, South Terrace, 231 Queens Quay West, Toronto.

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