photos: Transmigration of the SOLD (2016) is a production still by Japanese-American artist Yoko Inoue. Courtesy of the artist.

Plugging in to the Pacific Rim

Victoria art exhibition examines histories of exchange in the Pacific Rim

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When Haema Sivanesan moved to B.C. to become a curator for the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV), she was excited to be back on the Pacific coast. Sivanesan, originally from Australia, was instantly inspired by her surroundings and set out to create an exhibition that would explore the Pacific Rim as an idea and a location.

“You begin to unpack [the Pacific Rim]  and realize how big it is and how little work has been done in that area to explore the diversity of cultures in the region,” she says.

When Sivanesan first brought the project idea to the AGGV, the gallery was interested in a video art exhibition that could bridge artists and ideas together across a massive geographic span. Sivanesan enlisted other curators across the Pacific Rim to help with the project, and started a conversation about the themes worth exploring.

The result is Trans-Pacific Transmissions: Video Art Across the Pacific, an exhibition that brings together the work of artists from around the Pacific Rim, as they examine histories of trade and exchange in the region and “how issues of indenture, migration, and labour have shaped ideas of diversity and belonging.”

Ripple effect
“When you walk in the exhibition, the first group of works are fairly early video work, by artists who are considered pioneers of video art,” describes Sivanesan. “Then the exhibition unfolds thematically and looks at relationships to the sea, relationships to the land as well as social and political questions.”

At the time she began to envision the project there was a lot of discussion in the media about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Sivanesan recalls. The agreement, which set out to promote economic growth and lower trade barriers, among other things, was signed on Feb. 4, 2016 in New Zealand, after seven years of negotiations.

“Agreements like the TPP create a huge ripple effect in society. There's been a lot of discussion in B.C., for example, around the LNG pipeline,” Sivanesan says. “I was really interested to find that there was an artist in Malaysia making work that was addressing the same questions on the other side of the Pacific.”

Lebuh Agraria, or Agraria Road/Way, by Azharr Rudin is a 30-minute nonfiction film that is played on a loop. The work attempts to re-introduce works and scenarios that are related to soil and land, by documenting the day-today lives of real people in Malaysia.

“Rudin’s work looks at the impact of a big building project—an LNG terminal that's being built in Malaysia and the impacts that it's having on farmers and villagers in that region,” describes Sivanesan.

Kuala Lumpur is undergoing heavy construction work, Rudin explains. In the film, some people walk amidst the thick dust as the city’s ground continues to be excavated. From south of the land, a group of people walk to [the city centre] in a desperate attempt to save their familial and ancestral graveyards whilst somewhere away from the city, a lone farmer wistfully toils the ground.

“The concept is quite simple. It’s like sitting down having a drink with these people and listening to them talk. It’s a gradual journey to here and now,” Rudin adds.

Through the exhibition the curator wants to focus on the work of artists who are documenting the changing social context in the region by looking at the human and social dimensions of trans-Pacific trade.

Lucy Aukafolau’s work, for example, is a single video installation that explores ideas of trade from an indigenous perspective. “She can locate within her own cultural experience a much longer history of Pacific trade and was able to convey that through her work,” says Sivanesan about Aukafolau’s work.

The installation is a split-screen featuring eight smaller clips—each from a trip the artist took while touring Tonga. “I went in there with the idea of psycho-geographic methodologies and how that would work in a place like Tonga, which is very small but within an archipelago network,” says Aukafolau, who is Tongan by cultural background. To produce the video, she made a trip from the main island in Tonga to one of Re-thinking exchange.

“Artists are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of thinking about these big questions that have huge social effects and that don't always get talked about in the public sphere,” Sivanesan. “And in doing so they are bringing different perspectives to those discussions.”

Sivanesan hopes the exhibition will make the audience rethink the implications of Trans-Pacific exchange, which in her opinion goes beyond the trade of goods, to include the transmission of ideas, and the broadening of cultural paradigms.

The exhibition, to open in early June features the work of 15 artists from across the Pacific Rim, from countries including Canada, Mexico, Chile, Singapore, Japan, Brunei and Malaysia. Each installation explores a different microcosm of the Pacific Rim and the tensions inherent therein.

“Even though we live in a region that is incredibly culturally diverse we share a lot in common in terms of histories and questions for the future. Hopefully people will leave with an understanding of that—of a common set of concerns.”

The exhibition will open June 4 and will be on display until Sept. 5 at the Centennial and Ker Galleries in Victoria. For more information, visit

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