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Futuristic art exhibition on now at gallery

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 11:13 PDT, Wed May 12, 2021

Last Updated: 4:46 PDT, Wed May 12, 2021

In the new Richmond Art Gallery exhibition UNION, viewers are immersed in a futuristic world where all documented human history has been erased.

That backdrop allows artists Nancy Lee and Kiran Bhumber to look at the ideas of connection, culture, and ritual ceremonies. The exhibition, which opened last month, is on through June 5.

“It’s a speculative science fiction exhibition,” explains Lee. “You’ll see a film with a sculpture of Kiran and I, our characters embracing. The film is meant to show a dialogue that our two narratives and characters have, symbolizing the relationship that we currently have today (with) technology—how intimacy and connection is conveyed with two flat screens across from each other.”

The two futuristic wedding dresses are inspired by both the imagined world and traditional aspects of Chinese and Punjabi wedding garb, says Bhumber.

“You’ll also be immersed in a surround sound speaker installation with a floor projection. The idea of this space is to have a space of collective witnessing, much like you would have one in a wedding. We want audiences to be immersed in the world of union,” she adds.

Bhumber and Lee first conceived of the project in 2018, and were approached by Richmond-based media arts organization Cinevolution to collaborate on bringing it to life. Lee says it also took a couple of years to raise funds for the project, as well as finding collaborators and an appropriate space.

“The project evolved organically as time passed and we approached different aspects,” says Lee. “It’s not like we had seen this exact vision of the project in 2018 when we first thought about it—it evolved as collaborators contributed, (which) helped us materialize and realize what we see today in the gallery.”

The two artists met in 2014 at one of Lee’s shows, and first collaborated the following year. UNION is their first gallery exhibition, and Bhumber says she and Lee focus more on working with new technologies and skills than on the end result. 

“Working in a field of sculpture, for instance, is something completely new—3D scanning and the whole process of printing, sanding and using materials,” says Bhumber.

Both artists say the project has been a benefit during the COVID-19 pandemic, giving them a reason to continue relationships and collaboration as well as providing a livelihood for the artists who are collaborating with them. And the pandemic has also underscored “the scarcity of presence and touch,” says Lee—a key element of the exhibition.

“We would like people to question our current relationship with technology and invite a little bit more awareness between our uses of social media and how it impacts our lives, or how we connect with each other,” they say.

The artistic form can help artists work through their own cultural or ancestral connections, forming a better understanding of questions that may come up. And Lee wants their exhibition to serve as inspiration.

“There aren’t that many contemporary Asian artists exhibiting here in Vancouver, so for us to take up space in these kinds of gallery spaces and to show other folks who are emerging artists and queer folks that you can do this, it is possible cause we’ve done it, that is one of the main messages of our collaboration over the years—to show that if we can do it, you can do it too,” they say.

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