Will Kwan’s alternative world maps
Sarah Milroy

Review. The Globe and Mail. 2 December 2009

[Excerpt] The art of cultural diaspora is a genre unto itself: a mainstay of curatorial-studies curriculum and art fairs alike. Spawning a motherlode of postcolonial dreck, the genre also includes the odd dazzler, such as the work of transnational superstar Yinka Shonibare (a British-Nigerian artist residing in London), or Zhang Huan (a Chinese √©migr√© in New York) – artists who have made cross-cultural drift a reigning preoccupation of contemporary art. It is into this context that the 31-year-old Toronto artist Will Kwan inserts himself. Kwan came to Canada from Hong Kong at age 4, but his work is still backward glancing. These days, he teaches sculpture and art theory at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, and his work is the subject of a concise exhibition at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery at Hart House, curated by gallery curator-director Barbara Fischer. The show rounds up his major work to date, revealing an artist who articulates sharp cultural observations in the language of conceptual art. Occasionally, the work feels formulaic – his wall installation of ceremonial crimson hong bao gift envelopes emblazoned with the logos of various world banks, for example. Other works, though, are more inventive. Clocks that do not tell the time (2008), for example, is a curious puzzle, seeming to be a bank of institutional clocks displaying the time around the world. But instead of the customary New York, Paris and Mumbai, we find place names like Alang, Punto Fijo and Bentonville. It’s only upon reading Kwan’s research (some of which he has pinned to the back of the display wall) that these locations are revealed to be hubs of international corporate commerce and industry. Why Wilmington? It’s home to many U.S. head offices, Delaware serving as an onshore tax haven for corporate America. Sonapur? That’s where the labour camp is for the 150,000 Asian workers who toil by day to build the glittering towers of Dubai.

Full text available at The Globe and Mail.