And we Call it Home... - juan contreras

Working for a developer in Vancouver, I come into constant contact with representations of the city in the form of development plans and diagrams. I am fascinated with aerial photography, CAD drawings, vehicular circulation maps, parking plans, and site plans outlining the location of current, past, and future developments. I am amazed that all of these diagrams and the processes that they represent eventually give people great homes to live in, neighbourhoods that promote a better quality of life, and green spaces. I am interested in translating this close observation of the utilitarian artifacts of the urban development process into an artistic exploration of forms, colours, and symbols.

I do this by taking the development plans and site plans and further exploring the forms I see in them. I shape and redesign the plans, highlighting the beauty of the cartography, using colours and forms that reflect my own preferences. But my reshaping is also guided by personal experience with urban centres, a sense of history, and a concern over disappearing forests and arable lands. I look at urban centres in my own way, as the construction of ‘a new nature’: I take into consideration some historic cases where the forest has disappeared with the introduction of new settlements; my brush strokes and bright colours represent how cities usually grow on and displace arable land.

My work also highlights the similarities between cities’ aerial maps and aboriginal motifs. My incorporation of aboriginal graphics into the landscape is a way to represent the indigenous peoples’ concept of belonging to the land, a concept that is shared by indigenous people throughout the American continent, from the southernmost point of Tierra de Fuegos to Alaska. This concept contrasts sharply with the idea brought by Europeans to the ‘New World,’ which claims that land belongs to the people who have written rights over the claimed parcel.

My work also highlights the similarities between cities’ aerial maps and aboriginal motifs. My incorporation of aboriginal graphics into the landscape is a way to represent the indigenous peoples’ concept of belonging to the land, a concept that is shared by indigenous people

My work also highlights the similarities between cities’ aerial maps and aboriginal motifs. My incorporation of aboriginal graphics into the landscape is a way to represent the indigenous peoples’ concept of belonging to the land, a concept that is shared by indigenous people throughout the American continent, from the southernmost point of Tierra de Fuegos to Alaska. This concept contrasts sharply with the idea brought by Europeans to the ‘New World,’ which claims that land belongs to the people who have written rights over the claimed parcel.

My paintings explore the many factors that play a role in defining the final shape of a city. Are topography and government plans the main players that give form to urban development? What about patterns built from the beginning, from the first few streets in a new town? What factors account for the form of slums, and why is it that even in their unplanned nature, slums end up having a similar aesthetic in cities around the world?

Urban planners, developers, the construction industry, business people, and other professionals shape urban development and manage environmental issues. And as the population grows land becomes scarce in urban centres. At some point, the land that was initially designated for agriculture, industrial activity, or the protection of forests is converted to urban use. In cases where urban centres run out of land for new development, urban growth strains the current infrastructure and results in high-density construction, which impacts sustainability and puts heritage buildings in peril and undermines community identity.

By translating urban development plans into art, I draw out the aesthetics of these diagrammatic representations of the city, I bring to light the political decisions that inform their creation, and I draw attention to the on-the-ground realities that result from those plans. It is easy to overlook the many intricate steps that shape the formation of the urban spaces, which in turn affect the development, interaction and functioning of the societies that inhabit them. With this body of works and this exhibition, I aim to look at the landscape we inhabit through as many points of view as possible and give anyone who sees these paintings the possibility to reflect and explore their place in this vast and complex landscape that is in constant flux.

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