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Chantal Calato, Unseen, 2019; Courtesy of the artist

Chantal Calato, Unseen, 2019; Courtesy of the artist


On View Friday, April 10–Sunday, July 26, 2020

UNSEEN is a multimedia art installation that examines the mutilation of our environment and in turn ourselves. This installation is deeply personal for me. At only 41 years old, my brother Joe was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that eats away at your bones. Joe lives on a block in Niagara Falls that sits on the edge of Love Canal in a neighborhood where house after house is filled with families dealing with life-threatening cancers and diseases. More than 40 years after this neighborhood was destroyed by toxic waste from Love Canal, people from the Niagara region continue to suffer from the chemicals of Niagara’s industrial legacy. 

For the installation, I interviewed 18 people from the dozens of contaminated areas of Niagara County. I wanted to fill this space at the Burchfield Penney Art Center with a soundscape of their interwoven voices and dark personal stories at the heart of UNSEEN. UNSEEN is a spoken-word canon that brings into sharp focus the sights and smells that people experienced while living on this toxic land as they share the physical and emotional burden of their environment. Their stories span more than 40 years from the 1960s to the present day. Each voice describes how they have been affected by toxins inside their own homes, and as you listen they reveal a haunting similarity in their experiences throughout time. An unsettling constant in all of their stories is the relationship of their home to their surrounding environment and how the barrier between the two is broken. 

Rooted in the middle of this vast, dimly lit space in the museum, a typical 1920’s bungalow house is brought into focus by a glow of light. On close inspection, you will notice the house is made from soil presented on top of a soil plinth. 

This house is a home. It’s also an investment and a prison. It’s the place where people live out there lives - eat, play, talk, watch TV, read -- it’s the one place and where people should feel safe and in control. With UNSEEN, I look beyond the beauty of what the world sees when they think of Niagara Falls and into the decaying underbelly to bring into the light the stories of those who live in the shadows of this regions long industrial history. 

More at https://www.unseen-voices.com/