Charles Campbell: An Ocean to Livity

Sculptural and audio installations connecting the Black diaspora’s past and future through breath

Spring opening. Photo by Pardeep Singh.

Charles Campbell: An Ocean to Livity

On view until June 4, 2023
Surrey Art Gallery

From the intimacy of a quiet inhalation to the distance between continents, Charles Campbell: An Ocean to Livity brings together large-scale metal and mixed media sculptures along with immersive and participatory multichannel audio installations. Tapping into the fecundity of the Black diasporic imagination, Campbell reconstructs and reinvents lost connections, lamenting the violent disruptions of the past while constructing a home for Black communities’ strength of being.

Central to the exhibition is Black Breath Archive, an installation of breath recordings from Surrey and other Lower Mainland residents. Campbell strips away racial hierarchies and holds up Black breath as its own force—a carrier of ancestry and experience, a creator of community and something that, even in its most subtle presentation, changes the way we think, feel, and live.

Charles Campbell, Breath Cycle, 2022, aluminum composite. Photo by artist.

Other artworks that address breath and breathing are the series Black Breath Archive Portraits, Maroonscape 3: Finding Accompong, and Breath Cycle. Campbell’s Black Breath Archive Portraits translate the transient idiosyncrasies of breath into a glowing configuration of light boxes. The five-metre tall Maroonscape 3: Finding Accompong derives its shape from the bronchial structure of a human lung as well as the forked shapes of slave yokes (forked wooden sticks used to tie captives together in a line). Breath Cycle gestures towards a deeper past, connecting the oxygen we breathe to its production in symbiotic, multispecies communities of ancient lichen. Both these latter works nod to fractal geometry and binary counting systems that originated in Africa.

These works are inspired, in part, by sites and histories of Jamaican anticolonial resistance and slave rebellion. Similarly pointing to the pasts and potential futures is a sprawling set of sculptures Ghost Islands/Mid-Atlantic Refugia that surfaces the Atlantic Ocean’s deep-sea topography to make islands of refuge for the souls lost in the Middle Passage.

“Livity” is a Rastafarian word that can either mean way of life or the life force present in every living thing. The artworks in An Ocean to Livity evoke a sense of journey, worldly interconnectedness, and communal struggle against the injustices of times past and present, geographies far and near.

Spring opening. Photo by Pardeep Singh.

About Charles Campbell

Charles Campbell is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, and curator who lives and works on lək̓ʷəŋən territory, Victoria, BC. His artworks have been exhibited widely in Canada and internationally and include sculptures, paintings, sonic installations, and performances. Campbell is the recipient of the 2022 VIVA Award from the Jack and Doris Shadbolt Foundation and the 2020 City of Victoria Creative Builder Award. He holds an MA in Fine Art from Goldsmith College and a BFA from Concordia University.

Rungh is a media partner and The Black Arts Centre is a community partner for Charles Campbell: An Ocean to Livity.

About Surrey Art Gallery

Founded in 1975, Surrey Art Gallery presents contemporary art by local, national, and international artists, including digital and audio art. Recognized for its award-winning programs, the Gallery engages children through to adults in ongoing conversations that affect our lives and provides opportunities to interact with artists and the artistic process. The Gallery is located at 13750 88 Avenue in Surrey on the unceded territories of the Salish Peoples, including the q̓ic̓əy̓ (Katzie), q̓ʷɑ:n̓ƛ̓ən̓ (Kwantlen), and Semiahma (Semiahmoo) nations. Surrey Art Gallery gratefully acknowledges operating funding from the City of Surrey, Province of BC through BC Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, and the Surrey Art Gallery Association.

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Surrey Art Gallery is a free art gallery located within Surrey Arts Centre. We are committed to providing accessible and inclusive services, programs, and opportunities and are actively working on more. For more details please visit this page.

Image descriptions:
1. A man wearing a face mask covering his nose and mouth stands with arms crossed over his chest. He is wearing a yellow-orange blazer as he contemplates a spectrogram artwork that is hung on deep purple walls.
2. A circular shape, almost like a spaceship, constructed out of aluminum panels with a lichen print that ranges from covering all of the panel to none, so that it is both opaque and see-through.
3. Two people are sitting down with headphones. One person is sitting on a yogibo while the other person is sitting on a bench. They are listening to recorded audio of people breathing.