The Incubator

For four years I knocked around in the Vancouver Island city of Campbell River, an old pulp mill and fishing town that has met hard times. It contains, however, two remarkable artists. I made a trip to see them last week, and to see their experimental gallery before it closed. Welcome to the Cube…


Not Just Your Average Unsaleable Store Front in a Town Down On its Luck

This once has operated for a year as much-needed studio space, gallery space, and teaching space. It is funded by realtors, landlords, and the city, in a partnership that uses artistic presence to bring viability to neighbourhoods.

This is an arts incubator…


The Incubator

The art in question here is sculpture, but not the sculpture made out of metal or stone or wood. This is social sculpture, that sets about to change communities through art.

The incubator has worked. Social sculpture is now firmly set into Campbell River culture, and the building has been sold, which was the economic plan. It will soon move to other vacant space in town. Here’s its crowning work of sculpture…


Set Up for Ken Blackburn’s Show and Talk: “Lunar”

Yes, sculpture. These might be two-dimensional paintings, but they are surrounded with notes and stray paint and chairs, so thoroughly balanced that they are a form of sculpture themselves. The installation would be nothing without the chairs.

Oh, here’s Ken…


Ken Blackburn with his Totem Cicada

…and the traffic cones hiding some nasty plumbing jutting out of the floor. Who says that art can’t be useful? Light work by the artist Jill Banting.

I’ll be talking about the full dimension of what Ken has been up to this last year in this space, but it would be meaningless without an understanding of what Jill has been doing. Right now, she’s bringing young artists out of the schools into this living studio, to lead them close to artistic practice, but that work is set against a backdrop of social art, which looks like this…


Social Recording

For three years, Jill has been recording public meetings in Campbell River using this technique. The goal is to bring people towards common vision by recording their thoughts spatially rather than in words. In this case, she invited guests at Ken’s “Lunar” talk to contribute as well. The technique is in its infancy, but it has already demonstrated incredible potential. The Cube itself would not have come about with the environment it created.

This is one model for a new university and a new school of earth writing. We have the same thing just being born here in the Okanagan …


Novelist and Poet Laisha Rosnau …

… with her poetry book “Lousy Explorers” at the Vertigo Gallery Book Wall

Like the Cube, the Vertigo inhabits otherwise low-priority retail space and brings young people out of the schools into the world of practicing artists. Under the leadership of Vertigo member, poet and dadaist sculptor Kevin McPherson Eckhoff, it also features a book wall, where local books are framed as if they were art. Few are hand-manufactured local books, but it’s a good start. We can build on Kevin’s sculptural model. Perhaps this is what real schooling looks like: a bit of the Cube, a bit of the Vertigo, a bit of the Bidoun Library (see here), a bit of Jill’s groundbreaking social recording, plus the readings of the land this blog has taught me how to lay out outside of the pure worlds of farming and literature, and we’ll be on our way. Oh, and here’s the moon three nights ago on the Island…


Moon Over Saratoga Beach

One day off full, burning through fog, crystalizing it into ice, no other stars in the sky, except for aldebaran, the bull’s eye, amplified by the moon ice… our reward for paying attention.

Next: What Ken has been up to, and what we can take from it for our new Earth writing academy. I hope you’ll tune in on Monday, because it’s unexpected and exciting.

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