- Reclamation, an art exhibition crafted from our industrial legacy, featuring sculpture by Susan MacDonald and Eric MacDonald, photography by Mike Wakefield and a soundscape by J. Knutson, at Deep Cove's Artemis Gallery, June 14-July 1. Opening reception: Friday, June 14, 7-10 p.m. Solstice Celebration of Art and Sound: Friday, June 21, 7-9 p.m. Info: artemisgallery.ca.
J. Knutson has long felt a strong connection to North Vancouver's waterfront.
Born and raised on the North Shore, the singer/songwriter's family history is intertwined with that of the area's shipbuilding past.
Upon Knutson's grandparents' arrival on the North Shore in 1918 - by way of England and then Kingston, Ont. - Knutson's grandfather took a job at Wallace Shipyards, which was to become the Burrard Dry Dock company in 1921.
Knutson's mother, Doris, who was born on East First Street, used to tell him stories of running lunch down to his grandfather - Henry James Robbins (known as Bill) -and staying in the area with her mother and siblings to swim.
"(My grandfather) was down in the hulls for a long time, too many years, and that's what ended up taking his life," says Knutson, explaining Bill died of asbestosis, the result of prolonged exposure to asbestos after working with insulation for so many years.
Knutson's father Vic was also employed at the North Vancouver shipyards for a short time, and at a young age, he and Knutson's uncle were tasked with catching red-hot rivets in buckets, thrown down from the sides of ships in drydock.
While Knutson has never worked in shipbuilding himself, he's still found a way to follow in his grandfather's and father's footsteps, having turned a creative eye to North Vancouver's industrial legacy by collaborating with three local artists on a multimedia art installation, Reclamation, opening today at Deep Cove's Artemis Gallery.
"(Reclamation) is trying to reclaim elements that were important during the lives of those people and the beauty of the things that were left behind, and in most cases unintentionally," says Knutson.
The exhibition features large-scale sculptures created out of found material by Susan and Eric MacDonald, a series of present-day photographs shot at the North Vancouver waterfront by Mike Wakefield, and a corresponding soundscape composed by Knutson.
Familiar with Susan through the local art community, Knutson invited she and her son Eric to join him on the project. For their contributions, Susan and Eric sourced materials from the shipyards and old rail systems, incorporating found ties, woods and metals into a variety of pieces including a gigantic
candle-lit chandelier, exemplifying their similar approach.
Both local natives, Knutson was similarly aware of Wakefield's artistry. A veteran North Shore News photographer, Wakefield has had access to the shipyards for almost 30 years and has continued to shoot there out of an interest in documenting the changes in the industry, most notably the decline in work and dismantling of the yards.
"Documenting most of North Vancouver for the North Shore News, I realize how quickly things can change forever with the next generation never really understanding what went on. Photography is my way of keeping that history in living memory," he says.
Two years ago, Wakefield started an ongoing project to photograph the remaining keel blocks, used in supporting the hulls of vessels in drydock.
"The beauty of these large concrete, steel and wood structures with decades of paint, etching and scars are like storybooks telling the tale of decades of hard work by teams of men and women working on the waterfront," he says.
Wakefield is pleased to be part of the exhibition, believing Knutson to have successfully, "threaded together a historically important portal into the past," he says.
"With the talents of the other people in this show, we've created a story of sorts, without a beginning or end. It's more of a take on our lives as people growing up on the North Shore with industry at our doorsteps and what a big part of the community it was," he adds.
For his own contribution to Reclamation, Knutson entered personally uncharted territory. While he's played in galleries at art openings and worked on soundtracks for film and dance productions, this is the first project of this nature he's undertaken.
"It was really fun to be able to support the image that was created through the sculpture and the visual art," he says.
"The thing about doing something like this is you really have a clear and distinct image in your mind and a feeling to create the atmosphere or the environment before you start," he says, contrasting the process with going into the studio to record an album, where you might have 10 different vignettes or stories that you're working with.
Reclamation was very focused on one aspect of the working waterfront of the North Shore.
The soundscape he created, one composition approximately 30 minutes in length that will be looped and broadcast in the gallery, consists of musical passages and themes from his previous albums that he's built on and expanded, as well as the addition of new sounds. The composition features a blend of strings, woodwinds, percussion, guitars, vocals and electronic treatments, as well as field recordings.
"There's so much you can do with the various programs to be able to really kind of take all that sound that emanates from the waterfront and organize it. Once we organize sound, that becomes music," he says.
The soundscape is available for purchase in CD form at the gallery, serving almost like the show's program.
Knutson, aided by some backing musicians, will perform excerpts from the work at tonight's opening reception, being held from 7 to 10 p.m., as well as at a Solstice Celebration of Art and Sound at the gallery next Friday, June 21 from 7-9 p.m.
Knutson is grateful to Artemis Gallery owner and curator Shannon Browne for making the exhibition possible.
"She was the first person I approached about staging this and she was really keen on the whole idea. . . . She was really instrumental in allowing us to do this and helping us to pull it all together," he says.
Knutson hopes this is just the beginning for Reclamation and hopes to incorporate more mediums in the future, including film (archival and otherwise), poetry, literal stories, etc., potentially even finding a home for the installation at a potential future North Vancouver waterfront museum that's under discussion.
"I hope we'll be able to continue this process," he says.
Apart from Reclamation, Knutson, who also teaches at Simon Fraser University, has a busy summer ahead of him. He recently released a new solo album, Ravens Reach, which he plans to launch officially in the early fall.
The North Shore Celtic Ensemble, which he co-founded and serves as co-artistic director of, is presenting a launch party for their new album, Troubadours, Saturday, June 22, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Shipbuilder's Square. The group also has a gig that day at the North Shore Hospice Strawberry Cream Tea from 1 to 3 p.m., is playing in Whistler over Canada Day weekend and will head to Scotland for the Aberdeen International Youth Festival, July 26-Aug. 3.
For more information, visit canoesongs.com.
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