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Oxygen Art Centre

MEDIA RELEASE: Oh, Columbia! American artist Mary Babcock joins creative forces with local artist and writer Susan Andrews Grace to create a cautionary tale of ecological disaster.

Schedule of Events: Residency and Exhibition
Residency: 7 December- 21 December 2019
Open Studio and Artist Talk: 21 December 2019, 5:00-7:00 PM
Exhibition: 8 January – 1 February 2020
Closing reception: 31 January 2020, 7:00 – 9:00 PM
Gallery Hours: Wednesday to Saturday, 1:00-5:00 PM
Oxygen Art Centre welcomes Hawaii-based artist Mary Babcock as the newest artist in residence. Babcock will work collaboratively with local artist and writer, Susan Andrews Grace in stitching together a creative cautionary tale of dams, climate change and the Columbia River Basin. During the residency the artists will explore textiles, sound and space as they work towards the installation of new work. The residency will culminate in an exhibition under the title, “Oh, Columbia!”
The residency will run from December 7th to December 21st, 2019 with an open studio and artist talk taking place on Saturday, December 21st from 5 to 7pm. Both artists will be in attendance.
The exhibition will open on January 8th and run until February 1, 2020. There will be a closing reception on January 31st from 7-9pm. The gallery will be open Wednesday thru Saturday from 1 to 5pm during exhibition run for viewing.
Having lived in Oregon, the fate of the Columbia River is of concern for Babcock. She has worked creatively with social and political issues concerning the Basin for over a decade, and as climate change and Trumpism escalate Babcock has focused her art practice more acutely on social, political and environmental activism.
In 2010, for example, Babcock collaborated with artist Christopher Curtin to create “Deluge,” a site-specific installation in a historic gillnet repair station located in Astoria, Oregon. As part of the project, Babcock dredged the delta to salvage abandoned gillnets (leftovers from the once vibrant fishing industry) with these relics she explored ideas around loss and reclamation. Babcock will continue to navigate these same issues during her residency.
Babcock will utilize household wax paper as the central material for “Oh, Columbia.” Chosen for its the paradoxical and metaphorical nature wax paper is meant to preserve and protect yet is itself fragile and impermanent. Wax paper as a textile is perfect for domestic processes such as stitching, ironing, ordering and entwining. For Babcock, these processes are modes of gathering information, of understanding, of engagement, and of passing down information from one generation to another primarily through the hands of women. In the labour-intensive creation of a massive flood plain Babcock will use the act of mending as a personal and political gesture of restoration and repair.
Research for the project references archival information about the 1948 tragic flooding of the Columbia River when Vanport, Oregon—a pop-up city built to house African American workers—was destroyed when a dike broke carrying enormous volumes of water over the city. 18,000 people were left homeless. Layers of injustice haunt this ecological, social and political disaster today.
The title, “Oh, Columbia!” with its obvious reference to “Oh, Canada” is also a nod to the history of the river. “Oh, Columbia (Columbia Calls)” is an illustration of a young woman draped in the American flag, which was used by the U.S. Food Administration as propaganda to garner support for World War One. This image associating woman and nature served as a plea to ensure Government’s control over food distribution. In using this title and its historic reference, the artist locates the project in a continuing debate on the managing and control of Columbia River for political and capitalist reasons. It is Babcock’s hopes that the installation is a cautionary tale to heighten awareness of the atrocities and avariciousness that fuel an ecosystem out of balance.
Of the collaboration, Babcock welcomes the process for its unimagined outcomes, synergy of minds and dynamic nature. As part of the collaboration, Andrews Grace will be creating a soundscape to accompany the material-based aspects of the installation. The two artists met in 2013 while attending an international conference on Contemplation at the Mir Centre for Peace. Forming a curious interest and admiration for one another’s work, the seed was planted for some sort of future creative endeavour together.
The public is invited to meet the artists and to learn about the project in progress during their residency on Saturday, December 21, 2019 from 5:00 – 7:00 pm. The exhibition will be on view from 8 January – 1 February 2020 during hours of operation (Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00pm). Oxygen will host a Closing Reception on Friday, January 31, 2020 from 7:00-9:00 PM. Everyone welcome to attend.
Artist Bios:
Mary Babcock is a professor of Sculpture and Expanded Practices and Chair of Graduate Program in Studio Art in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Hawaii in Manoa. She holds an MFA from the University of Arizona, BFA from University of Oregon, Ph.D in Psychology from University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Psychology from Cornell University. Her practice weaves together performance, textiles and mixed media into immersive installations. Babcock is interested in the intersection of art, contemplation and social activism. She holds the practice of mending as a central metaphor in her work. She has exhibited extensively in both solo and group shows around the world including France, England, Poland, Japan and Philippines. Her work is in public collections including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.
Susan Andrews Grace is a writer and visual artist. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Las Vegas and a BA in Philosophy from the University of Saskatchewan. Inanna Publications (Toronto, York University) will release her sixth book of poetry, “Hypatia’s Wake”, in the fall of 2020. She has written reviews and catalogue essays for artists in the Kootenay region. She was one of the founding faculty of Oxygen Art Centre and teaches Creative Writing there. Her visual art practice includes textile installation, mixed media, and sculpture. “Domestic Fetishes”, a solo exhibition, will open at Kootenay Gallery of Art on August 28, 2020. She has received several awards for her writing and visual art including grants from BC Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, and Columbia Kootenay Culture Alliance.
Image: “Oh, Columbia!” Residency & Exhibition poster
Image: Mary Babcock, Installation in progress, 2015, Courtesy the

Press Contact:
Deborah Thompson
Exhibition & Residency Coordinator
Oxygen Art Centre