To Dwell in Pitch Black Pearls shifts the perspective of Lethbridge landscape

Inspired by the landscape of southern Alberta and the coal mining history of Lethbridge, Amsterdam artist Karin Van Dam opens her first Canadian solo exhibition at the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, Thursday, Nov. 9 at 4 p.m.

To Dwell in Pitch Black Pearls shifts the perspective of what has become the everyday for Lethbridge residents, embodying the theme of the Art Gallery’s You Are Here series.

Artist Karin Van Dam's piece 17 Pearls, currently being featured in the U of L Art Gallery.

“When I first saw her art practice I knew it would relate to the You Are Here series because she works with local materials, thinking about one's environment and the everyday,” explains curator Dr. Josephine Mills. “To Dwell in Pitch Black Pearls offers Karin’s perspective on our location, stuff that we take for granted, that we’ve grown up seeing. It shifts the perspective, which is part of the idea behind the You Are Here series,”

Mills was first introduced to Van Dam through artist Ed Pien, whose exhibition Liquid Being preceded Van Dam’s in the main gallery. Mills was blown away when she saw her work.

“She makes these incredibly intricate worlds,” says Mills. “She takes ordinary items, industrial materials, construction materials, and in our case she was absolutely captivated by going to the UFA, Canadian Tire, Home Depot. Her entire practice is based on making work on location with materials from the location, which makes it engaging and relevant for gallery visitors.”

Mills adds that Van Dam’s approach also makes her exhibition financially feasible. Hosting international work can be an expensive endeavour when considering the cost of shipping works across the world. This exhibition is possible because the work is inspired by Lethbridge and created in Lethbridge specifically for the uLethbridge Art Gallery.

Van Dam visited Lethbridge on two research trips and was immediately taken with the history of coal deposits and how the deep black colour of coal appeals visually. She spent time in the Galt Museum archives looking at maps of coal deposits and mines, and that imagery inspired her, prompting her to think about the coal in different visual ways.

Van Dam “selects materials and reworks them into something that doesn’t look anything like they were originally built for,” says Mills. “She’ll use hundreds, sometimes thousands of the same object. In this exhibition, there are 900 Styrofoam balls in a woolly casing. Tomato cages wrapped in wool. It’s an immersive exhibition with items hanging from the ceiling.”

To Dwell in Pitch Black Pearls marks a few ‘firsts’ – the first solo exhibition for Van Dam in Canada, and the first exhibition working with an international artist for both Mills and the gallery. “We have international works in the collection but actually working with the artists themselves is a first,” explains Mills.

The exhibition opens in the main gallery, level 6 University Centre for the Arts, Thursday, Nov 9 with a reception from 4 to 6 p.m., and runs until January 4, 2018.