By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Critical Mass is pleased to invite members of the community to see the results of having welcomed their first artist in residency of the 2021 season – Susan Campbell – who worked in the Little Station gallery on Lent Lane in Port Hope for the month of June.
Take a moment to check out that old fieldstone fountain in the Elias Street parking lot near the Little Station, and prepare to examine a few communications concepts as you view Palimpsest of Faded Texts.
It is best viewed with enough time to take it in and consider what you’re seeing, as you read the words, phrases, symbols and other representations pasted on to those old rocks. Every one of them is a mirror of a sign, inscription or even graffito elsewhere in town.
Interviewed by Today’s Northumberland, Campbell – who teaches art and design at OCAD University and Durham College – recalls the process of involving members of the community in collecting the drawings, photographs and rubbings of these messages to create what she termed a Tower of Babel.
“It started with walking and drawing trails, folks going up Lent’s Lane, going up John Street, coming over to the park, bringing their drawing materials with us and looking for inscriptions, messages, any kind of letter,” she said.
“So as we walk, we were very conscious of who gets space to ask questions or to inscribe their identity on to the space.”
Particularly at the Memorial Park bandstand, they found a lot of communications that seemed to be from young people – who they are, what their place in life might be.
“We also found a love of world making, the world they want to live in, love forever. We also found some information about specifications, information specialized people would know what these symbols are,” Campbell said during a break from her work of wheat-pasting up the black-and-white renderings of their discoveries into, as she put it, “a place where all the wishes, impressions, orders are coming together.”
She also took a moment to discuss the complex philosophy behind the symbols we take for granted.
“It’s more about literal letters, it’s more about where’s our culture in response to the letter form and how we express ourselves through the letter form. You have symbols.
“Symbols, if you think about it, are translated into meaning. If you look at letters, basically, letters of our alphabet are symbols and we all, society, all agree that we understand what they mean,” she stated.
“When we look at our environment, is it predominantly open that we can put our meaning on the rock text or is it shut down. You’ve got to look at who is telling you what, how are they speaking to you, how are they expressing themselves. And so when we get this together, it’s a giant coming-together of different voices.”
Responding to one piece that seemed rather provocative, Campbell pointed out that it was a copy of something that was found elsewhere.
“Some of these inscriptions are from the bandshell. Some of these inscriptions we are finding as we walk along John Street. They are there,” she said.
“We need to support that we get a balance between the voices as opposed to just offending people.”
Critical Mass Program Director Debbie Beattie was delighted to watch the work proceed.
“The idea came from our artist-in-residence, Susan Campbell, who has been with us through the month of June,” Beattie said, calling it a community-driven project.
Participants would take walks with Campbell to collect what they found – or they might also take walks on their own with a similar aim – then submit the results. After Campbell made up the images from these submissions, they were invited back to help paste them up.
“It’s a temporary installation that will be up probably until the end of September, unless weather has other plans in mind,” Beattie said.
“What we really love about this initiative is, it includes voices from the community. There’s a lot of diversity and inclusivity about whose voices get to be heard.
“It has us slow down, take our time and really consider the voices we are seeing in relation to what these message mean, who they are coming from.
“We have compiled them into a map of sorts. The community gets to decide how the messages speak to each other, whose voices are important, from youth to authority to artists, commemorating a long-lost friend, an avid gardener, children’s drawings, save the trees, all the voices from Port Hope, and they were collected by the Port Hope community and then compiled and mapped by the community with Susan’s guidance.
“It has been a really wonderful project,” Beattie declared.
As a piece of public art, it is inspiring discussion on many fronts.
“There has been a little bit of discussion around what is art and is this beautiful, is it interfering with an historic monument,” Beattie said.
“But this is art, it’s text, it’s symbols. They were in town, and we are creating a temporary installation that includes those voices and other community members, so we are giving everybody a chance to kind of have their identity known, have their voice heard and to be involved.”