Breath of Black seniors recorded for ‘Black Breath Spectacle’ at the Surrey Art Gallery


One of the Surrey Art Gallery’s summer exhibitions provides a gripping soundtrack to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Created by Charles Campbell, “Black Breath Show” is an audiovisual exhibit that includes a 45-minute recording of the breaths of senior black performers and members of the local community.

To the eye, a spectrogram represents the audio waves of respiratory recordings woven together into a digital image – a sort of triptych abstract painting of green, yellow and blue.

Two black chairs are positioned back to back in the middle of a small dark room at the entrance to the gallery, under an enclosure.

The Jamaican-born artist invites audiences to experience the sound of breath and breathing and reflect on an intimate performance that echoed around the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2021, when 20 black artists and curators walked the VAG by playing the breath recorded in the corridors.

Now based in Victoria, Campbell says he created “Black Breath Spectacle” in response to Black Lives Matter, with “a focus on breathing rather than death”.

Campbell invited each participant to imagine being present with a loved one from their past, whether childhood friends or past relatives, according to a post on the art gallery‘s website.

“Breathing is a personal and functional action, and in this exhibition Campbell emphasizes the depth and significance of breathing, particularly when, as a source of life, it can become an object of oppression and of power,” the website explains.

‘Black Breath Spectacle’ can be seen and heard at the Surrey Art Gallery until August 14.

Over the coming year, Campbell will be developing an archive of Black Breath recordings in the form of audio and sculptural installations called the Black Breath Archive. The personal exhibition will be presented at the gallery next spring.

A biography describes Campbell as a multidisciplinary artist, writer and curator “whose practice expands possible future imaginaries in the wake of colonization”. Her work has been exhibited widely, including at the Havana Biennial, the Brooklyn Museum, and Alice Yard in Port of Spain. His recent exhibitions include Vancouver Special at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Fragments of Epic Memory at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and The Other Side of Now at the Perez Art Museum Miami.

“Black Breath Spectacle” is presented in the former TechLab space of the Surrey Art Gallery, among the first exhibition spaces in Canada dedicated to the exhibition of new media art, starting in 1999. A new book, the 257-page “TechLab: Experiments in media art 1999-2019”, offers an overview of every exhibition, project and work of art presented in the space for two decades. The publication is available as a free PDF download at; physical copies can be purchased for $40 at the gallery, located in Bear Creek Park.

Also at the Surrey Art Gallery this summer, the main space features ‘Mere Phantoms: Shadows Without Borders’, showcasing artwork that plays with light and shadow. The interactive installation was created by Montreal artists Maya Ersan and Jaimie Robson in 2018.

[email protected]

Like us on Facebook follow us on instagram and follow Tom on Twitter

art exhibition surrey


Comments are closed.