Oh, Columbia! Exhibition

Oh, Columbia!

Mary Babcock, with Susan Andrews Grace

8 January – 1 February 2020

Gallery Hours: Wednesday to Saturday, 1:00-5:00 PM


New exhibition, “Oh, Columbia!” opens at the Oxygen Art Centre. The exhibition is the culmination of American artist Mary Babcock’s two-week residency at Oxygen, coupled with the soundscape by local artist and writer, Susan Andrews Grace. The artists worked in a parallel fashion, Babcock in wax paper and Andrews Grace with sound, to explore water as a symbol of climate change. In particular, the relationship between the historic flooding of Columbia River  and the current rapid melting of the Greenland’s ice sheet. Together the artists created a cautionary tale that is both sublime and alarming.

The exhibition will open on January 8th and run until February 1, 2020. The gallery will be open Wednesday thru Saturday from 1 to 5pm during exhibition run for viewing. There will be a Closing Reception on January 31st from 7:00-9:00 PM.

Mary Babcock’s semi-translucent aerial map of the historic town of Vanport, Oregon is the dominant feature of the installation, “Oh, Columbia.”  Suspended from the ceiling, this 14’x 9’ quilt-like piece, with its intricate needle work, hand stitching, collaged architectural shapes, and layering of fused wax paper gives a delicate yet transformative tone to the exhibition.

With this piece, Babcock calls our attention to the tragic decimation of an urban centre that was quickly established to house World War II African American ship builders. The entire town vanished due to massive flooding of the Columbia River in May of 1948. Built on a flood plain, Vanport was never meant to last. In the artist’s statement she notes that this “catastrophic” flooding of Vanport provided “a vivid, if misguided, justification for the further damming of the Columbia River in the name of hydro-control and power. It later helped cement the imperfect marriage between Canada and the US – the Columbia River Treaty – delivering promised power, yet also decimating communities, cultures, and ecosystems and threatening future food and water security.” Race, class, and environmental warfare enmesh to catastrophic, and hauntingly contemporary, scale.

On the floor of the gallery, encompassing the viewer and framing the map of “Vanport,”  Babcock creates a glacial melt, which forms the periphery of Greenland. Again, Babcock’s skilled use of wax paper to create a watery world—here, reminiscent of a frozen one–reminds us that as Greenland’s once massive ice sheet melts it will greatly contribute to rising sea levels around the globe. To add another layer, the artist incorporates sea salt to form neuron-like surface features inspired by the watery forms seen during a walk at the Kokanee Park ponds, as they morphed from glassy ice to slush.

As part of the residency and in response to the historical and political themes presented in Babcock’s work, Nelson-based visual artist and writer Susan Andrews Grace created a soundscape for the exhibition. In this new piece, Andrews Grace considers this work a “found poem.” The artist brings together sounds of similar and dissimilar elements inspired from research about the historic flooding of Vanport and the current political climate of the United States alongside sounds of the moving waters of the Columbia River and the ripping of wax paper.

Andrews Grace’s cleverly layers, like Babcock’s wax paper, a mosaic of sounds into a 20-minute loop that will play during the run of the exhibition. Most compelling is the whispering of children’s voices, both her grandson’s and Babcock’s daughter, as they recite the historic bulletin issued by the United States Government to the people of Vanport just hours before the dykes gave way:











This combination of audio and visual elements immerses the viewer in a world that is tactile and ephemeral. And in this way, the artists seek to remind us of the catastrophic cause and effects of our avarice lifestyles, political systems, and social hierarchies on this planet that we are dependent upon and collectively share.

“Oh, Columbia” serves as a lament for what has become a chronic environmental condition of loss and is offered to us by the artists as a cautionary tale to highlight the layers of injustice like the layers of wax paper that echo the ecological, social and political disasters that we find ourselves participants in.

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 and Artist Talk by Susan Andrews Grace 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 a MFA in Creative Writing from University of Las Vegas and a BA in Philosophy from the University of Saskatchewan. She has published six books of poetry with her latest book, Hypatia’s Wake due for release by Inanna Publications (York University) in the fall of 2020. Her poetry has been in several anthologies including Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary B.C. Poetry. Her poetry has been published in literary magazines throughout Canada, U.S and U.K. She regularly writes art reviews and catalogue essays for artists in the Kootenay region. She has taught in the Creative Writing Studio of Kootenay School of Arts and currently offers Creative Writing workshops at the Oxygen Art Centre where she is also one of the founding members. Her visual art practice includes textiles, mixed media, sculpture and installations. She has exhibited in solo and group shows regionally, nationally and internationally. Currently she is preparing for an up coming solo exhibition at the Kootenay Gallery of Art. She has received several awards for both her writing and visual art including BC Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts and Columbia Kootenay Culture Alliance.



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