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

Audiovisual exhibit featured in former TechLab space, subject of a new book
Inside “Black Breath Spectacle” at Surrey Art Gallery. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

One of Surrey Art Gallery’s summer exhibits offers a compelling soundtrack to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Created by Charles Campbell, “Black Breath Spectacle” is an audiovisual exhibition that involves a 45-minute recording of the breaths of senior Black artists and local community members.

For the eye, a spectrogram depicts audio waves of the breath recordings woven together in a digital image — a kind of abstract triptych painting of green, yellow and blue.

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

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


Now based in Victoria, Campbell says he created “Black Breath Spectacle” in response to Black Lives Matter, by “putting the focus on breath rather than death.”

Campbell invited each participant to imagine being present with a loved person from their past, be they childhood friends or passed relatives, according to a post on the art gallery’s website.

“Breath is a personal and functional action, and in this exhibit, Campbell emphasizes the depth and meaning of breath, especially when, as a source of life it can become an object of oppression and power,” the website explains.

“Black Breath Spectacle” can be seen and heard at Surrey Art Gallery until Aug. 14.

In 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 solo exhibition will be displayed at the gallery next spring.

A biography describes Campbell as a multidisciplinary artist, writer and curator “whose practice expands the future imaginaries possible in the wake of colonization.” His work has been exhibited widely, including at the Havana Biennial, the Brooklyn Museum and Alice Yard in Port of Spain. 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 featured in Surrey Art Gallery’s former TechLab space, among the first exhibition spaces in Canada dedicated to the display 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 artwork shown in the space over two decades. The publication is available as a free PDF download on; physical copies can be purchased for $40 at the gallery, located at Bear Creek Park.

Also at Surrey Art Gallery this summer, the main space features “Mere Phantoms: Shadows Without Borders,” showcasing art that plays with shadows and light. The interactive installation was created by Montreal-based artists Maya Ersan and Jaimie Robson in 2018.

• READ MORE: ‘Shadows Without Borders’ sheds light on refugee-camp stories for summer show at Surrey gallery.

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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