Main Gallery


To Dwell in Pitch Black Pearls
November 9, 2017 – January 4, 2018

Artist: Karin van Dam
Part of the “You Are Here” series

Commissioned for uLethbridge Art Gallery, Amsterdam artist Karin Van Dam’s intricate and impressive installation responds to the coal deposits – both the visual impact of the abandoned mines, geological maps, and the deep black colour of coal itself.

Curatorial Statement:
uLethbridge Art Gallery is pleased to present the first exhibition in Canada by Amsterdam artist Karin Van Dam. Commissioned for uLethbridge Art Gallery, Van Dam’s intricate and impressive installation responds to the coal deposits and mining history in the region. To Dwell In Pitch Black Pearls is the final component of You Are Here – a series of exhibitions, workshops, performances, and presentations that the Art Gallery has presented throughout 2017 to invite a diversity of people in Southern Alberta to find new ways to think about the future of their environment.

In much of her work, Van Dam is interested in cities and the material structures used to build them, but for To Dwell In Pitch Black Pearls, she was captivated by the fact that Lethbridge sits on top of a grid of abandoned coal mines. The city was founded on the industry of coalmining yet our actual physical foundation is the opposite of solid, it is the negative space left after carving out the mines from the earth. Van Dam’s idea for the exhibition started from thinking about the empty spaces carved beneath the city and then finding a way to explore these maps, forms, and experiences poetically.

Van Dam has a lengthy career exhibiting in Europe and Asia and she is known for her investigation of each new context. For this exhibition, the artist visited Lethbridge twice over the past year in order to see the landscape, and the gallery space, as well as talk to people, conduct research in archives, and explore potential materials to use for her project. Van Dam’s installations are primarily based on sourcing material at the location and she is particularly drawn to industrial and hardware items. Instead of looking at these objects in terms of their normal use, she selects them for their visual properties alone and then takes them out of their context to build her immersive installations.

Van Dam’s exhibitions are often monochromatic – she selects items that are all the same colour, such as white, or blue, or often black as is seen here. For this project, the deep blackness of all the components references the highly loaded imagery of the abandoned mines and the material of coal itself. In her research, Van Dam was also influenced by the experience of visiting the Bellevue Mine in the Crowsnest Pass.

To Dwell in Pitch Black Pearls provides a perfect bridge to conclude You Are Here: dark and quiet, the exhibition provides a space for contemplation. Coming from Amsterdam and seeing Southern Alberta’s landscape, economic history, and local materials in terms of their visual impact and their resonance as metaphors, Van Dam is able to shift the perspective on our environment. Her repetition of the these ordinary items, with dozens or even hundreds of the same object, further takes them from our everyday experience and transforms them into the palette she uses to create the imaginary space in the Art Gallery.

We would like to thank the wonderful staff at the Galt Museum and Archives for their assistance, as well as Rick Gillis and Jeanne Kollee for research assistance in visits to the Crowsnest Pass, also Sarena Huizinga at the Textile museum, workshop, Tilburg, the Netherlands, and lastly, volunteers Daisy and Olive Graham.

– Josephine Mills, Director/Curator