Nanaimo Art Gallery artistic director and Black Diamond Dust curator Jesse Birch

Exhibit mines deep into Nanaimo’s coal history

Black Diamond Dust will be the largest art exhibit of its kind in the Harbour City and will explore the relationship between art and coal.

After years of countless hours of researching, writing and brainstorming, Nanaimo Art Gallery artistic director Jesse Birch is about to do something he has never done.

“I wanted to do something to have a conversation with my hometown,” Birch told the News Bulletin.

That conversation will take place in the form of a multimedia and multi-site art exhibit called Black Diamond Dust.

“I don’t think Nanaimo has ever seen anything like it,” Birch said. “There has definitely not been something so comprehensive at so many different sites.”

Black Diamond Dust explores Nanaimo’s history as a coal mining town and the global use of coal today. The exhibit was curated by Birch and opens on Friday (Sept. 19) at both the gallery’s locations, as well as a 17 other sites throughout the Nanaimo area, including Morden Mine.

“It doesn’t matter where you live in Nanaimo, you live near a coal mine,” Birch said.

The exhibit will include a poetry reading, tours, videos and music relating to coal mining.

“There is an entry point for everyone,” Birch said. “Hopefully everyone likes something in the show.”

The exhibit, which runs until Dec. 13, features paintings, photographs, sculptures by an array of artists including Stephanie Aitken, Raymond Boisjoly, Edward Burtynsky, Jerry Pethick, Kerri Reid and Scott Rogers and has a number of borrowed pieces from the Nanaimo Museum, Vancouver Art Gallery and the Catriona Jeffries Gallery in Vancouver.

While Birch has long wanted to have a conversation with his hometown, the idea to create Black Diamond Dust began back in 2011.

“I wanted to do something that gives back to Nanaimo,” Birch said.

Birch was born and raised in Nanaimo and said that although the Harbour City’s relationship with coal has been well documented over the years, it is often a forgotten amongst our everyday lives.

“The house I lived in for the first 21 years of my life was on Jingle Pot Road and I delivered papers in Miners Park subdivision,” Birch said. “The history of Nanaimo was always something that was present for me. But I think, like a lot of Nanaimoites, it is present but it is absent at the same time … everyone is really too busy to pay attention to it.”

Art and coal have a long history of co-dependence, which according to Birch is something that isn’t often explored.

“If it wasn’t for coal tar we wouldn’t even have coloured photographs,” Birch explained. “Well maybe we would have found another way by now, but at the time that is how they started using colour dyes to make coloured photographs and coloured films.”

Birch hopes the exhibit has a lasting impact on those who take it in.

“I hope that it does something for people and that it sparks their interest in other ways in their lives,” Birch said.

Black Diamond Dust opens on Sept. 19 at the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s campus location at 4 p.m. and at the downtown location at 7 p.m. Admission is free or by donation. For more information including detailed maps of all the various exhibit locations, reading and tour times, please visit www.nanaimoartgallery.com.arts@nanaimobulletin.comTwitter: @npescod

 

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