On Rivers and Activators

One of the central tenets of the Neighbourhood Time Exchange | Downtown Prince George residency structure, and one of its biggest challenges, is, in fact, time. Artists have just under one month to orient themselves in Prince George, to make connections through their Community Projects, and to develop their own studio work. The Seburns took this challenge head-on, thoroughly diving into the life and culture of Prince George. Connecting with the Seburns soon after their return to Vancouver, they enthusiastically reflected on the experience. The duo completed two community projects, hosted many public events and exhibitions at the studio space, were invited as jurors for the ReMakeIt Challenge at Two Rivers Gallery, to list only a few highlights of their time.

Rachel and Sarah as invited jurors for the ReMakeIt Challenge.
Rachel (left) and Sarah (second to the left) as invited jurors for the ReMakeIt Challenge.


Community Project: My Downtown, Downtown Prince George


The artists’ work with Downtown Prince George’s new initiative, My Downtown, led to some unexpected and extremely valuable collaborations. My Downtown is an innovative program designed to activate the downtown core, and Rachel and Sarah were invited to contribute to the program by animating a vacant building. The artists proposed to use some of the existing qualities of the site as a starting point for their work. Inspired by the beautiful public space surrounding the building, including the bright and freshly seeded green grass that is already being regularly used for informal community gatherings, the artists and Downtown Prince George worked to make that site more inviting to the public. Setting up scaffolding on the day the artists were about to begin their work, some individuals from the Prince George Activator Society approached them and offered to assist with the labour.

Established in 1971, the Prince George Activator Society is a community service provider that supports men as they transition from incarceration to balanced community living. The Society supports these individuals as they work towards social and financial independence, providing various programs and activities that lead to achieving viable employment, education and a safe housing environment. The artists and several members from the Prince George Activator Society painted a long, vertical blue stripe on the side of the building, and built a small platform near the foot of the band of colour. This spatial intervention was designed to encourage gatherings and dialogues, providing a point of interest for public assemblies. The experience of producing this project alongside the Society members, who shared their own life experiences and relationships to the feeling of belonging in a place, was a serendipitous precursor for what might come at the site. The meaningful conversations that occurred between the Society members and the artists as they worked with one another on this project was a tremendously valuable and lasting experience for both Rachel and Sarah.  



Community Project: Rivers Day, REAPS
The other Community Project the artists contributed to was the 2016 Rivers Day celebration. The artists were asked to provide a creative contribution to the day’s festivities, and the artists both revealed that their experience during the event has informed their ideas about their wider art practice. The artists began by building the infrastructure for the work in the studio, a raft that was to be draped in silk and slowly floated down the river. The artists fine-tuned and tweaked the structure as much as possible, until satisfied with the details of the piece. Arriving at the bank of the river on the day of the festival, the artists quickly realized that they would be working against the elements of rain, high winds, and a fast current. The artists struggled to fight with the conditions of the day, but to no avail. Forced to revise their plans, the artists’ re-evaluated the natural conditions the river provided. The artists revealed this was a moment where their process of working really fell in-line with the spirit of Rivers Day. Honouring and adapting to the river, as is advocated by the many organizations that support Rivers Day, shed light on the artists’ need to similarly honour and adapt to the materials they were working with. Transforming the installation into a weighted band of silk, which floated just below the surface of the water, required a conceptual shift into thinking about the water as a support rather than an adversary. The bright red silk ebbed and flowed with the water, unexpectedly conjuring the bright colours of a school of salmon. As though being asked politely by the river to revise their installation, the artists also felt as though they were being asked about some of their larger conceptual concerns. How constructed does an [art] practice have to be? How do you resolve an idea when the material is too heavy? How do you learn to stop executing, and respond to what is there? Rising to the fore, these questions directly resulted from the artists’ experience at Rivers Day, but the implications for their own practice perhaps reach much further.