An exhibition at the Surrey Art Gallery explores the multitude of ways community space is used and reflects on its history. The soundscape project, by collaborators Phinder Dulai, Carmen Papalia and Andrew Lee, is an audiovisual exploration of the Grove, a forest in Newton, Surrey.
Papalia was invited to work on the soundscape project by the art gallery and teamed up with Dulai, who was his mentor in college, as well as with Lee, a musician who compiled the recordings.
The hour-long electro-acoustic soundscape composition consists of recordings taken in the Grove at different times, meshed together to create an auditory experience for visitors at the tech lab in the Surrey Art Gallery.
The lab will have eight different speakers set up to produce an immersive experience that will simulate walking through the Grove. Through this experience, visitors are expected to pick up on the sounds and create their own meanings in their mind as well as leave with some thoughts on what the Grove is.
As someone who is visually impaired, Papalia identifies as a non-visual learner. Papalia works on socially engaged projects with themes of accessibility and exploration of the non-visual features of gallery spaces. One aspect of his work involves leading “eyes-closed” tours of various spaces.
“The tours allow people to consider their non-visual senses as a way of being and a way to learn about their surroundings and the place they’re living in,” says Papalia.
Papalia, who grew up in Vancouver, explains that when you close your eyes it’s a very grounding experience and you can’t help but realize what your surroundings are and pay attention to things that are around you.
Part of the audio in the soundscape includes a segment that documents Papalia walking through the Grove. In addition, he has also led Lee and Dulai on an eyes-closed walking tour through the Grove.
The tech lab where the soundscape will be exhibited is a dimly lit room with grey walls, and the speakers are the only focal point so that the sound becomes the highlight of the room. Papalia explains that there are many ways that visitors can enter the work, as it is a collage of people’s voices and stories about things that have happened in the Grove as well as some abstract sounds. There is space for visitors to sit and reflect on the sounds around them.
“It’s about what the space is now, what it has been and how it has evolved through a period of time, almost like a time lapse.” says Papalia.
A complex space
Local poet and writer Dulai has lived in the Newton area for seven years now and walks past the Grove every day on his way to work. Dulai describes the area as a small oasis of trees with four pathways that crisscross each other to different locations and abuts the Newton bus loop and recreation centre.
“The thing about the Grove is that over the years, it has been the site of both legal and illegal uses,” says Dulai.
Dulai, who contributes a poetry reading to the soundscape, says that the space has been used for recreation and leisure, as a transit point, for drug dealing or as a space for people who may not have anywhere else to go.
According to Dulai and Papalia, the Newton area has historically had some violence. After the violent assault and murder of Julie Pascal in 2013, a small group of dedicated residents banded together to form “Friends of the Grove” in an effort to make the Grove a safer and more inviting place.
“As an artist myself, I wanted to explore what urban living is about, both the positives and the negatives,” says Dulai.
Although the space is still tenuous, Dulai hopes that the soundscape will help spark conversations about the type of community we are living in and raise questions about how healthy it is.
The Grove exhibition will run from Sept. 19–Dec. 15 at the Surrey Art Gallery. For more information, please visit www.surrey.ca/culture-recreation/17207.aspx.