Donald Lawrence talks camera obscuras and the art of research

Ashley Wadhwani, Contributor Ω

The Kamloops Art Gallery has played host to exhibits from TRU professors many times. Here is just a sample of what to expect during the gallery's Landscape Revised exhibit. Photo courtesy Donald Lawrence

The Kamloops Art Gallery has played host to exhibits from TRU professors many times. Here is just a sample of what to expect during the gallery’s Landscape Revised exhibit. Photo courtesy Donald Lawrence

Another TRU professor is being featured at the Kamloops Art Gallery as part of its Landscape Revised exhibit.

Donald Lawrence’s Kayak/Camera Obscura piece is “about Don being the artist as an explorer,” said exhibit curator Charo Neville.

The piece is the combination of a German sea kayak built in the 1960s and a black hooded structure built by Lawrence. He attached a camera obscura lens, which inverts the image in front of it, to the front of the structure with a translucent cloth screen that allows the image to be projected.

Lawrence spent six weeks as an artist-in-residence at the University of Tasmania in 2011, where the camera obscura apparatus was constructed, installed on the kayak and then taken down Tasmania’s Tamar River, where the film A Camera Obscura on the Tamar was created. Lawrence recorded the video himself, and navigated the river through the eye of the camera obscura.

Lawrence predicted that the lens shows a narrow 15 degrees of vision, and only immediately in front of the kayak. Like all experiments, during the first time on the river, Lawrence ran into a few technical difficulties, including the lens fogging up while he was on the river.

“The motion of paddling the kayak is natural to me, but the orientation of having what I’m seeing in front of me as upside down and backwards is disorienting,” Lawrence said.

Kayak/Camera Obscura and Camera Obscura on the Tamar bring together two interests,” Lawrence said. “One is my interest in sea kayaking, and the second is my interest in camera obscuras and other earlier optical apparatuses.”

Most of Lawrence’s work demonstrates the crossover between art and research, and play and creativity as a way of how academia views research.

“[We see] research as the creation of new knowledge, but new knowledge can often be in a creative form itself,” Lawrence said.

The process of planning the prototype for the camera obscura apparatus, creating the apparatus and then making the final product found in the exhibit, was a multi-part process that Lawrence said is similar to methods in science research and engineering.

“I made a rough version just out of lumber, and assembled a mock version with duct tape putting all the pieces together to see if I was reasonably happy with the shape I had come up with,” he said.

His next project is currently being discussed with 12 other artists from all over the world who share his interest in camera obscuras. On reflection of his past, present and future work, Lawrence said “There’s a roughness to [this] work and experience that simply fits for me.”

Landscape Revised will be on display at the Kamloops Art Gallery until Dec. 31.