Stop-motion art intrigues at Surrey Art Gallery’s new shows

Also, a final viewing of ceramics made by Surrey's Don Hutchinson

Visitors at Surrey Art Gallery during the exhibit-opening reception on Saturday, Jan. 21.

Visitors at Surrey Art Gallery during the exhibit-opening reception on Saturday, Jan. 21.

SURREY — Art meets science meets old-school photographic revolution in a new exhibit at Surrey Art Gallery.

In “Out of Sight,” patrons can see and experience the stop-motion contributions of photographic pioneers Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) and Harold Edgerton (1903-1990).

And what contributions they were!

Consider Muybridge. The victim of a violent stagecoach accident that left him somewhat impaired for the rest of his life, he later shot and killed his wife’s lover, but was acquitted. He was not your average dude.

But it was his stop-motion photographs of a trotting horse that rocketed him to fame. Commissioned by railroad tycoon and race horse owner Leland Stanford, to prove if a horse really lifts all four legs simultaneously when it runs, Muybridge went to work.

The exhibit appears in Surrey on loan from the Vancouver Art Gallery, and Stephanie Rebick is the curator.

“He set up a bank of 12 cameras with innovate triggering methods and automatic shutters that could capture movement and things that happen so quickly, we can’t see them with our eyes,” she said during the exhibit’s launch event, on Jan. 21.

“He revolutionized so much. His studies would eventually include men, women, children and the disabled. It would have wide-ranging implications. Artists even changed the way they would render animals.”

Indeed, the race horse series still carries weight today. It is looked upon by many as man’s first blush with motion pictures.

But whereas Muybridge was an artist who only delved into the sciences when commissioned by Stanford, Harold Edgerton was, by trade, a scientist first.

“Edgerton was an electrical engineer,” Rebick continued, “but he was really the guy that perfected the flash photography we have today. By combining the stroboscope with the camera and an open shutter, he was able to reduce exposure time to a millionth of a second. That’s how he was able to take that (famed) photo of a bullet hitting an apple.

“Even though he considered himself a scientist and not an artist, he would repeat experiments over and over and over again, until he got the image he really wanted. He worked for 25 years to get the (also famed) perfect symmetrical image of the milk drop, so he was clearly interested in making a spectacular picture.”

In “Zoopraxis,” another new exhibit at the gallery, Muybridge’s additional work with animals is also explored.

“These are two historical photographers who bridged the gap between art and science and new forms of mass entertainment,” Rebick noted. “They were interested in using photography to document phenomena that occur outside the scope of human vision, essentially stopping time in order to make the invisible visible.”

In the adjacent Tech Lab is another new photo-centric exhibit. It was created by Vancouver artist Scott Billings, who steals a bit from photography’s past, and its future, to form a mesmerizing spectacle he calls “A Risky Jump” (PICTURED)

The piece, which focuses on the artist himself, consists of an image broadcast on the room’s rear wall, a projector and a floor-to-ceiling column upon which the projector rides up and down.

In it, Billings is at first seen sleeping. But the floor beneath him gives way and Billings falls through it, tumbling until he ultimately lands on a padded surface on the floor below and seemingly resumes his sleep.

Here’s the catch: The free-fall, from beginning to end, takes seven minutes. It is slow-motion taken to the extreme and, in a strange way, it is somehow soothing to watch Billings, shocked but not quite fearful, “float” from one floor to the next.

Moreover, both the projector and the image mimic the path of Billings’ fall, beginning at the top of the Tech Lab room and slowly dropping to the floor. And because he shot it exactly the same way he presents it, the viewers’ perspective remains level with Billings as he descends, as if they are falling right along with him.

“I built the whole apparatus,” Billings told the Now. “I made a trap door in my studio that swings out faster than gravity. And then there’s the camera. It’s a Phantom camera – an expensive camera, three grand a day to rent. We dropped the camera along this vertical track as I fell, and I designed a braking mechanism that made it slow down real fast at the very end.

“We did about 25 tries before we got it right. We had to stop at one point because I was getting a little mangled, starting to get hurt.”

It took Billings about six months to complete the project, including securing a grant from the Arts Council of BC.

“The title is a quote from Dziga Vertov, a Russian cinema pioneer. In one of his journals, he talks about an experiment with a high-speed camera. He says, ‘I did a risky jump with a high-speed camera,’ and the big thing was that he didn’t recognize his face. Back then they had no idea what you’d see with a high-speed camera.

“He saw this whole narrative take place in one second, and I wanted to recreate that.”

And that Phantom camera? It uses the same ultra-high-speed technology now on display in NFL broadcasts and big-buck Hollywood flicks. It shoots an incredible 75,000 frames per second, and that’s why “A Risky Jump” looks so darned fluid.

Billings is currently working on another project where he takes his concept into a “hidden” stairwell inside Vancouver’s Burrard Bridge, then turns the whole thing horizontal for viewing.


PICTURED: Surrey-based artist Don Hutchinson says his current show at Surrey Art Gallery will be his last involving ceramics. (Photo: GORD GOBLE)

But the latest Surrey Art Gallery show isn’t restricted to outside-the-box photography. Sharing the main room with “Out of Sight” and “Zoopraxis” is “From Form to Fantasy,” a showing of works by noted local ceramics artist Don Hutchinson, who isn’t just any old potter. He’s been at it for 50 years – doing double duty half that time as a ceramics instructor at Langara College – and has gained quite the following along the way. His creations run the gamut from the traditional to the wildly imaginative and even the straight-up wacky.

But more importantly, this will be his final ceramics-based exhibition, as Hutchinson is giving up the art form, permanently, in order to return to a childhood love.

“I sold my (Surrey) studio,” he said with a laugh. “It’s all gone. After 50 years, I wanted a new challenge so I thought I’m going to take up drawing and painting.

“I was into painting and drawing when I was a kid, but when I went to high school, I failed art. Can you believe that? Who fails art?”

“So I gave up on it. But I started drawing again when I was in the Canadian Air Force. I wanted to be a portrait painter. But I found I really liked sculpture and I really liked colour. So I wanted to find a way that I could make sculptural objects in color. So I quit painting and I quit sculpture, and signed up for pottery.”

Fifty years later, Hutchinson has assembled more than three dozen pieces he’s previously kept hidden. There’s a little bit of everything here, including items that are “experimental and not quite finished,” though most all of it incorporates Hutchinson’s distinctive style of finishing.

“What’s different about this work is that there’s probably five of us in Western Canada who go off to the mountains and find rock, bring the rocks home and crush them to make glazes. Very few people have an idea of how to do this.”

Hutchinson also transforms beach sand into glaze, and can tell you without hesitation which local beach he hits if he wants a certain tint.

He’s sold a ton of his works over the years – enough to make a pretty good living from it – but Hutchinson says he won’t sell anything from his current, and final, ceramics exhibition.

“This stuff I’m going to keep. It’ll go to my children.”

“Out of Sight” and “Zoopraxis” run until March 5, while “A Risky Jump” and “Don Hutchinson: From Form to Fantasy” are shown until March 19. Admission is free. For more details, visit



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