Part of Finding Camp X, Contemporary Considerations of an Enigma
Robert McLaughlin Gallery 2001
Curated by artist, educator Gary Greenwood
The following description is taken from the 49th Shelf website which published the catalogue for "Finding Camp X, Contemporary Considerations of an Enigma."
"In the exhibition Finding "Camp X" four artists, Steven Frank, Sean McQuay, Anitra Hamilton and Nina Levitt, consider the deathly nature of a place that no longer exists, where people were trained in horrific skills, and which has become a fascinating part of the lost history of Durham Region. Camp X was a secret military facility established in Canada by a branch of British M16 initially to train American military and intelligence personnel. It was created by the Canadian (Sir) William Stephenson ("Intrepid") after the war in Europe had begun but during the time when the USA remained neutral. A farm outside the quiet town of Whitby, Ontario was an ideal location."
Gary Greenwood states in his catalogue essay: "In the sparse histories of Camp X there are suggestions of changes in strategy from covert surveillance and counter insurgency to outright guerrilla warfare should the war end in Britain's defeat. Steven Frank examines this moment in World War II in his installation, Plan B."
The following was taken from a review by Margaret Rodgers in Canadian Art (Spring 2003):
"Frank's work, Plan B, extended across the floor and consisted of a handpress spelling for mylar banner material, in imitation of the printing process. Both elements were salvage items with remarkable provenances. The press was used during the war at Oshawa's Alger Press to print a secret document called "the Defense of Britain", which detailed instructions for camp trainees on forming an underground resistance movement should the Germans invade the country. The banner was printed with it and on it's underside with Manhattan street name is intended for the New York Transit Authority. Frank links the objects to a passage from Winston Churchhill's famous Plan B speech of 1940 which rolls out across the gallery floor.
The exhibition, while recalling the charged wartime history of Camp X never broaches the archival function of a war museum. The project offered not artifacts but imaginative re-creations, involving themes of conflict and subterfuge that make it relevant to the post September 11 temper of our times."
In 1993 Peter Alger, grandson of Stewart Alger owner of the Alger Press stated in an interview in the Oshawa Times: "The RCMP government officials and other secret police would come down here at night. Men were asked to work overtime to set the type and they would only be allowed to see a small part of the document. After each night, the type would be smashed. This went on for a couple of weeks until only 50 copies of the document were printed."
Installation view showing Plan B with work by Sean McQuay and Nina Levitt to the left.
Many people know part of Churchill's famous address, but it is important to recognize that he was seriously considering the possibility of the Nazis taking over Britain. The screen printed message running over sixty feet on the back of an actual New York City bus scroll. "We shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for the moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, will carry on the struggle until in God's good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old." (Before the House of Commons, June 4, 1940)
Churchill alludes to a Plan B which was detailed in the book that was printed on this actual press that was given to Steven as a gift from a friend who purchased it an auction at the Alger Press.The New York reference is apropos as Sir William S. Stephenson who helped set up Camp X operated his British Security Co-ordination (BSC) at the Rockefeller Centre in New York City. Although unseen, like most of the activities of Camp X and British counterparts M15, the World Trade Centre reference at the time that this piece was conceived had great meaning as it represented the closest example of an existential threat from abroad that North America has ever felt just as Great Britain was preparing for the worst during WWII.
Where Sean McQuay exhibited work that was in actual Morse Code these words of Churchill were very public representing great resolve yet they still concealed a mystery. On opening night of this exhibition a set of photocopies of "The Defense of Britain" were left on the actual press.
The enigma that is Camp X continues to surprise after all these years.
Gary Greenwood summarizes the piece: "Plan B is not just a display of an historical object. More importantly the installation incorporating the artifact energizes the discourse about Camp X through the open ended and ambiguous nature of art."
Steven with exhibition curator