Jim Campbell was born in 1956 in Chicago, Illinois. He received degrees in both electrical engineering and mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1978, and is currently living and working in San Francisco, California. As an engineer, Campbell holds more than a dozen patents in the field of image processing and is currently working on HDTV-related products in a laboratory in California.
Originally a filmmaker, Campbell turned to science after having worked for several years on a personally difficult film on mental illness. Eventually Campbell fused his artistic and scientific backgrounds and in 1988 began creating interactive installations using what he terms "custom electronics" that he designs for the unique purpose of each installation. His electronic artworks have been exhibited in museums throughout the United States and Europe, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Arizona State University Art Museum.
In 1997, Jim Campbell was one of ten internationally recognised artists chosen to participate in the 1997 InterCommunication Centre Biennale in Tokyo. In 1999, Campbell was awarded the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship Award in Multimedia and the Eureka Fellowship Award from the Fleishhaker Foundation. Campbell continues to produce new works that integrate responsive computer systems and software, and has recently published an in depth article discussing the possibilities of these systems in Leonardo. (1)
One of Campbell's earliest works, Hallucination
(1988-1990) - originally presented at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and later shown in several exhibitions including Le Printemps du PRIM
(Montreal, 1991) - plays with the notion of visitor control. The work is made up of a fifty inch monitor, a closed circuit video camera and of course Campbell's custom electronics.
As visitors approach the screen, they are recorded in real time and can see themselves on the screen, in a seemingly normal gallery environment. Suddenly, their bodies burst into flames while a sound component of burning flesh adds to the horror of the surprise. In addition, Campbell evokes a second character on the screen that at first seems to be another gallery visitor. When the real viewer looks around however, he or she becomes aware that this mysterious woman on screen is nowhere to be found. In a comment on this work, Janine Marchessault notes that "the illusion of interactivity in television according to Campbell, depends not on eliding the spectator but on masking her invisibility with another invisibility. Hallucination
enacts this process through the presence of one more viewer ". (2)
from 1991, carries on Campbell's interest in memory and time. This interactive video installation, which was featured at the ICC Biennial in Japan in 1997, uses a clock as its central metaphor. Similar to the set-up of Hallucination
, viewers could look at themselves in real time on the screen, but in this case only on the area of the screen that was not taken up by a real time image of a pocket watch. If viewers can glimpse themselves within the frame of the watch, they see an image from approximately five seconds earlier. Marita Sturken states that:
"It's as if Campbell sets up an exhibition space as a means to both seduce and deter the viewer, and in the process he often forces viewers to examine the issue of desire - specifically our desire to see what we have been told we cannot see. What emerges is a carefully constructed electronic environment, or way of being, that is about surveillance and monitoring." (3)
In Campbell's quest to create work that challenges notions of viewer control, he has created numerous pieces that deal with desire and power. Shadow (for Heisenberg)
(1993-1994) and Untitled (for Heisenberg)
(1994-1995) both investigate the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which states that nothing can be accurately measured because the object will always be altered by whoever is measuring it. In Shadow
, Campbell places a Buddhist sculpture within a glass case.
Every time viewers approach the case to appease their curiosity or desire for contemplation, the glass fogs up, leaving the viewers frustrated and unable to see the object of desire. In Untitled,
a video of two naked, intimately entangled bodies was projected on a bed of salt in a darkened gallery. Following their voyeuristic instincts, viewers approach to get a closer look. As they draw near, the projection becomes larger and extremely distorted. Once again Campbell challenges comfort levels and viewer desire through works that are both responsive and uncontrollable.
In the mid-1990s, Campbell created a series of what he terms "Memory Works". This series comprises 11 different sculptures including Anonymous Photograph of an Electrocution
(1994-1995), I Have Never Read the Bible
(1995), Portrait of My Father
(1994-1995), Photo of My Mother
(1996), Typing Paper
(1995) and Postcards from Chartres
(1998). All deal with recollection, the notion of contemporary database, and memory storage. For example, in I Have Never Read the Bible
, Campbell translates the King James Bible into anonymous letters of the alphabet. He recorded himself reciting each letter of the alphabet and then created a program that would transform this audible alphabet into the text from the Bible. Although Campbell has never read the bible, visitors could actually hear him do it. Margaret Morse comments that :
"On the one hand, these works [Memory Works] demonstrate the specious recoding of "memories" or experience from medium to medium - the written language of the label on the black box to the digital animation of the cultural object - in a way that suggests that all memories are simulations at best. On the other hand, both the recorded and the simulated memories may awaken powerful sense memories in each of us - the rhythms of the body's interior, the murmur of adult whispering that a child can barely decipher, the sound of typing or a radio playing in the background that underscores the most mundane and habitual activities of everyday life." (4)
Campbell's later works have become even more conceptual and formally sparse in that they focus even more on colour, form, data and issues of perception. Campbell discussed this recent series of artworks in an interview with Heather Lineberry:
which are concerned with rhythms as a fundamental element of perception. These works deal with color as a fundamental element of perception and comprehension. And as the Memory Works
are not about isolated abstract rhythms, these Color Works are not about abstract color fields, but are more about associating a sequence of colors to an event or image." (5)
In the work Color by Number from the Color Works
series (1998-1999), Campbell uses two loaded video images: a Vietnamese monk and a lotus flower in bloom. He extracts a pixel out of each image and enlarges it so that it becomes a single colour field projected on a screen in the gallery. In this way, he links the colour to the image but in an abstract and personally associative manner.
More recently, Campbell participated in Vision. Ruhr,
an exhibition held in the abandoned Zollern mines near Dortmund, in the Ruhr district of Germany. Simultaneous Perspective
(1997-2000) is an interactive video installation that consists of various closed circuit levels. In the former miners' washroom, cameras were installed at various positions, filming architectonic details while at the same time integrating visitor's images into the installation. The images were then arranged to form a live collage in which visitors are confronted with their own presence, the history of the place and the architecture of the exhibition complex. For the first time Campbell integrated exclusively live images into the collage, achieved thanks to the 13 cameras feeding live images to the main projection.
In 2000, Campbell also participated in the Ars Electronica Festival
and had his work showcased in three separate solo exhibitions held at the Hosfelt Gallery and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, California, and at the Cohen Berkowitz Gallery in Kansas City, Missouri. In 2001, Campbell worked on a new series of experimental works called Ambiguous Icons,
each work comprising a custom-built display device and electronics. Partly funded by the Daniel Langlois Foundation, the 13 works created in this series question notions of meaning in visual communication. The works explore how different viewing methods and apparatuses (digital-to-analog conversions) might affect the meaning of communication and how such methods can be used as tools in poetic communication. All the works in the series were exhibited during 2000 and 2001. Ambiguous Icon #5 Running, Falling
(2000) and Portrait of a Portrait of Harry Nyquist
(2000) were featured in the Whitney Museum's Bitstreams
exhibition of digital art. Jim Campbell was also included in the Whitney Biennial in 2002, presenting three new works. In 2005, SITE Santa Fe (Santa Fe, New Mexico) organised a retrospective exhibition, Quantizing Effects: The Liminal Art of Jim Campbell
, traveling to different cities in the USA.
18 works by Jim Campbell were shown at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from September 20 to December 9, 2007, for the exhibition e-art: New Technologies and Contemporary Art, Ten Years of Accomplishments by the Daniel Langlois Foundation