Jim Campbell: At the Threshold
The Samek Art Gallery
January 16- March 24
The Samek Art Gallery is pleased to present three large-scale electronic artworks by pioneering new media artist Jim Campbell. Campbell’s constrained elegance and humble subjects belie the fact that he uses the latest technology to address very human questions.
Digital technology creates visual images through a grid of tiny points of light or “pixels” (short for “picture elements”) that appear on your computer or smartphone screen. Usually, these pixels are small enough that your vision does not register them individually and you are offered the illusion of a seamless, continuous image. Campbell does something very simple that has very complex implications; he pulls those pixels apart. The piece Home Movies presents a video using a grid of 26×40 pixels. Normally this image would appear half an inch big on your computer, but Campbell takes the same number of pixels and spreads them out to 9×12 feet on the gallery wall. Exploding the image like this puts it at the threshold of human perception where the image becomes a question about the nature of sight and memory.
When observed closely, this “pixelated” image appears to be an abstraction of light and shadow, but as the viewer backs up, the image resolves into something recognizable; a woman’s face, a child walking. Similarly, if the image is stopped, it reverts to abstract illegibility. It is only through stringing together a series of abstract moments into movement that the human brain constructs a continuous and recognizable whole.
Campbell constructs each pixel as a physical object, an LED stuck onto a panel or embedded in a microchip hung on a wire. This reveals the mechanics of ubiquitous machine vision through which we see the world now and blurs the boundary between video and sculpture. The low-res abstraction also strips Campbell’s mundane video subjects of any specificity. Typical home movies (in Home Movies), passengers walking through grand central station (Exploded Views) and disabled people walking (Motion and Rest) become iconic and universal, further inviting the viewer to fill in the blanks with their own memories.
Campbell offers a way of seeing in which the world is not presented to us as a whole and finished object; we see it in pieces and we put it together like a time-based puzzle that we are continually assembling.