Jim Campbell’s At the Threshold: Review of Interdisciplinary Panel Discussion

Last Wednesday the Bucknell Art Galleries hosted an interdisciplinary panel discussing the current exhibition displayed at the Samek Art Gallery. This exhibition, At the Threshold, is the Samek’s first new media exhibition. At the Threshold presents works of art that are made up LED lights in a monochromatic grid. These grids range in dimensions but all mirror the same subject matter:  human movement. According to the curator, Jim Campbell successfully made “electrical engineering beautiful”. 

With over seventy members in attendance, it was by far the most well- attended event of 2013. Jim Campbell’s At the Threshold panel discussion engaged art & art history, electrical engineering, and philosophy enthusiasts alike. These departments each had a representative talked about Jim Campbell’s art through their respective fields. In attendance was Rick Rinehart, the curator and director of the Samek Art Gallery, Maurice Aburdene of electrical engineering, and Maria Balcells of philosophy. Each scholar provided his or her own perspective on two concepts: in general, new media art and specifically, Jim Campbell’s art.

Rick narrowed in on aspects of Jim Campbell’s work that fortified his electrical grids as “art”. He utilized art historical vocabulary to tackle why Campbell’s art is accepted in our contemporary art world. He then questioned our established vocabulary because of its lack of relevant words to critique new media art in general. He pushes this coming generation to create a new set of vocabulary that successfully analyzes new media art, like Jim Campbell’s At the Threshold.

Maurice Aburdene analyzed the electrical engineering “make up” of the works of art. He discussed how Campbell created his art and more specifically, how hard it would be to recreate these masterpieces. He pointed out the intricate timing and speed patterns that must have been accomplished to create the necessary visual cues. He also pointed out how excited he was for new media art; Jim Campbell’s story to success (electrical engineer- turned artist) provides an outlet for non-artsy folks like this electrical engineer professor to take a gamble at creating accepted Art.

By taking Campbell’s images to the most basic level-which was analyzing a row of mini red light bulbs- the traveling professor of the philosophy department presented us how movement can be created. This is simply by the timing of flickering of lights. She then took this basic concept and went through the logistics of our eye-to- brain process when we look at Campbell’s work. The illusions, or the “reality”, that each viewer sees is essentially different for everyone. Why? Because everyone’s eyes & neuron wiring is unique. Thus, the “reality” that we see through our eyes- like the images Campbell creates- is slightly different for each viewer. Maria Balcells doesn’t question what we see but she recognizes that these images may not necessarily be the true or accurate reality of our world. She definitely left the audience thoughts to reflect on.

Overall, this panel discussion posed some interesting thoughts and perspectives on Campbell’s work. It was refreshing to hear how other non-art scholars analyzed new media art. Judging by the size of the attendance and the intellectual banter that arose that night, I am not alone on this opinion. It would be rewarding to keep this interdisciplinary discussion alive in future exhibition events.

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Gallery Locations

The Samek Gallery
3rd Floor, Elaine Langone Center
Bucknell University

The Downtown Gallery
416 Market Street
Lewisburg, PA 17837