by John O'Brien

"Hallucination," black-and-white video camera, fifty-inch monitor, two laster disc players, custom electronics, 1988-90.
Courtesy Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco


Installation view of Williamson Gallery exhibit, showing "Memory Works" (left), "Memory/Recollection" (middle background), "Digital Watch" (right).
Photo: Steven A. Heller

"Shadow (for Heisenberg)," black-and-white video camera, glass cube with LCD material, object, custom electronics, 1993-94.
Courtesy of Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco

(Art Center College of Design, Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery, Pasadena) In "Memory Recollection Transformation", Jim Campbell creates a digital interactive art form that uses advanced computer-driven custom electronics and video to pose questions about the ways in which we structure and access the information we call memory. Making use of the ways in which digitized images can be stored and retrieved by computer either systematically or randomly, the work in this exhibition plays out with clarity and in real time the strange ways in which things surface in the memory.

Often utilizing a recorded image of the current viewer as an active part of the work's realization, Campbell elaborates a slowly discovered universe of inter-connected fragments in which the viewer is a participant. By creating an environment in which the viewer's actual reaction or physical response to a given work activates its function, Campbell reaches across the borders of installation art and video art to create a new model of viewer engagement with a visual art work. Contemplation and distance are replaced with interaction and involvement as the work literally embeds the viewer in its ongoing process of generation and display.

In one work from 1990, Memory/Recollection, live video images of gallery viewers are mixed with time lapse recorded images that have been stored and then recalled. In this work the video environment literally conjures up fragments of its own past to fuel its present, leaving the viewer with an odd sense of temporal displacement.

In another from 1995, Untitled (For Heisenberg), the artist visually objectifies the famous physicist's uncertainty principle by means of a projected image of an embracing couple onto a black pedestal that recedes or advances according to the position of the viewer within the installation. Thus the "uncertainty" that an observer introduces into the process of physical measurement takes on the forms of abstraction derived from progressive enlargements.

In the slightly absurdist I Have Never Read The Bible (1995), a computer is tasked with fishing up the stored memory of Campbell's recording of the letters of the alphabet and piecing together the entire Bible one letter at a time. Maybe this can be read as an examination of the problems with entrusting everything to the workings of technology. In all the works, there is a sense of emotion and sentiment linked to direct, everyday things that is somewhat akin to the logic of snapshots and family albums. By doing this, Campbell removes his art from the realm of the esoteric and grounds the technology in things understandable to any viewer. Ultimately, it is this appeal to the popular sense of memory and recollection which grants Campbell's investigations much of their expressive value and poignancy.

In Gallery Director Steve Nowlin's exhibition program, the presence of electronic media is becoming a regular feature. In the wonderfully designed brochure which serves as an exhibition announcement he comments on this. Distancing himself from the 'radical' nature of institutionalized anti-art, he makes a cogent argument for the model of interactive processes' radical departure from the modern categories of audience, spectators, visitors and viewers. Referencing the early Modernists' intent to structure a more universal comprehesion of visual art, he finds that the new boundaries between technology and interactivity are within potential grasp of that intent. Whether that is in fact what will be or not remains to be seen and; in the meantime, it will be our pleasure to witness the ongoing electronic investigations.

[Note: Additional works and information on the artist may be found at Campbell's Web site, http://www.jimcampbell.tv