“Dreaming in public” is how the sci-fi writer William Gibson has described what he does, but it’s also a fitting characterization of what Jim Campbell is doing in his latest installations. At Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, the San Francisco-based artist showed new works (all but one from 2014) from three ongoing series—”Topographies,” “Reconstructions” and “Home Movies”—which wander the border between reverie and memory.
An electronic-media artist whose work combines film, light emitting diodes (LEDs) and sculptural elements, Campbell pushes the limits of perception and explores the line between representation and abstraction. Rather than working with highly defined images, Campbell, who has degrees from MIT in both mathematics and electrical engineering, eschews clarity in favor of interpretive possibility. He leaves it to viewers to fill in the gaps left in his work, allowing them to personalize it to an unusual degree.
This is particularly true of the two works from “Home Movies,” which faced each other on opposite walls. Hundreds of LEDs were strung from floor to ceiling in a grid that transmitted imagery from found home movies (some were Campbell’s own, some he bought on eBay). The images are intentionally low resolution: shadows, shapes and colors move across the grid, here suggesting a child on a swing, there a person diving and playing in the water or a kid on a tricycle careening unsteadily across the field of vision, among other scenes. The ghostly shapes merely suggest a narrative, triggering viewers’ own memories. Campbell’s previous installations used mainly white LEDS, as in Scattered Light, a public commission in New York’s Madison Square Park in 2010; the full-color home movies give these new works a warm, nostalgic tone.
Form and materials take precedence over narrative possibilities in other works, such as Untitled (Study for the Journey), 2011-13, a study for a public commission Campbell did for the San Diego airport. At the gallery, a carpet of blue-tinted LED bulbs was suspended from the ceiling. Shadowy figures move across the grid, and because the work was hanging above eye level, parallel with the ceiling, the action often happened just outside of viewers’ visual field. Campbell actively engages viewers’ experience of his work, which changes depending on where they stand.
In Topography Reconstruction Wave (2014), a moving image of rolling waves is transmitted behind a transparent block of resin carved into the shape of a wave. Similar shadows pass across a sculptural wave of LED lights in Light Topography Wave (2014), and a conversation develops between the two works, which explore the properties of light and diffusion using different materials.
Campbell offers ephemeral traces of visual information to tap into a rich vein of emotional and aesthetic content. His materials are complex, and he uses them to create imagery that is allusive and open-ended. His first solo museum show is on view through June 15 at the Museum for the Moving Image in Queens, but the small show at Wolkowitz succinctly represented an artist for whom less is certainly more.