Artist of the Week 07/05/05
Sandler's character, who has fallen in love with her, must make her fall in love with him somehow all over again every day. Each day he tries to vary this or that part of the ritual, hoping to find the best avenue toward getting to the point she realizes she loves him too, so they have more quality time together, and he's not wasting the whole day convincing her she's his girlfriend. Sometimes his variations on the ritual are effective, but sometimes they backfire and lead to further complications. There are so many variables to account for.
Beth Campbell, Potential Future Based On Present Circumstances, 1999, Graphite on paper
This concept of multiple, very different futures based on the smallest of chance variations is explored in the body of work Beth Campbell is perhaps best known for. Represented in New York by Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery, Beth works in installation, video, sculpture, etc, but it's her large-scale chart drawings that first grabbed everyone's attention. In each of these she imagines all the possible ramifications of rather mundane everyday decisions. Each of these drawings is titled "My Potential Future Based on Present Circumstances." Village Voice critic, Jerry Saltz described one this way:
[Each] looks like an elaborate root system with every capillary captioned. This one tracks the various paths Campbell imagines her life taking after "discovering that I have a few gray hairs." She boomerangs between "Feeling like I am no longer responsible to live up to sexual expectations," "Telling my boyfriend what I need," "Our sex life grows and grows" and "Go into hiding."Here's a close-up of one:
Beth Campbell, My Potential Future Based on Present Circumstances (1/12/05), 2005, ink on paper, 50" x 38.5" (detail)
One of Beth's chart drawings actually begins with her deciding to attend an opening at my gallery to meet Dave Eggers (but alas, he didn't show).
I've known Beth for years but I keep discovering just how remarkably smart she is and the awesome depth of her work (she's also a total pleasure to hang out with and talk to). At the last Art Basel in Miami Beach, she exhibited an installation titled Never Ending Continuity Error (see first image above), in which you stared through a "mirror" (an empty frame actually) at what critic Charlie Finch termed "the slowly disintegrating repeated utilitarian objects in a series of bathroom sinks." It was a total scene-stealing piece that had everybody raving. It was reminscent of Beth's first major installation at Roebling Hall in 2000 (where she made two exact versions (and one cannot overstate how exact) of a woman's bedroom. Again, from Saltz:
From trash in baskets to clothes piled in corners to butts in ashtrays, everything was arranged precisely the same in both rooms. It was an ego-atomizing, walk-in episode of The Twilight Zone by way of Robert Rauschenberg's duplicate 1957 paintings Factum I and Factum II -- an obsessive-compulsive's own private nightmare.
Beth Campbell, Same as Me, 2002, installation view at Roebling Hall
But Beth's most compelling piece to date (for me anyway) is the three-channel video "Same as Me," which she exhibited at her last exhibition at Roebling Hall. And, because 1) I'm a bit pressed for time today and 2) it's what he's paid for, here's Saltz once more:
And one final close-up image:
The video, in spite of being choppy and redundant (cuts are crude; there's a lot of aimless walking), is perversely effective. In three side-by-side projections we see Campbell going through identical motions. Dressed in different clothes and seen in different locations (studio, office, national park, the streets of a German town), she wakes up, rubs her eyes, rolls over, looks at the clock, gets out of bed, showers, eats, gets in a car, goes to work, walks around and so forth until the end of the day. Rather than the endless variation of her drawings, Same as Me echoes the mind-boggling replication of the bedrooms, presenting a world with no variation whatsoever.
We all have habits, specific ways we like to do things, and we all become conscious of the sameness of these movements, and might even take pleasure in that sameness. In Same as Me Campbell pushes her habits into an unbendingly disciplined, maniacally choreographed dance of everyday life. In the process, she all but disappears as an individual. Writing about systemic art, Lucy Lippard suggested that "aggressive vacuity can establish tremendous intimacy." This is the vacuous drama Campbell goes for and gets so well. She seems hollow and mechanical, but the exactness of her motions lets us know she's in every move, which glues us to her all the more.
Beth remains one of those artists who I can't wait to see what she does next.