Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Artist of the Week 07/05/05

It's a grotesque reference in one sense, but the fastest Pop culture entry point into one body of Beth Campbell's work might be the Drew Barrymore/Adam Sandler Movie First 50 Dates, in which Barrymore's character has no short-term memory. In fact, each day she wakes up after an accident, her memory is reset to zero and she thinks it's the day the accident takes place. She cannot remember anything that happened the day before in real time, and so she goes through the same routine each day--eats at the same diner, has the same conversations (and her friends and family play along to not frighten her).

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:

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.

And one final close-up image:

Beth remains one of those artists who I can't wait to see what she does next.


Anonymous Macallan said...

Great blog writing again Edward.

7/05/2005 08:13:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Hey Mac,

Welcome back. How was Ireland? Scotland? or wherever you went?


7/06/2005 08:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Macallan said...


7/06/2005 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


I have a good friend who's some prince or duke or baron or whatever from Malta. Lovely person, even if a bit twisted.

How was the island?

7/06/2005 10:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Macallan said...

It's quite an interesting place. It both exceeded expectations in some ways and fell short in others. When I've got a chance I'll write a piece on the trip and post it at tacitus.org.

7/06/2005 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

look foward to it Mac...will it include photos???

7/06/2005 10:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Macallan said...

Haven't even thought that far ahead...

7/06/2005 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

Fascinating stuff. I'd love to see these drawings if they arrive in the UK. They look quite fantastic. Great blog, very interesting stuff.

7/06/2005 03:33:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks Paul.

I don't know if Beth has a gallery in London yet. I'll ask next time I see her and post again if she does.

7/06/2005 03:36:00 PM  
Anonymous von said...

It's rare that I like the "writey" stuff, but I definitely dig the look of Ms. Campbell's work.

7/07/2005 06:59:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The "writey" stuff seems to have had its day and be waning now, as far as I can tell, Von. Beth's definitely focussing more on other works these days (but the chart drawings fly out of her galleries' doors).

7/08/2005 09:26:00 AM  
Anonymous von said...

The "writey" stuff seems to have had its day and be waning now, as far as I can tell, Von.

Good. IMHO, 99% was pretentious crap. (Based on what I've seen, Beth fits into the remaining 1%).

By the way, what's the artworld name for the "writey" stuff? We see but through a glass darkly, out here in the sticks.

7/08/2005 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

By the way, what's the artworld name for the "writey" stuff?

Whatever it is (charts, text-based, systems-oriented, etc.), it's no where near as perfect as "the writey stuff."

7/08/2005 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

I met Beth (maybe five years ago) at an artists' residency and lost touch. Could you give her my email? I'd love to reconnect. prosal@gomarky.com


Pat Rosal

8/26/2006 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Rafael de Reyna said...


I would like to know how I could have a copy of "My potential future based on present circumstances" from Beth Campbell.
I saw it in Harvard Business School and impressive.
Thanks from Spain

11/04/2007 05:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Rafael de Reyna said...

I forgot to say my e-mail account is rafael_de_reyna@yahoo.com

11/04/2007 05:37:00 PM  

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