Search and Rescue: Diagrams of Monotony and Distress in the Work of Dustin Campbell

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319 NORTH 11 th STREET 2 nd FLOOR PHILADELPHIA PA 19107<br />


<strong>Search</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Rescue</strong>: <strong>Diagrams</strong> <strong>of</strong> <strong>Monotony</strong> <strong>and</strong><br />

<strong>Distress</strong> <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> <strong>Work</strong> <strong>of</strong> Dust<strong>in</strong> <strong>Campbell</strong><br />

By Addie Langford, Detroit, MI<br />

September 17, 2012<br />

Though <strong>the</strong> subject <strong>of</strong> countless artist/th<strong>in</strong>kers, memory <strong>and</strong> nostalgia rema<strong>in</strong> a<br />

fasc<strong>in</strong>ation. But <strong>in</strong>herent to nostalgia is not only <strong>the</strong> recall <strong>of</strong> activities, but <strong>the</strong><br />

long<strong>in</strong>g to return to a time deemed more full <strong>in</strong> certa<strong>in</strong> ways than <strong>the</strong> now we are<br />

liv<strong>in</strong>g daily. View<strong>in</strong>g Dust<strong>in</strong> <strong>Campbell</strong>’s work is like walk<strong>in</strong>g onto an iced pond <strong>and</strong><br />

peer<strong>in</strong>g through a hole or th<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> surface. Through mark mak<strong>in</strong>g, color,<br />

opacity <strong>and</strong> a reoccurr<strong>in</strong>g sense <strong>of</strong> fl<strong>in</strong>ch<strong>in</strong>g or be<strong>in</strong>g thwarted, a sense <strong>of</strong> caution<br />

emerges. It is not a sense <strong>of</strong> violence, however, but a mild mistrust or disillusion, a<br />

re-writ<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> a history you thought you understood. In <strong>the</strong> words <strong>of</strong> French novelist<br />

<strong>and</strong> philosopher, Albert Camus, a heavy <strong>in</strong>fluence for <strong>Campbell</strong>, <strong>the</strong> condition <strong>of</strong><br />

modern be<strong>in</strong>g - <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> makers respond<strong>in</strong>g to this modern be<strong>in</strong>g - is captured <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>the</strong> predicament <strong>of</strong> Sisyphus, <strong>and</strong> <strong>Campbell</strong> is yet one more as he shifts without<br />

warn<strong>in</strong>g between <strong>the</strong> claims <strong>of</strong> his medium <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> latest trend <strong>of</strong> anyth<strong>in</strong>g-goes.<br />

Through Camus’ lens, it is clear that <strong>Campbell</strong> has jo<strong>in</strong>ed his tribe <strong>of</strong><br />

contemporaries <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> bath <strong>of</strong> super-exposure where anyth<strong>in</strong>g <strong>and</strong> everyth<strong>in</strong>g is fair<br />

game for <strong>in</strong>fluence. The membrane <strong>of</strong> classicism that once provided metrics for<br />

quality <strong>and</strong> mean<strong>in</strong>g, unseated by modernism <strong>and</strong> obliterated by Richards Tuttle<br />

<strong>and</strong> friends, means that mean<strong>in</strong>g/content now comes at a body from <strong>in</strong>numerable<br />

directions like light rays. Camus’ words r<strong>in</strong>g true, “There is no longer a s<strong>in</strong>gle idea<br />

expla<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g everyth<strong>in</strong>g, but an <strong>in</strong>f<strong>in</strong>ite number <strong>of</strong> essences giv<strong>in</strong>g a mean<strong>in</strong>g to an<br />

<strong>in</strong>f<strong>in</strong>ite number <strong>of</strong> objects.” Stay<strong>in</strong>g with Camus’ <strong>in</strong>sight, he also stated that “a<br />

man’s sole creation is streng<strong>the</strong>ned <strong>in</strong> its successive <strong>and</strong> multiple aspects: his<br />

works. One after ano<strong>the</strong>r, <strong>the</strong>y complement one ano<strong>the</strong>r, correct or overtake one<br />

ano<strong>the</strong>r, contradict one ano<strong>the</strong>r too.” In keep<strong>in</strong>g with this spirit Dust<strong>in</strong> <strong>Campbell</strong><br />

commits to an exploration <strong>of</strong> his experience through multiple media <strong>and</strong> positions.<br />

As one who <strong>in</strong> his time took odd jobs to susta<strong>in</strong> himself, Camus was no stranger to<br />

monotony, <strong>in</strong>deed, much <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> literature <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> Absurd is an archeology <strong>of</strong> various<br />

states <strong>of</strong> boredom <strong>and</strong> empty time, what <strong>in</strong> French is called le temps mort (dead<br />

time). Likewise <strong>the</strong> front seat <strong>of</strong> a delivery truck is where most <strong>of</strong> Dust<strong>in</strong> <strong>Campbell</strong>’<br />

ideas take form whilst travers<strong>in</strong>g Philadelphia shift<strong>in</strong>g boxes from storage to stores.<br />

Between stoplights, <strong>and</strong> drop <strong>of</strong>fs is <strong>the</strong> sky, <strong>the</strong> bro<strong>the</strong>rhood <strong>of</strong> deliverymen,<br />

Camus <strong>and</strong> <strong>in</strong>stallations <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> studio <strong>of</strong> his imag<strong>in</strong>ation.<br />

<br />

NAPOLEON is a collectively-run project space that strives to provide a platform<br />

for new work <strong>and</strong> new ideas.


319 NORTH 11 th STREET 2 nd FLOOR PHILADELPHIA PA 19107<br />


In his pa<strong>in</strong>t<strong>in</strong>g, photography <strong>and</strong> <strong>in</strong>stallation, <strong>Campbell</strong> leaves <strong>the</strong> viewer grappl<strong>in</strong>g<br />

with a sense <strong>of</strong> <strong>in</strong>completion. There <strong>the</strong> diagram serves to decipher or reduce<br />

predicament <strong>in</strong>to digestible parts. Pa<strong>in</strong>ted works approach bodily scale as if to ask<br />

<strong>the</strong> viewer to enter <strong>the</strong> swirl<strong>in</strong>g orbit <strong>of</strong> l<strong>in</strong>e. The sense <strong>of</strong> a th<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g <strong>and</strong> re-th<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g,<br />

declaration <strong>and</strong> erasure - what <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> technical language <strong>of</strong> pa<strong>in</strong>t<strong>in</strong>g is called repentir<br />

or pentimenti - advances <strong>and</strong> recedes like <strong>the</strong> drone <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> seventeen-year cicada,<br />

wait<strong>in</strong>g for its life to hatch. In each work, <strong>and</strong> even if it is wispy <strong>and</strong> spare, <strong>the</strong>re is<br />

heavy construction/reconstruction underway.<br />

Untitled #1, oil on canvas, 2012 ServiceVeh#17(Flag), digital photograph, 2012<br />

The pa<strong>in</strong>t<strong>in</strong>g, Untitled #1, <strong>and</strong> photograph, ServiceVeh#17(Flag), both composed<br />

with layered, swirl<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>teriors, are girded by a dense frame. The frame provides<br />

enclosure or a fortress wall that guards an <strong>in</strong>terior space, literally <strong>and</strong> figuratively.<br />

<strong>Campbell</strong>’s alignment with Camus’s philosophical position po<strong>in</strong>ts to a shared<br />

concern with walk<strong>in</strong>g <strong>the</strong> tightrope between <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>spired <strong>and</strong> pr<strong>of</strong>ane, <strong>the</strong><br />

philosopher provid<strong>in</strong>g reassurance that <strong>the</strong> <strong>in</strong>spired <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> pr<strong>of</strong>ane need not<br />

destroy each o<strong>the</strong>r, but ra<strong>the</strong>r <strong>in</strong>form, enhance <strong>and</strong> enrich. In his MFA <strong>the</strong>sis work,<br />

<strong>Campbell</strong> posed a small male figure, denuded <strong>and</strong> stra<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g under <strong>the</strong> weight <strong>of</strong> a<br />

t<strong>in</strong>y foam boulder, a mock<strong>in</strong>g Barbie Doll Sisyphus. The work-a-day gulch<br />

characterized by <strong>the</strong> boulder embodied <strong>the</strong> absurd to-<strong>and</strong>-fro <strong>of</strong> daily anthill toil that<br />

trades out mean<strong>in</strong>g for movement. Yet all <strong>of</strong> this th<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g is expressed through<br />

pedestrian materials such as work boots, fold<strong>in</strong>g gym chairs, <strong>and</strong> spray-pa<strong>in</strong>t on a<br />

wall, a contradiction embodied by <strong>the</strong> fretful mark mak<strong>in</strong>g <strong>and</strong> mask<strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

pa<strong>in</strong>ted canvases. Doubt or apprehension licks at <strong>the</strong> heels <strong>of</strong> each f<strong>in</strong>ished work.<br />

There is ano<strong>the</strong>r aspect <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> work that h<strong>in</strong>ts at scam. The use <strong>of</strong> th<strong>in</strong> sk<strong>in</strong>s,<br />

pa<strong>in</strong>ted diagrams on a wall, th<strong>in</strong> as projections or anti-objects, not even <strong>the</strong><br />

thickness <strong>of</strong> paper, not to be purchased or collected <strong>in</strong> its exact form, it’s someth<strong>in</strong>g<br />

you may want but cannot have. Someth<strong>in</strong>g that cannot be reached stares back<br />

through his work, work <strong>in</strong>spired from <strong>in</strong>structional diagrams – a constant effort to<br />

learn how, or to decipher - as, for example, <strong>the</strong> stars float<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> sky <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong><br />

photograph, ServiceVeh#17(Flag), <strong>in</strong>dicate a sense <strong>of</strong> aspiration, even <strong>the</strong> bl<strong>in</strong>d faith<br />

<strong>of</strong> patriotism, yet <strong>the</strong> drab ratchet-strap lurks <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> lower quadrant <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> work, <strong>the</strong><br />

sli<strong>the</strong>r<strong>in</strong>g rem<strong>in</strong>der to ab<strong>and</strong>on one’s dream<strong>in</strong>g <strong>and</strong> ‘get back to work.’ The<br />

development <strong>of</strong> this body <strong>of</strong> images is one to watch.<br />

<br />

NAPOLEON is a collectively-run project space that strives to provide a platform for new work <strong>and</strong> new ideas.


319 NORTH 11 th STREET 2 nd FLOOR PHILADELPHIA PA 19107<br />


Soul Drummer, Installation View, 2009<br />

To cont<strong>in</strong>ue <strong>the</strong> concern with <strong>the</strong> halt<strong>in</strong>g process <strong>of</strong> pa<strong>in</strong>t<strong>in</strong>g, one notes how <strong>the</strong> use<br />

<strong>of</strong> a putty-colored palette evokes erasure. The manner <strong>in</strong> which <strong>Campbell</strong> applies<br />

<strong>in</strong>k or pa<strong>in</strong>t to surfaces, walls, hang<strong>in</strong>g terrycloth or wooden slats has a way <strong>of</strong><br />

derail<strong>in</strong>g or distract<strong>in</strong>g from orig<strong>in</strong>al function or <strong>in</strong>tent. He uses this color putty <strong>in</strong><br />

chunks <strong>and</strong> straps to str<strong>and</strong> or deta<strong>in</strong> fleet<strong>in</strong>g energy, like an anvil dropped on a<br />

flock <strong>of</strong> scatter<strong>in</strong>g canaries.<br />

They Can’t All be Animals, Oil on Canvas, 2011 Fig. 54C(Drown<strong>in</strong>g), Digital Pr<strong>in</strong>t, 2012<br />

The work <strong>in</strong> every form <strong>in</strong>dicates pend<strong>in</strong>g failure, or promises that <strong>the</strong> subject, be it<br />

color, image or built form, is unlikely to reach its dest<strong>in</strong>ation: workman’s boots l<strong>in</strong>ed<br />

up <strong>in</strong> front <strong>of</strong> empty chairs, pa<strong>in</strong>ted to look like tra<strong>in</strong><strong>in</strong>g sneakers, <strong>the</strong>ir function<br />

altered <strong>and</strong> ab<strong>and</strong>oned by <strong>the</strong> wearer, or to revisit our guide, Camus, aga<strong>in</strong> from<br />

The Myth <strong>of</strong> Sisyphus:<br />

In certa<strong>in</strong> situations reply<strong>in</strong>g “noth<strong>in</strong>g” when asked what one is th<strong>in</strong>k<strong>in</strong>g about<br />

is s<strong>in</strong>cere, if it symbolizes that odd state <strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> soul <strong>in</strong> which <strong>the</strong> void becomes<br />

<strong>the</strong> l<strong>in</strong>k that will connect it aga<strong>in</strong>, <strong>the</strong>n it is as it were <strong>the</strong> first sign <strong>of</strong> absurdity.<br />

Yet it is also true that <strong>Campbell</strong>’s pa<strong>in</strong>t<strong>in</strong>gs owe a debt <strong>of</strong> gratitude to <strong>the</strong><br />

frantically seek<strong>in</strong>g l<strong>in</strong>e <strong>of</strong> Joan Mitchell, <strong>and</strong> Richard Diebenkorn’s view-f<strong>in</strong>d<strong>in</strong>g<br />

segmentation <strong>of</strong> l<strong>and</strong>masses through blocks <strong>of</strong> ic<strong>in</strong>g–like color. The qualities <strong>of</strong><br />

opacity <strong>and</strong> th<strong>in</strong>ness are work<strong>in</strong>g hard for this artist, <strong>and</strong> transmitt<strong>in</strong>g vibrations<br />

<strong>of</strong> stability <strong>and</strong> direction <strong>in</strong>terchanged with fragility <strong>and</strong> <strong>in</strong>decision, a reflection<br />

<strong>of</strong> <strong>the</strong> culture <strong>of</strong> this decade <strong>and</strong> his experience <strong>of</strong> its shift<strong>in</strong>g terra<strong>in</strong>s.<br />

<br />

NAPOLEON is a collectively-run project space that strives to provide a platform for new work <strong>and</strong> new ideas.


319 NORTH 11 th STREET 2 nd FLOOR PHILADELPHIA PA 19107<br />


The process <strong>of</strong> layer<strong>in</strong>g <strong>and</strong> organiz<strong>in</strong>g a shift<strong>in</strong>g load <strong>of</strong> memory <strong>and</strong> <strong>the</strong> loom<strong>in</strong>g<br />

unknown, like boxes <strong>in</strong> his delivery truck, is <strong>the</strong> product <strong>of</strong> Dust<strong>in</strong> <strong>Campbell</strong>’s daily<br />

progress toward <strong>the</strong> underst<strong>and</strong><strong>in</strong>g <strong>of</strong> a life <strong>in</strong> <strong>the</strong> process <strong>of</strong> be<strong>in</strong>g lived on <strong>the</strong> edge<br />

<strong>of</strong> absurdity. <strong>Campbell</strong>’s collective works are like a fasc<strong>in</strong>at<strong>in</strong>g, haphazard record<strong>in</strong>g<br />

<strong>of</strong> layers on VHS tapes where episodes <strong>of</strong> The Guid<strong>in</strong>g Light <strong>and</strong> Gilligan’s Isl<strong>and</strong><br />

ended up spliced between home movies <strong>of</strong> birthday parties. The pa<strong>in</strong>t<strong>in</strong>gs give a<br />

sensation <strong>of</strong> peer<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong>to a roll<strong>in</strong>g boil, <strong>the</strong> pr<strong>in</strong>ted works a sense <strong>of</strong> control over <strong>the</strong><br />

noise created by <strong>the</strong> distance between memory <strong>and</strong> unrequited desire. Dust<strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>Campbell</strong> is spear fish<strong>in</strong>g through an ice-hole nett<strong>in</strong>g memory, measur<strong>in</strong>g, <strong>and</strong><br />

pitch<strong>in</strong>g it back, flicker<strong>in</strong>g like anchovies <strong>in</strong>to <strong>the</strong> depths.<br />

* Addie Langford is an artist from Detroit, Michigan, work<strong>in</strong>g <strong>in</strong> pa<strong>in</strong>t<strong>in</strong>g <strong>and</strong><br />

porcela<strong>in</strong>/mixed media sculpture, <strong>and</strong> currently teach<strong>in</strong>g as adjunct faculty at<br />

Lawrence Technical University.<br />

www.addielangford.com<br />

addielstonerichards@gmail.com<br />

<br />

NAPOLEON is a collectively-run project space that strives to provide a platform for new work <strong>and</strong> new ideas.

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