Jim Campbell is a former Silicon Valley engineer and innovative artist from San Francisco, California who uses technology as a medium for his art. Campbell’s work focuses on using led lights to create low resolution images and videos that examines our ability to recognize patterns and images with only small amounts of information. Much of his work probes into the themes of perception, time and memory.
His work has been exhibited in places such as the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC and now here in Buenos Aires at Espacio Fundacion Telefonica. The exhibit, Tiempo Estático. Jim Campbell: 20 años de arte electrónico, will be on display until October 1st. The exhibit is a collection of over 20 of Cambell’s pieces from the early 1990s until now.
We spoke with Jim to learn more about his background and his work.
Can you tell us a little about your background, and what inspired you to start creating art?
I was an engineer in college and needed to start doing something less nerdy than engineering, so I started making films and videos and eventually this led to making electronic art.
Your exhibition at Espacio Fundación Telefónica covers a 20 year span of your work. How has your art evolved during this period? And how have the advancements in technology affected your work?
I have become more and more interested in making extremely minimal representations. Distilling images to be just shy of abstraction. My progression has also gone from being narrative to being more about perception.
Can you explain your creative process? During the creation process do the projects ever materialize in an unexpected way?
When I first start using a new technology, I see the works as experiments. During this time many things happen unpredictably that end up in the final work. After I use a technology for a while, the unpredictable aspects of the works kind of go away unfortunately.
What are some of the challenges related to creating the technological aspects of your work? As an engineer, does this process interest you as much as the creative/artistic aspect?
Yes they are both interesting to me. I did electrical engineering in silicon valley for 25 years and only gave it up because I don’t have enough time for both art and engineering and family. I enjoy engineering and design almost as much as I enjoy making art. They each provide different challenges to my brain.
Your work uses technology and imagery to show how we understand the environment around us. Can you elaborate on the relationship between movement and the viewer’s frame of reference that is present in much of your work? What interests you about this psychological process of sensation and perception?
One of the things that I noticed when I started working in low resolution was how important movement was in decoding a low resolution image. I have come to believe that motion perception is more primitive and slightly separable from say color or edges or detail. And thus a work that is mostly movement (and has little color / edges / detail) communicates to the viewers in a simpler more open way. The imagination tries to fill in the details. If abstract expressionism was an attempt at expressing (or communicating) FROM the unconscious, then in some of my work I’m attempting to communicate TO the unconscious by eliminating the parts of the image that require the analytical parts of the brain.
Where do you see this field heading in the next 5-10 years?
I don’t like to try to predict the future, except in how it helps me think about the relevancy of a work in its technology vs. its content. For example, in 5 – 10 years there’ll be a material that will be able to wrap anything (a building, a house, a car, a pair of pants) with a moving image very easily. In other words a building that is an image. Some of my public artwork thinking has been in this direction. In 5 years this idea will NOT be unique or novel. So any work that I create using this idea needs to be more about the imagery and its relationship to the architecture, not simply a demonstration of wrapping a building with an image as there will be thousands of them. A good test of an electronic high tech artwork is if it’s still a good work 10 or 20 years later.