Uncertainty is at the core of “Jim Campbell: Rhythms of Perception,” a major survey exhibition of the San Francisco-based artist’s work at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. An MIT alumnus who started in film — and who holds more than a dozen patents in the field of video image processing — Campbell has spent the better part of his artistic career creating high-tech, low-resolution works, often incorporating custom-built electronics. But to focus on the technology is to miss the point because his work is much more absorbing than a simple exploration of the topic.
Many of Campbell’s works play with the distance between viewer and object, usually by becoming clearer as the viewer steps farther away. In addition to “Home Movies 1040,” a giant grid of LEDs, there is “Shadow for Heisenberg,” a statue of Buddha encased in glass. As one steps closer, the glass fogs until only the shadow of the statue is visible. As one steps away again, the glass clarifies. It seems magical and is also somewhat frustrating, which is the whole point.
Other works are more abstract, sometimes to an absurd degree. “Color By Number” consists of two projectors displaying a pair of images, one pixel at a time. One is a self-immolating monk and the other is a flower, but all viewers see is a solid panel of pink, then green, then gray and so on. Behind the panels are the original pictures, with a marker tracing across them to indicate which pixel is currently being projected.
Campbell’s piece “The End” is a cathode ray tube showing every image it is capable of displaying. At this point, the screen is still mostly blank, with two pixels cycling through various colors. Theoretically, it will be billions of years before all the possibilities are exhausted, according to the museum.
This display is Campbell’s first solo exhibition in New York. The pieces span 29 years, from an early experimental film to a recent self-portrait, which is carved in resin and illuminated with more than 1,000 LEDs. In an age of high-definition, Campbell’s work is a refreshing reminder of the lo-res days of yore. The artist is first to admit how far technology has come.
“Computers were so slow 20 years ago,” Campbell said.
He sounded nostalgic, but it is only through modern technology that his vision can be realized.
“Jim Campbell: Rhythms of Perception” is on view until June 15 at the Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35th Ave. Admission is free for NYU students.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, March 26 print edition. Ward Pettibone is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.