Colin Campbell

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Video still from <b>Sackville, I'm Yours...</b> by Colin Campbell

Colin Campbell, Sackville, I'm Yours..., (1972), 5:34 min. excerpt from the 14:40 min. original

Video still from <b>Hollywood and Vine</b> by Colin Campbell

Colin Campbell, Hollywood and Vine, (1977), 7:28 min. excerpt from the 20:00 min. original

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About these works

Sackville, I'm Yours... (1972)
Distributed by Vtape.

Sackville, I'm Yours... is a fifteen-minute masterpiece, one of Colin Campbell's earliest video works. Amusing and understated, it introduces many of the themes and issues that would occupy Campbell throughout his career: the ambivalent identity of the subject, the investigation of sexuality and gender, the glamorous public persona.

We see Campbell-head-and-shoulders in a stark white studio. He introduces himself as Art Star, a famous artist living in Sackville (a small university town in Atlantic Canada), and he is responding to questions (unheard by the audience) of an invisible interviewer. He describes his fabulous lifestyle: tuna casserole with the university president, his own parking spot on campus, friendships with other famous people. He is elegance and composure personified. As a "talking head" Campbell plays with the conventions of television fame, and his unclothed shoulders imply he is revealing all to the probing camera eye: all truth, nothing to hide.

Of course, Sackville was hardly an art centre, and video was hardly an entry to art stardom at the time. Yet Campbell's engaging performance perfectly encapsulates the reality of Canada's art world. In 1972, artists created in isolation, while desiring connection with the entire world. As Bruce W. Ferguson notes, "Sackville, I'm Yours... shows clearly how Campbell has been able to continue to work from outside the dualistic model of modernist painting's forms; from outside the Canadian debate on national identity; from within the debates on gendered subjectivity and politics; from within the distresses of a masculinist culture; from outside the ideological and technological determinations of dominant cultures." (Ferguson 22) As an opening salvo to a long career, Sackville, I'm Yours... set the terms.

Hollywood and Vine (1977)
Distributed by Vtape.

Hollywood and Vine is the final tape in a six-part series, The Woman from Malibu, which marked Campbell's shift from solo performances and improvised text to the fully scripted mode characteristic of his subsequent work. The piece was in part a response to life in southern California, with its strange inhabitants and bizarre realities. The Woman from Malibu was inspired by actual news items, but the character soon took on a life of her own. As Campbell says in an interview with Sue Ditta, "I ended up playing the Woman from Malibu sort of by accident. I didn't know anyone in California, I had no money-it just seemed like a natural to play her. [...] I became quite involved with her. That's why I didn't try to separate her from me in terms of appearance and certainly not in terms of voice." (Ditta 40)

As the piece opens we see Campbell sitting by a TV screen as he becomes the Woman from Malibu with her mascara and earrings, her blond wig and sunglasses. She talks about recent events and her desires for the future, then-ready-she walks out into the desert, alone, searching for pony skeletons, and disappears into the distance. As critic Stuart Marshall has written of this work, "I was unsettled and disturbed; but this play with my emotions, this movement, this shift from the secure place I expected to occupy as a viewing subject was accompanied by a thrill, a sense that the world of representation was being broken up to allow new possibilities to be glimpsed-the possibilities of other dramas, other fictions, other realisms, other subjectivities." (Marshall 24)

About Colin Campbell

In a career spanning thirty years, Colin Campbell was at the forefront of artists' video, continuing throughout to invent a unique and personal form and content for the medium. Trained originally as a sculptor, he responded early to video's invitation to performance, to its ease with sharing secrets, its permission to see oneself from the outside, as an "other." His earliest works investigated the formal properties of camera and screen, and the nature of the gaze, but moved quickly to incorporate windows, mirrors, and new identities as iconic frames for desire and revelation. With his inspired series, The Woman from Malibu (1977), he developed fully crafted scripts for his productions. With Modern Love (1979) and Bad Girls (1980), he worked with numerous friends from the local Toronto arts community for weekly installments at The Cabana Room, a bar made hugely popular in the resulting art scene. Narrative had become his form, as identity and the body had been his point of departure.

Campbell's performance in the hour-long Dangling By Their Mouths (1981) was more ambitious again-creating Anna, a more complex and nuanced character-and with No Voice Over (1986), he turned to international-location shooting while retaining his reliance on gifted amateur acting and improvised sets. In this period Campbell appeared less often onscreen. In the following decade he created Skin (1989), a 16 mm film concerning women and AIDS, and turned to writing novels. His return to performance and the small screen, with Déjà Vu of 1999, was a tour de force, with Campbell recalling not only The Woman from Malibu and Robin (from Bad Girls and Modern Love) but also creating and playing Colleena, their older sister, in "a tape about the anxiety of aging coupled with unsettling revelations from the past...." (Vtape online catalogue). Déjà Vu led to other titles featuring these characters, and the brief, hilarious series culminated in Disheveled Destiny of 2000, a Canadian government Millennium commission through Owens Art Gallery (Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick).

Born in Reston, Manitoba, 1942, Colin Campbell studied at the University of Manitoba (BFA) and Claremont Graduate School in California (MFA), then taught at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, in the late 1960s and early 1970s where he made his first video works. He moved to Toronto in 1973 and taught first at the Ontario College of Art, now the Ontario College of Art and Design, and then, beginning in 1980, in the Department of Fine Art at University of Toronto. Campbell died of cancer in October 2001 and is greatly mourned by friends and colleagues.

Canada's premier video artist and author of over fifty video titles, Campbell was active in the artist-run centre movement in Canada, a founding member (and for many years president) of Vtape independent video distribution. He curated video and performance programs in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Rio de Janeiro, and published texts in FILE and Fuse magazines. He also produced the artist's books The Woman from Malibu (1978) and Modern Love (1979) commissioned by Art Metropole, Toronto. A retrospective exhibition, Colin Campbell, Media Works 1972-1990, was mounted by curator Bruce W. Ferguson for the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1990 and toured nationally the following year. Campbell received the Bell Canada Award in Video Art in 1996.

Colin Campbell represented Canada at the Venice Biennale in 1980 and at biennial exhibitions in São Paulo in 1977 and Istanbul in 1992, as well as at OKanada in Berlin (Akademie der Künste, 1982) and documenta in Kassel, Germany in 1977. He exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada, the Musée National d'Art Moderne (Paris), the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum (New York), and at museums and galleries elsewhere in Europe and throughout Canada and the United States. His video and film were included in the television series Ghosts in the Machine (Channel Four Television, London) and Video Art Vidéo (TVOntario) and aired on Vision Television (Toronto). His work has been screened at the Melbourne Film Festival, British Film Institute Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, the Festival of Festivals (the precursor to Toronto's International Film Festival), the Chicago International Film Festival, and elsewhere. A memorial conference on his work is planned by the University of Toronto, with an accompanying comprehensive publication.

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