TRANSGRESSIONS FROM THE WHITE CUBE
By Andrew Witt for WM Vancouver
As a city that is increasingly staking claim to its International art status, Vancouver has acquired an unquenchable thirst for alternatively young artistic talent. As photo conceptual practices grow old (as well as the artists themselves), audiences and the art market have now re-situated previously marginal practices to the critical forefront. One of these budding Vancouver art stars who is gaining favorable awareness amidst a thriving audience, is Arabella Campbell.
After her recent inclusion in the Vancouver Art Gallery's controversial Paint exhibition and her recognition by the local patron collective LOCATION - a group established for the acquisition of visual art for permanent collections – Campbell can now be seen in her first solo exhibition at Catriona Jeffries Gallery.
One of the definite highlights of this exhibition is her focus on the monochrome – an artistic practice which has not been popular in Vancouver since the 1960s.
Typically, monochromes are not images that require long visual promenades. In a short period of analysis, I would estimate around 5-10 seconds or less, we glance, visually recognize the uniformity of the color and then proceed to the next image. It is only during neurotic art historical circumstances that we supplant the monochromatic image with transcendental sentiments and religious associations – the type of associations which have established the oeuvres of Yves Klein and Agnes Martin. Only when the monochrome is camouflaged with words similarly used by clergymen (critics) and rectors (professors) are we enticed to prostrate before the image in absentminded adoration.
Thankfully, the monochromes in Arabella Campbell's first solo show are without the baggage of nouveau religious implications appropriate only on the streets of Vancouver's Commercial Drive. Instead, Campbell's monochromes contaminate the essential boundaries which clearly demarcate the autonomous art object from the institutional system which helps define it. One way through which Campbell upsets the idea of the autonomous art object is her practice of meticulously matching paint tones to gallery walls and other auxiliary materials. This practice puts into question the essential assumptions concerning the production of a painting and what determines the final painted product.
Placed flush against Jeffries' gallery walls Campbell 's abstractions, such as Untitled (3 whites) (2007) are visually undecidable. The images resist the traditional polarized meaning of EITHER/OR – questioning what determines the nature of a painting in relation to the gallery space, and vice versa. But what makes these monochromes more relevant is the dilemma they present for the dealer, the buyer, and Campbell herself. Untitled (3 whites) is a work specifically made for Jeffries' gallery. To sell this piece out of context would render them void of purpose. On a library wall, above a fireplace, in a different gallery, Campbell 's Untitled (3 whites) would lose sight of their situation. Her works function and thrive as they were intended. And similar to Duchamp's urinals, anywhere else besides the gallery space the viewer would be tempted to piss on it.
With that said, it should be noted that Campbell 's exhibition does not merely contain gallery-wall colored canvases. Like any true Vancouver opening, her show would not function without the presence photography and Kokanee. Her attempt with photography seems to unintentionally oscillate between a de-skilled, point-and-shoot style and an arduously composed, tripod assisted image. From a technical perspective, many of her images are oversaturated with cyan and at times sections of her photographs are involuntarily blurry.
But the focus should not be placed on technical aspects of her photographic work. The highlight of Campbell's first show is obviously in her monochromes, and it is in these very pieces where Campbell marks out her place in Vancouver's gallery scene. By exploring the indeterminacy of the autonomous art object, Campbell's questioning has serious implications far beyond the confines of Vancouver’s gallery walls.
Arabella Campbell's first solo show runs from the 8th of June – 7 th of July 2007 at the Catriona Jeffries Gallery 274 East 1st Ave. Vancouver
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Andrew Witt is an Art History student at University of British Columbia.