Joyce Campbell’s current show at Two Rooms gallery consists of a body of work produced in the late 1990s. Having inoculated a series of sterilised agar plates with strains of bacteria (Bacillus subtilis) or wild fungi, Campbell then proceeded to make photograms by making irect contact between the plate and a sheet of cibachrome paper placed beneath an enlarger. The comp0sitional structure of each of print is the direct result of the placement of the spores and their subsequent patterns of growth with Campbell exercising various degrees of control. Some saw Campbell randomly wave a spore-covered tool over the prepared agar, others resulted from the careful placement of the tool on pre-considered areas, and several were achieved by using a scalpel to piece specific sections.
On the nature of the project and the specific choice of bacterial strain, Campbell elaborates: “my favourite micro-organism is Bacillus subtilis, a ubiquitous soil borne bacteria, distinctive because it forms coherent colonies built from chains of individual cells. A unique saw-like tail causes the migrating cells to twist in a single direction, forming elaborate, fern-like scrolls. In my attempts to depict the undepictable – organic form in the process of emergence – I have abandoned camera photography in favour of photograms.” Indeed, one of the many delights of these works is the fact that they are wholly unique and irreplaceable. None of the works can be recreated or replicated since there are no negatives. Furthermore, cibachrome is no longer available in New Zealand, and the potential for making a positive colour photogram is now extremely limited, if not impossible. This degree of rarity heightens the allure of the images, which are already visually compelling. Pencil-thin lines edge their way across a ground textured with a misty patina and dotted with smoky bubbles and curls. Each work has a pronounced delicacy and finesse, with the serpentine forms and monochromatic palette giving a vintage ambiance while blurring the borders between microbiology and art.
A multidisciplinary artist working in photography, installation, sculpture, and time-base media, Joyce Campbell holds a Masters Degree in Fine Arts with a theoretical dissertation from the University of Auckland Elam School of Fine Arts, graduating in 1999. Campbell’s first solo show was in 1993 and she has subsequently generated a wide exhibition history throughout New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. In 2007 Campbell was included in the Incheon International Women Artists Biennale, Korea, while in 1999 she was selected for the Asia Pacific Triennial, and she has been chosen twice for the Sydney Biennale – in both 1998 and 2016. For this year’s biennale, Campbell’s video work Flightdream – a High Definition 25 -minute looped video was screened at the Art gallery of cockatoo Island and twelve photographs from her Te Taniwha series were exhibited at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The photographic works are now showing at the Māngere Arts Centre Ngā Tohu o Uenuku and a selection of pieces from the biennale will be exhibited at Christchurch Art Gallery at the end of August. Significantly, Campbell is also one of the four finalists for the 2016 Walters Prize, considered to be New Zealand’s most prestigious art award, being selected fro her video Flightdream.