Critics’ Picks

Optical Sockets 1973, closed-circuit-video installation. Installation view.


Peter Campus

8 Hester Road
March 6–April 25

With only a few cameras, monitors, projectors, and the willingness of the viewer to participate, Peter Campus created pioneering works of video art that played a significant role in establishing the medium as a three-dimensional art form. Today, with quickly progressing digital technologies and the possibilities of image manipulation, video may no longer be at the heart of the ongoing process of transforming the arts. But as this exhibition of ten video works by Campus shows, it is often simple technology and creative ideas that can produce the most compelling results. Like the Houdini of video art, Campus surprises the viewer with optical illusions and manipulated images by using what one would now regard as the most basic video equipment. But unlike the great magician, the artist remains anonymous, letting the viewer take center stage and become part of his work.

An engagement with the psychology of the self is central to three early pieces that play on doubling, fragmentation, and visual identification. For the weirdly fascinating Optical Sockets, 1973, four closed-circuit video cameras are placed in the corners of a square transmitting live images of its center to four monitors on pedestals standing on each side. As viewers enter the square, the blank screens simultaneously show four partially overlapping images of their bodies from different perspectives. Similar strategies are used in Anamnesis, 1974, an installation in which one video feed of the viewer, taken by a closed-circuit camera, is split into two images onscreen, one unfolding in real-time, the other through a three-second-delay circuit. Each movement is first carried out by one screen persona while its ghostly twin remains static and then ultimately catches up.

The earliest work on view, Kiva, 1971, seems to refer to Lacan’s mirror stage. It consists of a static surveillance camera transmitting live video footage onto the monitor on which it sits. Two mirrors are hung in front of the camera: One, with a hole cut in the middle, is placed closest to the lens, while a smaller one hangs in front of it with enough space between them to allow them to rotate. Depending on the position of the mirrors, the viewer standing in front of the installation can observe either his or her own distorted image or reflections of the gallery.

With their clever inventiveness and quirky ’70s retro charm, these works could outshine many state-of-the-art contemporary multimedia installations. And ironically, this is what they do in relation to Campus’s own recent video landscapes. Displayed on flat-screen color monitors, the images of seascapes and ships in the harbor, shot with stationary cameras, seem conventional and perhaps just a bit too simplistic.