Critics’ Picks

Duncan Campbell, It for Others, 2013, single channel video, 54 minutes.


Duncan Campbell

WIELS Contemporary Art Centre
Avenue Van Volxemlaan 354
January 26–March 26

Irish by birth but Scottish by choice, Duncan Campbell investigates reality with the help of popular contemporary strategies, using found footage, archival material, and original video. In 2014, he won the prestigious Turner Prize, when Dirk Snauwaert, curator of this show—Campbell’s first major solo presentation in Belgium—was a member of the jury. The current exhibition at Wiels, straightforward and well balanced, features three film pieces.

It for Others, 2013—originally created for the Scottish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale—sits at the heart of the show. Inspired by the film Les statues meurent aussi (Statues Also Die), 1953, by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais, which explores African art traditions, Campbell reflects on the intrinsic value of objects and their simulacra. Meanwhile, Bernadette, 2008, features as its protagonist Bernadette Devlin, a prominent figure in Northern Ireland’s early struggles against England. The work is a highly original portrait that samples and recomposes preexisting material. Its lingering shots, desynchronized sound, and repetitions suggest psychological nuances hidden just beyond the film’s imagery. The work culminates with the depiction of a group of posters that unite slogans and views from the conflict’s early moments.

The installation concludes with an environmental projection, o Joan, no . . ., 2006, an abstract film in which flashing cones of light and geometric forms suddenly begin to suggest a sort of Morse code. The work illuminates viewers, removing them from the surrounding shadows but ultimately leaving them to wait, Godot-like, for something to happen. Tackling complex themes without ever resorting to the banal, Campbell develops new possibilities for the documentary. He creates stories that are plausible but that never quite adhere to reality, continually calling the value of truth into question.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.