The Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI) stands adjacent to the Kaufman Studio Campus in Astoria, Queens. The colorful and large-scale graphics of the entryway set the stage for the drama of the lobby. The visitor is presented with a blank canvas upon which the fictional stories of the silver screen may unfold. The white floor bears little trace of the scuffmarks resulting from heavy foot traffic. The walls, which rise seamlessly and without a break in color, meet the equally vibrant ceiling 10 feet above. The bleached interior is peppered with stark furnishings that add to the pure absence of color. The space evokes the familiar drone of television’s white noise.
In stark contrast to the blinding whiteness of the MoMI lobby, Jim Campbell’s Last Day in the Beginning of March is an exploration, uncovering memories in the darkness. Through the surrounding blackness and from behind a muslin shroud, comes a nondescript humming both familiar and foreign. Reaching for a break in the mesh, we stumbled into a room the floor of which was covered with faded, pulsating spotlights. There must have been two dozen, each placed sporadically, none oscillating in unison. Moving through the space, feelings modulate between warmth and coldness, comfort and trepidation. The sensory experience is heightened with the discovery of a series of thermostat-sized boxes, equally spaced at eye level along the perimeter of the room. The static order of the walls stands in contrast to the seemingly erratic choreography of the lights.
Upon closer inspection, each reveals the correlation between the disparate elements of the installation and brings clarity to the concept. Each controller glows dimly with white LCD text; the word or phrase brings about a realization, transforming the objectivity of the light to abstraction, then order, as the correlation between the beat of the light’s pulse and of the image conjured become apparent.
The words ‘windshield wipers’ and ‘rain,’ illuminate their connections to the spotlights behind them, the first with a period of one pulse every other second, the latter, constant, but with varying intensity, creating a shimmering edge at the circle’s perimeter. A fleeting memory is conjured, of sitting in a car, windshield wipers running and rain pitter-pattering on the roof. At this point, it becomes evident that the initial hum, which draws visitors into the space, is in fact the sound of rain.
Your mind inserts the steady sound—‘back-and-forth’, ‘back-and-forth’—of windshield wipers, though all you see is the physical imprint of light waves.
There are a myriad of other examples: the word ‘radio’ reflects the rhythm of tuning into a station without ever being able to reach the frequency. The circle of light is constant though it flickers and fades. It becomes clear for a moment before losing focus. The image is so strong, one can hear the turning dial of an analog radio, stations passing as the knob moves across the spectrum.
Adding to the orchestra of peripheral sounds, ‘traffic light’ shines for a few seconds every minute or so. The layering of experiences evoked by each pair culminates with a remembrance of charged moments in time. These ties between light and image not only highlight our psychological connections with the sensory environment but also represent bookmarks in the artists mind.
Detailing the profound subtleties of the day his brother died (presumably in a car crash), the installation transcends the locality of the artist’s pain and reminds the viewer that some of the strongest links to our memories lie in the minutia of life.
This post was made possible in part by Chelsea Beroza, my partner in crime and writing.