Kati Campbell

Kati Campbell was born in February of 1954 in Brockville, Ontario. She graduated from Simon Fraser University in 1984 with a major in Interdisciplinary Studies and a minor in Visual Arts. In 1984-85, Campbell founded and directed the (N)on Commercial Gallery in Vancouver, BC.


  • Built To Code

    June 19–July 31, 1998

    Customized Island (three motile versions towards a train-of-thought, including a prototype for utopian upholstery)

    (We are only as crafty as the secrets we keep.)

    I think Proust would be amused at the idea that your own work should seem like an interesting game about other people, rather than something terrifyingly banal about the self.

    Nature hides: Heraclitus said it 2700 years ago (it was an oral culture then). You have to have a sense of humour if you’re going to go after the unconscious. Now we might add that it is also nomadic, it takes its baggage with it, plus it squirrels away things in different places, it makes memory devices of the visceral, it has its own time clock and keeps its own anniversaries, itâs capable of endless displacement, and it practically invented economics.

    The Titans are the prime residents of the unconscious, whose forms have nothing resolute about them, so that there is constant drama in trying to distinguish these figures from the ground they’re made of. (We tend to think of the relation between figure and ground in adversarial terms, of the ground as something against which we see figures. Tsk, tsk, say the Titans. A tisket, a tasket.)

    —Kati Campbell, 1998

    Thanks to: Susan Edelstein, Warren Murfitt, Robert McNealy, and Irma McInnis.

    REMOTELY IN TOUCH explores images created by remote digital signals sent via satellite or robotic camera found on the internet or from other sources. I have chosen this process of imaging as a framework for my curiosity into how digital visualization, and its attendant technologies, alter our codes of signification. By this I include questions of how these digitized, visualized and informational processes alter the way we perceive the world, the way we perceive ourselves and the act of perception in general. Within perception we learn to move in the world. Perception and movement evolve in a symbiotic interplay, where skills are gained and skills are lost, many times without our choice or knowledge.

    Juxtaposed with these digital images are analog video images that encapsulate a “visceral moment” or an “embodied movement”. By contrasting the binary of digital/information and analog/body,

    I intend to challenge my investigation to raise issues of what is ‘real’? what is ‘body’? how is ‘representation’ inadequate? what is constructed or ‘science fiction’? what are the implications of “pattern” over “presence”, “randomness” over “absence” within information systems.

    I have included images of my blood cells ‘captured’ by an electronic microscope; NASA’s Pathfinder mission to Mars; ultrasound imaging; an underwater volcano; exploratory surgery using a robotic camera; wing chun martial arts, the Human Genome Project and satellite imagery of the earth’s surface. The audio also continues my exploration within digital, musical and narrative possibilities.

    The process of making this first videowork has shown me the strengths and weaknesses of the medium. By choosing images sent by satellite or robotic camera, particularly those from the internet, I found myself embracing the low-resolution, highly pixelated quality of the digital and of video media in general. During this installation study, for the purpose of particularly focusing on issues concerning ‘duration’ and ‘real time’, these analog, magnetic tapes will not be replaced as they degrade with drop-out caused from repeated over play. Thus, near the end of this exhibition, the images on these video loops may possibly not be as clear nor as recognizable as during opening night. The tapes will only be replaced if they break or get tangled in the machine.

    For more notes on REMOTELY IN TOUCH please ask for the folder in the office.

    —Laiwan, 1998

    Thanks to: Wendy Oberlander Susan Edelstein E. Centime Zeleke Jennifer Abbott Warren Arcan Michelle Frey Winston Xin John Fukushima Steve Chow Louie Ettling Chris Welsby Donna Zapf Ellie Epp Roberto Ruiz and the world wide web SFU, School for Contemporary Arts Artspeak Gallery Grunt Gallery Semperviva (blood imaging) my family Video In the Canada Council for past and present BC Arts Council support and resources.

    “The analytical engine weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.” (A. A. L. (Ada Lovelace))

    This quote initiated my interest in the connection between Jacquard weaving and the beginnings of the computer in the mid 19th century. It also provided an excellent forum for reinvesting patterning, composed of flowers and leaves with new meaning, interwoven between language, imagery and pattern.

    Ada Lovelace/Byron was educated in mathematics and collaborated with Charles Babbage, who invented the Analytical Engine in 1843. Ada translated a text about the Analytical Engine by Manabrea and her notes took up more space than the original text. This engine never really worked, but it contained the operating principles of the computer. The process was derived from the Jacquard loom which uses punched cards to store and process information. The Jacquard loom was developed to produce elaborately patterned weavings with representational imagery, based on fabrics brought back to Europe from Asia during the 18th century.

    Donna Haraway’s notion of the ‘Cyborg’ bridges opposites against a simplistic reading of divisions between nature/culture and many other categories. By embracing seemingly contradictory concepts, possiblities open up for new dialogues in well established territories, in this case computer technology, the hand-made, domestic and functional design, women’s work etc. Lastly, weaving often uses complex equipment and requires an efficiency of movements, which causes the weaver to become an integrated part of the process and blurring the boundaries between human and machine—a Cyborg is born.

    “We are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short we are cyborg”. “The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centers structuring any possible historical transformation”. “This is an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction”. “Nature and culture are reworked; the one can no longer be the resource for appropriation or incorporation by the other”. “The cyborg would not recognize the garden of Eden: it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust”. “Cyborg are not reverent; they do not remember the cosmos”. “The main trouble with Cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential”. “The cyborg myth subverts myriad organic wholes, in short, the certainty of what counts as nature—as a source of insight and promise of innocence—is undermined, probably fatally”. “Cyborgs are floating signifiers moving in pick up trucks across Europe”. (Donna Haraway from ‘Cyborg Manifesto’)

    I have long been interested in myths about weavings of the past and the future. Ada died of cancer at 32 and was ill most of her life, she might enjoy her new seat and virtual life in order to take the tradition of the Fates into the future and create a new mythology composed of cyborgs, weavers and computers.

    Cyborg women weave translucent thought into sturdy cloth and with Arachne still defy the gods. The Fates still weave with Ada’s help on ancient looms and computers. Nature weaves a digital dream into the text and Philomela has her own web page now.

    —Ruth Scheuing, 1998

    Thanks to: Susan Edelstein for her interest in pushing these ideas forward; to Marianne Danylchuck for her professional upholstery of the chair; to Louise Bérubé at the Centre des Métiers d’Art en Construction Textile in Montréal for help with computer and the Jacquard loom and to the Canada Council for Financial Support.

    Sources: Sadie Plant in ‘Clicking-In’ and ‘Zeros and Ones’; Donna Haraway in ‘Cyborg Manifesto’

    Titles: Flowers and Leaves #1: Ada: Enchantress of Numbers – Queen of the Engines upholstered chair with computer assisted handwoven Jacquard cotton fabric,

    Flowers and Leaves #2: Cyborg women weave translucent thought…. computer assisted handwoven Jacquard cotton fabric

    Flowers and leaves #3: The Fates still weave…. computer assisted handwoven Jacquard cotton fabric

    Web links: Ada Lovelace Site listing several webpages on Ada Lovelace:

    Ruth’s web page entitled: ‘to weave a virtual web: textiles as metaphor’ (creates a context for Ada, the Fates and Philolema and etc. mentioned in my text)

  • Under The Skin

    June 13–July 26, 1997

    At the beginning of no words, one of the artists delivers a small package. The box says “Airwalk” on it and I’m pumped to receive what’s inside: a scroll of thin white cotton wrapped with a purple ribbon. Unfurled, four ghostly messages appear one after the other, each one embroidered white on white:

    She sways. Muscles tensed in delirious anticipation. her Vision blurs as she begins to shake in rapturous spasms. The smooth moist surface brushes against her swollen red lips. Creases form where her sweat and the force of her movements converge.
    Pretty transformative stuff [1] wonders what it all might lead to.

    The first two lines might describe my “feminate” excitement as I open the package. Mere slips of material, delicately presented, are usually guaranteed a kindly reception [2] like examining the layette of an expected child.

    Kathy Slade’s gift, artist to artist/writer to writer, is an hors dâoeuvre, presage of things to come. In the gallery, it’s curtains. Whitework: She sways moves exponentially across the entire front of the gallery, embroidered both street and room sides, with a palest lilac interslip of some clever faux silk charmeuse, lending its characteristic cast to the hand. The messages silently repeat themselves, over and over, whispering white on white. Veiling the gallery with language, the verbs in the lines animate the curtains like impulses, echoes: readers and curtains alike sway in the comings and goings. The entrance is nestled into the centre the curtain, where the voluminous folds are clasped back to allow your passage. Someone can’t help herself, and brushes her skin against the fabric. The material drifts onto the floor and lies in waves and crests, so that unless you pay a tension, creases might form where you step, hardening the curves, your passing dirtying the virginal folds. Movements blur, your vision of the outside fades. In soft, urban daylight, the lilac interlining provides a subtlest colour bath to the inside of the gallery.

    At the opposite end of the gallery is a giant Fall, a vertical river of hair photo screened in blue ink on sumptuous red velvet. If the curtains enunciate an historical drift (the writings of female medieval mystics secularized into the macabre of gothic tales, then the final full-blown, serialized traceries of Harlequin romances)[3], this Fall is complete, the implicit swoon gone wild, and the wild woman of surrealism resurgent. That is, she is updated and self-authored, a tousled parody of the Lacanian woman who brims with speech but canât be held by language. She struts right up to the surface of representation, re-configuring Rauol Ubac’s Portrait in a Mirror (1938). Without the solipsism of speechless narcissism, of vanity, there is no masochistic (that is, internalized) sacrifice to representation; instead, what is produced is an uncanny reversal of spectation. Presumably staring right at us, this she (so presently absent) gives no chance for the visitorâs peeping tom-like, scopophilic return. Rendered in good humor, the high-Gothics of the velvet drape, drippingly crimson.

    Since there is nothing natural about the accomplishment of femininity (maintained chiefly through masquerade) the slippage from human hair to the nap of velvet, from hand embroidery to the accelerated industriousness of the machine makes good commentary about the normative divisions between nature and artifice, about how the law functions to produce order at the cost of “nature’s wildness”. Fredric Jameson interprets the postmodern as that moment when capitalism penetrates into the unconscious and nature. What nature has been, and what allowances might be made for it in the future concerns, first of all, the possibilities for interpretation.

    Reading over the lines of Slade’s text, she sways… muscles tensed in delirious anticipation… vision blurs as she begins to shake in rapturous spasms… where her sweat and the force of her movements converge + I have a diabolical suggestion. Suppose we could overhear the cellular chatter of parthenogenesis and gene-trading bacterial omnisexuality,[4] could this be how those transmutating Geronimos describe themselves??

    Warren Murfitt’s Signature is a giant thumb print÷sign of the primate ö married to the subdermal print of a tree. In a collusion of science, fiction and nature, the skin of the tree is scaled 10:1 and flagrantly purple, looking sultry and elegant in the precise way of nature (because it is for itself, and not for us). The thumb print, with enough liquid slippage in its articulation to sign bloodied, is even more deliciously overblown, so that we sink into its phenomenal over-mediation. We recognize it, of course, as the indexical pop culture sign for the war between good and evil (the prime-time narratives of cops and criminals): it’s an old fashioned icon. Visible traceable without the criminal’s permission, it prevails as the cruder, hardier and much more serviceable sign of the telltale trace than that of the high-tech subcutanean DNA. Nostalgia for the recognizable is a main ingredient of the iconic.[5]

    Given the immense transformations in techniques of knowledge since the collapse of the mechanical model of explanation in the nineteenth century, fiction seems an increasingly appropriate method of commentary—if only because, in the hands of artists, it offers itself as a concrete symptom. Slade and Murfitt seem to press up against two routines favoured by the Enlightenment: that of standardization, which is designed to simplify basic models and spare parts, to unify standards of measurements and quality, and Kant’s striking of extreme categories to distinguish between things—for instance human or animal, organic or technical. It is but a small step from these to make rigid divisions between the mythic and political, or the phenomenal and textual.[6] If Slade uses words to form a text which seems at first to float, unlocatable in time, but in fact contains a history of the prefab feminine utterance,[7] Murfitt’s Signature fudges the line between science and fiction in order to show up the normal status quo capabilities of representation (that is, the I am real aspects of representation). Whatever histories of avant-garde logic are involved in the contemporary artistâs substitution of mechanical for handworked processes, The wistfulness of the thumb print and the flayed tree print, the faked hand-writing/hand-embroidery, still register as romantic gestures.

    In the art world, the subject’s unique mark is not only a guarantee of authenticity, it establishes value. We presume, given the title “Signature”, that the thumb print is the artist’s own inimitable mark, but there is no way for the viewer to determine if it is in fact Murfitt’s print (sic). Even if the proffered authenticity could be ascertained, the case is moot—it’s a photographic rendition. The signature is no more unique in this case than Slade’s feminine utterances. Nevertheless, the ability to render remains the means of establishing—if not value in the usual artistic sense—at least pedigree, since it is “tool use” which supposedly separates us from animals.

    To “make one’s mark” on such a scale is a grandiose assertion. If it’s meant to function as a kind of I was here, the gesture is synthetic, the authentic possibility becoming another version of mass produced sentiment (and involving something upon which capitalism depends: the illusion that uniqueness can be bought). The thumb print’s unverifiable origin makes the artist’s mark generic; more sinisterly, it could be the mark of a murderer as easily as Murfitt’s. Beyond conflating the genres of portraiture and landscape (in landscape tradition, the tree is a stand-in for the lone [male] individual), this kind of skin-to-skin coupling really messes around with heroics.

    Take Me is a large cube made of plywood, three feet square, its surface dyed psychedelic purple. One hundred and fifty handles cover the surface of the cube on all sides. Ostensibly, they serve as visual invitations, “easy access” to picking up the minimalist cube, but—red and soft and rounded off—they remind me of blood worms. Hand-carved by the artist, they are also copies, patterned off the handgrip on a concrete floating tool. This mimetic relation between the individual and the industrial production line seems absurd until you consider whether first or third world workers produced the “original” template; if the latter, then they’re probably hand-finished anyway. The object seems downright silly: here’s the quintessential minimalist object not proclaiming HANDLE WITH CARE. Puffed up like a blow fish or like bristles on a brush, its very non-theoretical handles do a fine job of protecting the central core, of making a display of minimalism and excess, of blowing the wad (The Handle) on minimalism, of lampooning lost innocence (take me!). Some kind of preciousness has become impure, gone over to the other side.

    Depending on whether your organizational impulse is to identify with interiors or exteriors, Murfitt’s minimalist cube seems impregnated, or contaminated all over with the “bloody handles”; it’s a kind of jockey, flogged dead horse. And yet the cube is imperious. It forces out from itself what comes from within. The consummate sign of readiness (“getting a handle”) becomes superfluous in numbers—abject failures rather than triumphant borers. Does the conscious register ever really get a handle on the unconscious, or is material practice its brute cousin?

    Skin, hair, blood—these stubbornly fragile parts of the body mark the seductive, at times dangerously abject boundaries between one body and that of an other. Both Slaenoncede essential aspects of representation and subjectivity forcefully into play: screen prints and thumb prints; the displaced enonce of the printed word and the phenomenal magic of the photographic print, where the one echoes the other to hover in the interstices between light and shadow; machine embroidery (the marriage of speech and hand, gone tertiary, gone anonymous) and the elemental print of a tree (the flat out, reified aesthetic mutation of something shadowed byomniscient industrial uses, and hence made newly, nostalgically precious); methods of industry, both personal and social, and their ideological imports. The print is a reliquary, pure and never simple.

    —Kati Campbell, 1997


    1 stuff: raw material or fabric; to fill (an animal’s skin) with material so as to restore the shape of the live animal; to have sexual intercourse with (a woman). Collins English Dictionary.

    (return to essay)

    2 except maybe when peevish with one’s period.

    3 Slade co-wrote the text with Cate Rimmer. The reader is most likely to connect the writing style with that of romance novels typified by Harlequin Publishing, where sex is banned and innuendo is all. But I want to draw the reader’s attention to how much such prose has been cleaned up from a much older form of feminine ecriture. Caroline Walker Bynum, in “The Female Body and Religious Practice in the Later Middle Ages” relates that medieval women regularly spoke of, “tasting God, of kissing Him deeply, of going into His heart or entrails, of being covered by His blood. Their descriptions…blur the line between spiritual or psychological, on the one hand, and bodily or even sexual, on the other. Lidwina of Schiedam and Gertrude of Delft, for example, felt such maternal desire for the Christ child that milk flowed from their breasts…The thirteenth-century poet and mystic Hadewijch spoke of Christ penetrating her until she lost herself in the ecstasy of love.” Bynum, in ed. M. Feher with Ramona Naddaff and Nadia Tazi, Fragments for a History of the Human Body, Part One (New York:Urzone,1989), p. 168.

    4 Omnisexuality is the oldest form of sex on the planet. While some insects and plants are capable of reproduction without fertilization, bacteria perform genetic exchanges without regard for species barriers. See Dorian Sagan, “Metametezoa: Biology and Multiplicity – eds. J. Crary and S. Kwinter, Incorporations(New York: Urzone, 1992), pp. 376-378.

    5 The nostalgic turn here is more insidious that you might expect, given that “[M]odern biology, informed by cellular ultra structure through electron microscopy and detailed knowledge of gene sequences, has supplemented or even negated the long-standing division between plant and animal kingdoms.” Sagan, op. cit., p. 362.

    6 Bruno Latour argues that, “Kant’s Critique, which set off at extreme poles Things-in-Themselves from the Transcendental Ego, is what made us believe ourselves to be ‘modem’,” effectively (re)structuring, the political Constitution of Truth. What Latour calls “modern” is a separation of the object and subject poles, “the complete separation of the representation of things—science and technology—from there presentation of humans—politics and justice.” (I would note that Latour’s outlay of representational modes does not include art.) See Donna Haraway, “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropriate/d Others,” eds. L. Grossberg, C. Nelson and P. Treichler, Cultural Studies (London: Routledge, 1992), pp. 329-30. Haraway herself describes postmodern cyborgs as being provocative compounds of the organic, technical, mythic, textual and political. See “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century (1985),” reprinted in Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. The Reinvention of Nature (London: Free Association Books, 1991).

    7 That the female mystic kept faith with bodily experience, and hence bodily metaphor during the medieval period, is not accounted for simply by stating that the speech acts of women did not otherwise register authoritatively.. Bynum’s reminder, that “we must not forget the educational context,” concerns womenâs practice, of course, whatever period of activity is being considered. Medieval women, “usually wrote… in the vernaculars—that is, in the languages they grew up speaking. The major literary genres available in these languages were various kinds of love poetry and romantic stories… [which used] a vocabulary of feelings.” “[W]omen’s works, especially their accounts of visions, were often dictated (that is, spoken) rather than penned;” exhibiting traits, “characteristic of oral thought and expression,” the prose “tends to circle around its point, evoking a state of being.” (172) “[M]en write of the mystical experience, giving a general description which may be used as a theory or yardstick, whereas women write of ‘my’ mystical experience speaking directly of something that may have occurred to them alone. This is true even when, as in the case of Hildegard of Bingen or Julian of Norwich, a highly sophisticated theology is elaborated over many years as a gloss on visionary experiences.” Bynum, op. cit., p. 168.1 10


  • Under The Skin

    Under front
    Under back

    Title: Under The Skin
    Category: Exhibition Catalogue
    Artist: Warren Murfitt, Kathy Slade
    Writers: Kati Campbell
    Editor: Susan Edelstein
    Design: Roberta Batchelor
    Publisher: Artspeak
    Printer: Electric Zoo
    Year published: 1997
    Pages: 11pp
    Cover: Paper
    Binding: Staple Bound
    Process: Offset
    Features: 5 b&w images, 2 colour images
    Dimensions: 22 x 18 x 0.3 cm
    Weight: 45 g
    ISBN: 0-921394-27-7
    Price: $4 CDN

    Campbell’s essay investigates the work of Murfitt and Slade, identifying aspects of the body through signifiers of sexuality, femininity, and the architectural impact of sculpture.

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