Renowned Visual Artist Lights Up The Collective Agreement
by Caroline Dickie
October 12, 2022
Close up of Jim Campbell's installation Scattered Light.
Jim Campbell’s work in the field of electronic visual art may sound esoteric, but his mesmerizing light sculptures are in fact widely known and represented in the world’s major museums, public spaces and on stage. In Alonzo King’s 2018 ballet The Collective Agreement, which The National Ballet of Canada performs this November, Campbell’s light installation works in tandem with the ballet’s aesthetic and themes, providing illumination both in the literal sense and as a source of ideas.
Movement is a constant component of Campbell’s art, achieved through programmed patterns of light, projected images or film. Born in Chicago, Campbell graduated from MIT with degrees in Electrical Engineering and Mathematics and worked for many years in Silicon Valley designing television chips. As an artist, however, he prefers energy-efficient, low-resolution technology for its soft edges and enigmatic quality.
Often Campbell’s art engages directly with day-to-day life. For instance, anyone in the vicinity of San Francisco’s 1,070-foot Salesforce Tower may experience or even appear in Campbell’s 2018 installation Day for Night, which encases the top six floors of the Tower with 11,000 LED lights displaying moving imagery. Cameras placed in and around San Francisco capture footage each day that is played back at night, generating an ever-changing picture of city life. Campbell also incorporates pre-recorded footage and has even featured the dancers of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. Day for Night has been called the tallest artwork on earth.
Campbell’s first collaboration with LINES Ballet was King’s 2012 work Constellation, for which he created programmed strands of LED lights for the dancers to touch and engage with. There is a kinetic, interactive quality to Campbell’s installation for The Collective Agreement, too, with three suspended grids of LED lights moving slowly above the stage. The ballet’s lone and dramatic set piece, it is an artwork within an artwork and it informs the dance below.
“One of the first things we see in The Collective Agreement is the dancers observing the light,” says King. “That’s telling us that we are also beings of light. Modern science confirms this. The body is an electromagnetic wave. It can give and receive energy. Jim brings a brilliant perspective to this idea.”
Campbell’s 2010 work Scattered Light, a temporary 3-D installation for Madison Square Park Conservancy in New York, consisted of a cinematic field of hanging lights flickering with shapes of pedestrians. Both in its accessibility as public art and its visual connection to life in the city, Scattered Light is an example of Campbell’s ability to tether something incredibly specialized and technical to our lived experiences as human beings in a way that is unexpectedly poetic. Alonzo King shares this talent, a hugely innovative choreographer who has made the idea of community essential to his art, as it is to The Collective Agreement, which elevates the collective experience above the insularity of the self.
Alonzo King talks about his inspiration for The Collective Agreement. Read more
The Collective Agreement is onstage November 9 — 13. Learn more