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Jim Campbell’s “Moving Average #3 (Hitchcock’s North by Northwest)” is featured in the artist’s latest exhibition at Hosfelt Gallery through…

By Max Blue

Special to The Examiner

If you live in San Francisco, you’ve seen at least one artwork by Jim Campbell: The ongoing, public installation “Day for Night” at the top of Salesforce Tower. The 360-degree display usually shows footage of water, clouds and dancing silhouettes — all staples in Campbell’s oeuvre.

“Wandering,” the artist’s latest exhibition at Hosfelt Gallery, includes many of these familiar visual themes within a range of new and old video sculptures, but also finds him charting new artistic territory with more traditional video works.

The best of Campbell’s recent video sculptures, “Drift,” 2022, almost has the appearance of a charcoal drawing. A grid of LEDs illuminates a pane of frosted glass from behind, casting an iridescent, unfocused image on the hazy screen. It’s so diffuse, it’s difficult to make out what the footage shows (a rowboat moving downstream). Once you put it together the dreamy visual feels like looking at a memory.

This sensation is heightened by the fact that Campbell’s artworks happen partially in the viewer’s brain: Stop the video at any given moment and it’s too blurry to make out. Motion is essential for the brain to perform its deduction. It’s hard to tell, when looking at “Drift” or other similar pieces, how much legibility is being provided for you and how much of what you see is your brain filling in the gaps.

“Scattered Light Prototype,” 2009, is the most sculptural piece on view and one of the most immediately legible. LED lights hang in a three-dimensional grid, the footage showing a crowd of milling bodies. The piece, which was made as a prototype for larger versions at Grand Central Station and SFMOMA, achieves an uncanny, mirage-like dimensionality. There’s something almost atomic about it, too, the small light bulbs like a cloud of exploded particles. Even when you can see clearly how the trick is done — the piece is little more than exposed circuitry — it doesn’t lose its magic.

Campbell executes on this very idea in three newer video pieces included in the show, performing autopsies on classic films. A Fellini and two Hitchcocks are spliced into segments that are layered on top of each other at equal opacity, creating viewing experiences in which one is literally watching the entire movie at once. Fellini’s “8½” is about a movie within a movie — and here, Campbell multiplies it again. But Hitchcock feels like a particularly appropriate subject for this exercise because his films, like Campbell’s artworks, are cerebral; they both happen in the mind.

Part of the appeal of “Wandering” is its low-tech charm — Campbell accomplishes so much with very little and allows the viewer’s brain to do the rest. He gets in your head in a way that even the most high-tech “Immersive” exhibitions fail to do.

Campbell’s work is all about turning your viewing experience back onto you by making you hyper aware of your perception. This is something other, recent trends in digital art seem to be forgetting: That the viewer plays an integral role as a participant in the making of the artwork. Even art less cerebral than Campbell’s doesn’t just happen in front of the viewer, but through their experience of relating to it.