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Jim Campbell’s “Quantizing Effects” fascinates and confuses

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Jim Campbell’s show at the Museum of Glass has me stumped. I don’t possess the kind of scientific brain it must take to fully understand or appreciate his message or methods. But I do find the work fascinating.

Campbell is an engineer, inventor and video artist. He worked on Francis Ford Coppola’s video-based film “One from the Heart” and holds dozens of patents on video imaging processes. His sculptural installations range from touch-sensitive computers to LED screens that display the bare number of pixels required for the human brain to make sense of an image. The show is called “Quantizing Effects: The Liminal Art of Jim Campbell.” I Googled “Quantizing Effects” and could not understand a word of what I read. The museum describes Liminal as “a sensory threshold, a place where observations are barely perceivable and often create a physiological or psychological response.”

Most of the images are rear projected onto Plexiglas sheets — moving images that go in and out of focus and change over time. Some are clearly discernable as streets, animals, cars, and people at rest and in motion. Others are so unfocused as to look like clouds of light. I found a certain amount of wonderment in watching them change and in seeing how different they look at various distances and from different angles.

There are six images along one wall that are called “Illuminated Averages.” Campbell describes an illuminated average as a moving picture “collapsed” into a single image by “taking all of the individual frames of the original moving picture and averaging them together with equal weight.”

Examples are: “Illuminated Average #1: Hitchcock’s Psycho,” an atmospheric cloud of soft but brilliant color, and “Dynamism of a Cyclist,” which can barely be made out as an arrested-motion picture of a man on a bicycle. These images look like high-tech Impressionism.

Slightly easier to comprehend are Campbell’s LED images. All of these are moving or changing pictures created with LED lights behind Plexiglas sheets. Automobiles can be seen driving down streets; people walk, run, sit down, stand up, and fall down. Portrait faces go in and out of focus. Two of the most interesting of these are “Library” and “Bus Stop.” “Bus Stop” is a photograph of a street with faded and worn letters of a sign painted on the pavement. Unlike the images in most of Campbell’s other works, the picture of the street is in sharp focus — but the people and cars moving about on the street are shadowy blurs. The same holds true for “Library,” in which shadowy ghost figures walk across the sharp focus picture of library steps.

A large installation called “Last Day in the Beginning of March, 2003” takes up the back of the gallery and is partitioned off from the rest of the gallery by a black mesh screen. Computerized lights hang from the ceiling. The lights are supposed to represent moments in the final day in the life of the artist’s brother. When I was there, all I could see were pools of light that faded in and out. I could not figure out how I was supposed to read a story into the installation.

However, I did find it interesting to stand outside and watch other museum visitors through the black mesh. Everyone who wandered into that area became a part of Campbell’s installation. They looked eerily similar to many of the moving images in his other pieces.

Other pieces that make absolutely no sense to me are “Untitled (for the Sun)” and “Involuntary Time.” They are digital clocks. One purportedly indicates the percentage of the day that has passed, and the other is supposed to represent a numerical and graphic map of the rhythm of the sun. I imagine there are computer geeks who may find them intriguing. To me, they are just numbers.

[Museum of Glass, “Quantizing Effects: The Liminal Art of Jim Campbell,” through June 3 Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m., Third Thursdays 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., 1801 Dock St., Tacoma, 253.284.4750,]

Read Alec’s new book of art reviews and essays, “As If Art Matters.”  For more information and online ordering, go to

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