If you know Newcastle you already know the work of Cath Campbell.
Escapology crowns the Northern Stage building, Detour at Four Lane Ends animates the façade of the multi-storey car park and, in collaboration with Miles Thurlow, she asks us to question the world around us with the work No No No No No, that graces five archways of the railway viaduct next to the Tyne Bridge.
Yes. That’s Cath Campbell.
A member of the Contemporary Art Society Campbell ‘makes sculpture, drawing and large scale architectural interventions, which attempt to reinvent our associations with the built environment.’
Her first solo exhibition Ideal Mexico has just opened at The Workplace Gallery in Gateshead. The gallery, housed in The Old Post Office, is a listed 19th Century red brick building with high ceilings and twisting staircases. Room after room is filled with Campbell’s work and the questions she poses about the ubiquity of the up market lifestyle offered to us by travel and lifestyle guides.
On the opening night of her exhibition Campbell explained why the creation of the delicate collages Hotel Series was the springboard for the exhibition:
“I was looking through travel guides of hotels in cities all across the world and I noticed that the same colour schemes had been used in the interior design of every one. It struck me as interesting – and slightly odd. That’s where it started …”
On first glance the collages look like tiny constellations of stars. Tilt your head and you can almost make out Orion’s Belt in one, The Plough in another. But the meaning of the series lies beneath its shapes. Each dot of colour is placed on white paper in the same layout as the original photograph and in each case Campbell has only selected one blue, one yellow, two browns, and a black. The titles of the works, The Skylofts, MGM, Las Vegas, 2012, Superior Room, Melrose Arch Hotel, Johannesburg, 2012, Suite 105, Art Hotel Corona D’oro, Bologna, 2012 hint at cities filled with exoticism and glamour and yet the places a visitor might stay in are essentially as uniform the world over as a fast food restaurant.
In stark contrast to these delicate collages Campbell has created a series of dramatically enlarged found images which have been UV printed onto powder coated aluminium; titled For I have known them all already, known them all # 1-6.
The images, which hang in the first room of the gallery, draw the eye like a series of giant Polaroid pictures, their crisp white borders like the edges of some giant glossy travel guide or magazine clarified and highlighted by the removal of the majority of each of the images. The colours that remain create abstract shapes and suggestions of form.
“Cutting away the photograph like that made the work more architectural. I know what was there – but someone seeing it now doesn’t know – although they might feel that the space is ‘familiar’. The size means that the pixels of the original image have been blurred and made more abstract. The light seems watery… and I was interested in that – in the painterly margin that was left behind.”
The work And we said nothing, all the day is displayed in the same room and takes its title from John Donne’s poem The Ecstasy. A series of high gloss photographs taken of photographs and stacked along a narrow shelf And we said nothing, all the day began life on Campbell’s dining room table:
“It’s about appropriating the images, presenting them as my own. You can see the shadows I threw across the surface as I photographed them, see the glare where the flash has bounced back off the page.”
By photographing images published in travel guides Campbell not only appropriates the idea of the location as a place to aspire to visit, she appropriates the work of the travel photographer who, by definition, takes more than a mere snapshot of a destination. It’s as if she has returned from a global trip armed with a collection of holiday photographs that other people would actually want to see – shadows, reflections, glare and all.
Alongside these photographic works, Campbell presents a series of new sculptures. A cable car is recreated and presented in stunning detail, a tiny flight of stairs made of cast metal stands seemingly suspended in thin air, a lighthouse, set in the middle of one of the upstairs rooms, dominates the space despite its diminutive size.
The gallery guide to Campbell’s exhibition says:
“ ‘Ideal Mexico, a chance but fitting title taken from the model name of the old central heating boilers in the gallery building, invites us to question the relationship between reality, desire, and experience; challenging the superficiality and formality of our insatiable appetite for images depicting and describing how our lives could be in an ideal world.”
Explaining the idea behind Hotel Series takes time and requires layers of understanding. Finding sufficient words to describe For I have known them all already, known them all # 1-6 is hard. This exhibition works on many levels, it plays with our understanding and our interpretation of the world we live in. It makes us think and it makes us question ourselves and our beliefs about our aspirations – and that is always a good thing.
Go – and give your mind a workout.
Ideal Mexico: 11th February – 17th March 2012
Tuesday – Saturday, 11am – 5pm (Or by appointment)
Cath Campbell was born in 1972 in Ilkeston, UK. She lives and works in Newcastle, UK.
Workplace Gallery was founded in 2005 by artists Paul Moss and Miles Thurlow. Based in Gateshead UK, Workplace Gallery represents a portfolio of emerging and established artists through the gallery programme, curatorial projects and international art fairs. Workplace Gallery is currently at The Old Post Office, Gateshead; a listed 19th Century red brick building built upon the site where the important British artist, engraver and naturalist Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) lived and died.