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Curiouser and curiouser

Zsuzsanna Soboslay


Barbara Campbell, The Grimwade Effect Barbara Campbell, The Grimwade Effect
Courtesy the artist, Jas Hugonnet
Barbara Campbell's performance/installation The Grimwade Effect is a curiosity about curiosities. The research springboard is the fetishes, passions and discoveries of a certain Russell Grimwade, a 19th century industrialist, collector, wood carver, researcher into eucalypts and promoter of their oils, who established a glassworks and co-owned a leech aquarium. Hence the elements, materials and processes on display in the room: leeches, ceramic ornaments, eucalyptus plinths and shelf-brackets. Fat and thin legs on floor and wall. Factory portraits reflecting on Grimwade's aspirations and realised dreams. An exquisite glass heart, metal screens, a magnifying glass. Things are examined, extracted, concealed. The leeches are applied to the performer's thighs - succulent, sedulous drinkers of the internal world. Blood and thoughts are harvested and extracted from these intersections.

The performer enters an already-hushed space, a body in a bandage dress. She becomes at once both crafter and patient, calling forth our patience or impatiences. Her body on the low plinth is itself an exhibit and tool for the harvest. We watch her try to persuade the leeches to take on her thighs (Cleopatra waiting for her asps). When they do, she lies back, patient with their actions. The electronic stethoscope she holds to her breast carries her heart beat through to the glass heart, where it is amplified.

For at least 20 minutes, waves of expectation pass through the room, curiosity refusing to peak as the slowness of progress sets up its irritations. In a way I am disheartened at this inevitability of hushed expectation. Historically, leeches were used to purify, rid of excess, salve ills. Which humour here is being worked on, and whose? Blood, bile, phlegm, pride? Half the audience smirks with the pleasure of its own endurance.

No matter how old performance art is, it still seems to call up this edge. It doesn't help that galleries are so white, so hummed in their controlled climates, so anxious in their attendants, dressed here in black clothes, white gloves, a body angle of caution. One has a propensity to travel around the room ordering people to listen when they fail to maintain silent reverence to the heartbeat amplified. How sorry I am for this literalness. Personally, I need to ignore the amplification in order to maintain my own connections.

Any artwork, as an event in itself, is an interplay of surface and subliminal responses spanning past, present and future time. Curiously, the present is weakened by such interferences. The literalness of the heartbeat and the overworked analogies between body, wood, leg and plinth dulls my own re-creative sensory process. But strangely, this contributes to the installation's investigative success.

While some of the objects here imprint their present exquisiteness (glass heart, ceramic millefiori), the largest object, the body itself, is curiously easy to put aside. Grimwade and his intellect do not become embodied for me through a body interacting with his interests; rather, the event focuses on the intersections between materials and ideas he made in his lifetime. Thus the event is a curating of process—a documentary of qualities of thought, mapping out parallels and seeing where, and how, in the new-born context of this time, the ideas could be re-manifest or reconfigured with new techniques and on new ground. But my time here does not matter:

"There remains the rather unsettling sense that her behaviour takes place more for her than us (a 'working through' on the most solitary of levels) and that the performance would in fact occur regardless of whether or not audience was present to witness it." Kelly Gellatly, metis program notes

As long as Campbell's body is present in its visual and aural insistence, it seems to prevent me from deepening my relation to the mounted objects and in fact may keep them separate from each other. In the event, there is little room given for my attentive and re-creative disobedience. As such, the event is a very particular success.


Barbara Campbell, The Grimwade Effect, in metis: TIME 04; Craft ACT, Canberra, May 1

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. Onl

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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