Angel of Earth
(Modern Theology or a Universe of Our Own Creation)
Light boxes with Duratrans and mixed media, 4x5'
© Kathleen Campbell, 1996

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Artist Statement
Kathleen Campbell

Modern Theology or a Universe of Our Own Creation

In this work I use traditional Western iconography to suggest the effects of the West's rationalized treatment of nature and all living creatures, including ourselves. The installation contains five "stained glass windows" in grid form, created from backlit photographic duratrans material. Four of these windows represent the ancient elements of earth, air, fire and water. Banal material objects suggested by each element surround the figures. The "angel of earth" lies in topsoil on a sheet of black plastic, with tin can lids creating a pattern of shining circles above. Her halo and wings are of golden bottle caps, while banana peels form fleur de lis in the dirt. The Angel of Air is surrounded by toy bombers and explosions reproduced from photographs of 20th century wars and disasters. These form transparent overlays on the shards of broken glass and mirrors which create her halo and wings. The Angel of Fire lies upon burning coals and golden bullets and holds a child's woodburning tool. Water is immersed in shimmering oil. He holds the skeleton of a fish and the feathers of dead birds make a beautiful pattern on the sides of the rubber boat in which he floats. The fifth window assumes the central role in the installation, referring through the ancient symbols of mystical geometry - the compass and the ruler - to the Platonic idea of God, the great architect of the universe, and to His microcosmic duplicate, Man, the human architect, or "Rational Being." Here is a metaphor for the all-powerful, rational, scientific "Man" who, since the Renaissance, has gradually usurped the role of the Divine and created the universe in which we now must live.

The room in which the installation takes place echoes these ideas. It is painted a dark midnight blue. The ceiling is mathematically gridded and the stars of the heavens are made of golden hubcaps, bottle caps and tin can lids in geometric designs. From a light fixture in the center of the room shine the rays of the "sun" over a circle of golden rocks and fallen paper stars. Digitized Christmas tree lights flicker in patterns around the ceiling while contemporary Gregorian chants emanate from a golden tape deck situated on a pedestal near the front. Here is a world filled with wonders - our own artificial "Nature" - entirely man-made and self-sufficient. As in the manner of King Midas, everything we touch turns to gold.

Cleopatra's Remembrance
(Angels series)
Hand-painted gelatin silver print, 30x40"
© Kathleen Campbell, 1988

Angel Series
or Photographs of Widely-Known Non-Existent Beings

In this work, I am trying to touch on our society's simultaneous embrace and rejection of irrational phenomena. We live in a world threatened with extinction by the underlying irrationality of the human species, yet we cling to a vision of ourselves as scientific rationalists and to the myth that we can comprehend and control both ourselves and the forces of nature.

Several years ago, I had an idea to photograph "Angels." I liked this precisely because it is impossible - yet everyone knows what an angel is, or what we think it is. The series has evolved to include imaginary beings which are not "angels" and which have other messages. These might, for instance, explore the kinds of things we worship or indulge ourselves in at the expense of each other and the planet or attempt to expose the biases which lie behind our cultural assumptions. The titles are important to the meaning of each piece.

Although the work is ironic in nature and even humorous at times, my intent is serious. In attempting to create an illusion of another, more spiritual, reality, I try to suggest the void in which our contemporary lack of belief leaves us. For this reason, I try to insert an element of darkness. This might be as obvious as a snake, as subtle as an expression or the shape of a flower. Also, each of these pieces is failed, unable to transcend its materiality. I paint or construct the backdrop or use ordinary objects - bubble wrap, tape, feathers, shells, sheets, dime-store novelties or everyday clothing - in a context which implies the spiritual tradition in Western art. I want the viewer to be aware of this contradictory juxtaposition; to see the artificiality of the image - and yet still possibly be moved by it.

Baudelaire once said, "We walk through a forest of symbols. " By using such symbols, I hope to touch on the conflicts between the reality of our everyday lives and the universal longing for transcendence. Heaven is always just outside our reach. We are grounded in a disappointing materialism, forever hoping each illusion will lead us to some spiritual truth.

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All text and images © Kathleen Campbell.