January 23–April 17
The desires of a culture are laid bare by the narratives and heroic iconographies that dominate its landscape. Through sculptures, installation and video, my work investigates these iconographies and re-scripts these narratives, presenting viewers with unexpected plot twists. This critique queers traditional icons – cowboys and boxers, among others – in order to challenge the social dynamics that reinforce our constructions of heroism. The radical potential of failure has been instrumental in shaping this work. Zeppelin pilots perched on the precipice of a cliff emphasize epic chutzpah over the possibility of a crash. Boxers in Sheboygan, Wisconsin engage in a relational project to document their gym, and the transformative metaphor it offers to frame their lives, in so doing, inviting viewers to confront the stakes associated with failure. The potential for literal transformation is emphasized in my work through the fabrication of objects such as suede gingham cowboy chaps, or pairs of boxing gloves that share a single lining; this mode of practice functions to demonstrate the plastic nature of our environments. My engagement with specific media shifts fluidly based on the intervention intended for a particular piece. Cozies crocheted from acrylic yarn highlight and offer protection to war memorials in disrepair; sewn vinyl allows a series of fabricated found objects to pass as gym equipment, and through this camouflage, to bring the homosocial subtext of the boxing gym to the surface. Through video, I am able to engage the durational quality of a narrative, and to activate objects or sites by representing or instigating performances. The trace image offered by projection infuses architectural space, delivering a moment that could not otherwise be accessed: a cast plaster saddle sawn in half appears both in its state of transformation as well as in its physical form. The pull of a monitor draws people to occupy particular locations within a site: sitting astride a resin-cast saddle, viewers watch video that engages contemporary queer appropriations of the cowboy, while themselves mimicking the posture of a cowboy. Both strategies of display offer points of insertion that intensify viewers’ sensory experience of the work. The specific historical, social and physical context of a site offers a further means to connect viewers to the work. Through engaging spaces not traditionally employed for art exhibition, the intervention offered by the work can become both more specific and more dynamic – layering multiple narratives over the original text of a Native American diorama in a retired natural history museum, or infusing the quarters in a former convent with the history of a nun whose narrative might otherwise be entirely obscured. Gender inversion and queer politics infuse this work, acting as a lens to re-examine traditional heroic narratives and social dynamics. Foregrounding and subverting expectations through this constellation of tactics re-forms narrative desire and challenges the social and political impact of pursuing those desires.
Anna Campbell obtained her MFA in Sculpture from the University of Wisconsin and is an Assistant Professor with the Department of Art and Design at Grand Valley State University in Allendale Michigan.
Launched in 2011, Window into Houston is a series of site-specific exhibitions commissioned by Blaffer Art Museum in Downtown Houston. It is made possible with generous support from Jim Petersen, Jr.