In a remote corner of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts lies a discreetly hidden room that is a Mecca of innovation and technology. Like a chameleon, the Beall Center for Art and Technology’s humble appearance blends easily into its environment, camouflaging itself from everyday passing students. If not closely examined, even the entrance can be mistaken for the back door of a loading dock.
So why is it so secretive? Upon stepping into the Beall Center, one experiences a similar feeling to that of Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole. Flashing images are never what they seem to be and quirky wordless beats echo into a single microphone within the dimly lit interior. It is the equivalent of a technologically enhanced 21st-century Wonderland.
The Beall Center is UC Irvine’s own privately funded gallery that exhibits artists who integrate technology with their imagination to form works of art.
Located at the edge of Mesa Court, it focuses on the modern and digital aspects of creativity. This year, the center launches its ‘Foundation of the New Media Arts Series’ that showcases abstract artists who make their impact through the use of technological media.
Thursday’s grand opening of ‘Quantizing Effects: The Liminal Art of Jim Campbell’ featured San Francisco-based artist Jim Campbell, who uses low-resolution LED lights and advanced digital programming to express his abstract visual conceptions.
Campbell is anything but your typical artist. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he went in a direction very few electrical engineers have gone.
Influenced by his education, he uses his extensive knowledge of quantum mechanics and electrical engineering to create unique and visually alluring panels of moving lights and shadows.
In one picture Campbell merges different angles of a moving car into a single frame, making the whole photograph a blur of wheels and windows. Though the image is motionless, the haziness created by its back-lit layers gives the sensation of standing on a sidewalk while watching a car passing by in slow motion.
Using this same technique, he also combines stills from the opening sequences of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho,’ conjoining familiar frames into an unrecognizable tangle of intangible objects.
Although Campbell can’t say what directly influences his work, he says that ‘they are triggered by my emotional state.’ His inspirations vary from the latest technology to personal experiences.
One example can be found in his ‘Motion and Rest’ series, which Campbell attributes to his recollection of his childhood with handicapped parents.
The series consists of five panels of ambiguous limping figures illuminated by a combination of tiny red LED lights. At first glance they resemble walking signals, but upon a closer look one notices the oddity of the figure’s movement and the vague impressions of a walking cane.
When asked the purpose behind the idea, the artist replied, ‘These works are a study in perception and information.’ Like most of his pieces, Campbell is so ambiguous that no one angle is completely understood without looking at the art as a whole.
So how did this engineering major become such a conceptual designer?
According to Campbell, art became his way of balancing his logical persona with a need to escape the mundane routines of daily life.
‘I needed to work on something that had more of a human connection,’ he said. Combining engineering and imagination provided that window of opportunity, and when asked to give advice for aspiring artists, Campbell recommended not trying ‘to support yourself doing art work as it pollutes the process. Only do art if you have to.’
On future projects Campbell wishes to make his pieces more physical by experimenting with technology on a grander scale.
Exhibits of his work have been displayed from the Nagoya City Art Museum in Nagoya, Japan to the Whitney Museum of American Art and the International Center for Photography in New York.
The Beall Center plans to showcase ‘Quantizing Effects’ until Dec. 2, giving the artistically inclined or just plain curious students of UCI the opportunity to acquaint themselves with Campbell’s alternative form of virtual reality.