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University of Michigan Museum of Art opens exhibition by video pioneer Peter Campus
Peter Campus, Kiva, 1971, video installation, Edition 2/3, Photo courtesy of Cristin Tierney Gallery.

ANN ARBOR, MICH.- Peter Campus is a pioneer of video art who experimented with the medium in the 1970s alongside other notable artists Bill Viola, Bruce Nauman, and Joan Jonas. These innovators advanced the formal and conceptual potential of these new imagemaking technologies in art frameworks. Video represented a new frontier, one that allowed artists to channel and expand upon common artistic concerns of the era at the intersection of minimalism, performance, interdisciplinary exploration, and conceptual art. Campus pursued many directions, and fully exploited the medium’s nascent potential—he employed special effects like chromakey (making a composite of video streams) to surrealistically layer images within footage, and experimented through presentation rather than production by creating large-­‐scale projections and a series of little-­‐seen installation works that employed live video feeds, of which Kiva (1971) is one.

Campus experimented with closed circuit cameras not with an interest in surveillance and control, but rather because they were the ideal tools for producing situations of interactive engagement between viewer and image. These cameras transmitted live, direct images instead of recording to film or tape, and as such Campus valorized them for producing “pure video.” Kiva and the other live feed works of the same period are deceptively simple installations, employing cameras in this most basic mode of raw transmission to shoot black-­‐and-­‐white footage displayed on simple monitors. But in each work he engages the viewer and the space by using cameras and angles to create a simultaneous multiplicity of images, or by the simple addition of mirrors to generate multiple views within the view of a single camera, creating his own forms of interactive art.

Kiva comprises a monitor with a closed circuit camera mounted on top; the lens is pointed directly at the viewer of the monitor, but the camera’s view is restricted and manipulated by the placement of suspended mirrors. The camera shoots through a hole in one mirror to the surface of the other, both constantly shifting in relation to each other as they turn like a mobile. The mirrors fragment and multiply the image, allowing the camera to take in aspects of the room, the viewer, and the eye of the camera itself. Campus has said, “recordings weren’t so interesting, but doing something in front of the camera was,” and Kiva puts the viewer in this position of agency.

Originally a student of experimental psychology, Campus was particularly interested in idea of the self, and in how his work could generate a psychologically resonant state. With Kiva, the viewer is put in the rare position of seeing their image in real time outside of themselves, as if they are simultaneously an observer and an actor. The title refers to a kind of ceremonial room, used by Native Americans of the Southwest for ritual and spiritual ceremonies, imbuing the act of self-­‐recognition and distortion with a spiritual patina, one that suggests a relationship between psychological and sacred states. The implied cognitive and emotional shifts produced by such an uncanny experience of inhabiting this dual position have been central to Campus’s work throughout his career, but perhaps never more succinctly, elegantly, and directly than in the experience of Kiva.

Elizabeth Thomas
Guest Curator

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