Briefly describe the work you do.
Across a range of site-specific practice that mines sites both physical and imaginary, I use installation, sculptural and found objects, and video projection to expand the possibilities of representation for queer bodies and what forms of embodiment count as “heroic” vs. “failed.” Abstracted and altered references to domestic spaces, athletes, gay bars and building construction poach key signifiers of masculinity and heteronormativity and open them onto new attachments of possibility and desire from what might seem otherwise like static legacies.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
A significant focus of my time in college was structured around feminist and queer activism; the first job I got after graduation was with a public arts commission. As a result, the themes my work addresses, the politics of its methods of production, how it acts, and who it engages have been ongoing concerns. The criticality of the context of a work’s exhibition has also followed me as a vital concern, causing me to tack back and forth between forms that might be considered precious, and those that might be understood to be more democratically accessible.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
The studio for me has been a mobile and malleable site – in the last few years I’ve set up shop in Grand Rapids, Brooklyn, Paris, Madison and Manhattan. The designing, video editing work, and proposal writing that are part of my practice are not surprisingly the most flexible geographically and architecturally. It’s been important to dedicate domestic space for art production – where I’ve also made work about the domestic space my grandmother carved out for her own creative work – but as a sculptor, it’s also been necessary to connect with institutional or co-working spaces. Most recently, that has been with Sector 67, a hacker space the founder describes as a gym for making stuff.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I never expected to job out any aspects of my work, but given my sweet spot for ephemera-oriented projects, it’s become a critical and integral component of how I work.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
On balance, I prefer working at night and in regular doses, but that’s not always practical. The important thing seems to be balancing the ratio of studio time to studio administration time.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
The center of my practice for many years was creating site-specific installations in politically and historically charged institutions – a natural history museum or former convent, for example. I used sculptural elements and video projection to deconstruct some of the hierarchies native to those kinds of sites. What was exciting about that mode of work was also what was most challenging – working improvisationally on a tight turnaround. Three years ago, I went on sabbatical, and I used the time to take more risks and to make work that can nimbly assimilate itself into multiple sites. On the surface, the result is that the work is currently more object-oriented than before, but in terms of how I work, I’m able to build the arc of a body of work much more slowly and intuitively, and that has been very productive.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
My folks made art a key part of my life growing up, and continued their support the more central that field become for me over time. I studied in Germany for a year during high school; my focus there was on art but even more critical was my host family’s connection to the arts culture of that region, which still bore the mark of having been the stomping grounds of Joseph Beuys. In terms of an attraction to the chaotic, utopic, world-making, authorial voice that can be expressed through an art practice, one of the most important sparks came from a childhood of Saturday mornings watching Pee-Wee’s Playhouse; a collection of model playhouses and a proto-installation were early expressions of that attraction.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
In some ways, being an academic has been quite distinct from being an artist – some of my colleagues might say one is always already being pulled in different directions. At different moments, the escape hatch of tattoo artist and graphic designer have looked incredibly seductive, but the space to determine the parameters of a practice made possible by making art in the academy continues to have a strong hold.
Using sculpture and site-specific installation interwoven with video projection, Anna Campbell’s work deconstructs otherwise clearly legible signifiers of masculinity and heteronormativity in the service of illustrating alternate histories of attachment and desire. Campbell maintains an active exhibition record including solo exhibits at BOSI Contemporary in New York, Tractionarts in LA, and the Window Into Houston at the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston, Texas, as well as group exhibits at Seoul National University of Science and Technology in South Korea, Queens College Art Center in New York, and the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago, and a forthcoming group exhibit, Bound, at the Center for Book Arts, New York.. She earned a BA in Studio Art from the College of Wooster and an MFA in Sculpture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Campbell teaches sculpture, installation and curation as Associate Professor in the Art & Design Department at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. During the 2014-2015 academic year, she served as Visiting Associate Professor/ Artist in Residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, teaching courses on feminist and queer art practices, publics and projection, and curation.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.