Conveying emotion with minimal digital imagery |

Conveying emotion with minimal digital imagery

Stewart OksenhornAspen, CO Colorado
San Francisco artist Jim Campbell, pictured at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, has donated a video piece, "Street Scene #3," to the Ranch's Annual Art Auction, set for Saturday, Aug. 11. (Doug Ellis)

SNOWMASS VILLAGE The trend in digital imagery is always toward more: more pixels, more clarity, more color, more lifelike.Jim Campbell is moving against the flow of traffic. His “Street Scene #3,” a work of custom electronics, LEDs and plexiglass, features a minuscule 192 pixels of light, all in black and white. Up close, it is nearly impossible to decipher just what activity is taking place. Take a few steps back, and the video sequence becomes clearer – but just barely. “Street Scene #3″ is footage from New York City’s Fifth Avenue, a blurred swish of car after car after car after car after car, interrupted only by moments of pedestrian after pedestrian after pedestrian. Take away any of the pixels – or the plexiglass, which slightly focuses the action – and it would be simply blurred lights.”Street Scene #3” is among the approximately 50 works being sold in Anderson Ranch’s Annual Art Auction. The event is set for Saturday, Aug. 11, and features a community picnic, silent and live auctions, a print sale and live music. The day begins at 11 a.m. with registration for the live auction. All are invited, and all the events are free.Campbell has been working with the sort of video displayed in “Street Scene #3” for some seven years. “I was fascinated right away with how much you could communicate with so little material,” said Campbell, a genial, 50-ish San Franciscan who graduated from M.I.T. in the late ’70s with a degree in electrical engineering and mathematics. “If you did it with 100 pixels – instead of 200, which it is – you wouldn’t be able to see it. It wouldn’t be comprehensible.”

There is a rich paradox at hand in “Street Scene #3,” which is included in the live auction. It is Campbell catching the dizzying, nonstop, anxious pace of the modern world by using as little digital information as possible. Viewing the piece in the Auction Preview Exhibit (which runs through today in Anderson Ranch’s main galleries), when I grasped just what I was seeing, a knot tightened in my stomach, taking in the frantic rush of traffic.But Campbell, who spent two days last week at Anderson Ranch, as a visiting artist critiquing the work of 10 students in an electronic art class, seems more taken by the materials than the message I took from “Street Scene #3.” Most of the pieces he has done with this technique are cityscapes, but he has also used video of ocean waves, and of disabled people walking. Presumably, those subjects wouldn’t convey the same emotion as “Street Scene #3.”Campbell’s investigation has to do with the intersection between the medium he has created, and the amount of visual information conveyed. “One thing the medium does is, it gets rid of all the details,” he said. With the series of disabled people, “you can’t tell how old they are, when this was filmed. All you see is the movement. So it’s a distillation process – it distills what’s in the image.” The live auction, to be conducted by Jim Chaffin, includes works by internationally recognized artists Julie Mehretu, Sam Maloof, Lamar Briggs, Peter Voulkos and Marilyn Minter. There are also works by Anderson Ranch staff members Kathleen Loe, Bradley Walters and Doug Casebeer, and by local artists James Surls, Lloyd Schermer, and Jacqueline Spiro and Lee Lyon. The silent auction features another 200 pieces, including works by local artists Elisa Ahmer, Robert Brinker, Dasa Bausova, Sam Harvey, Paul Soldner, Virginia Morrow and Alleghany Meadows. Several of the pieces – including a multi-media work by Jane Hammond, and a work by Enrique Martínez Celaya that is the only photograph the artist will make this year – were created specifically to be donated to the auction.

Absentee bidders for the auctions can register to participate at one will be keeping a closer eye on this year’s proceedings than Hunter O’Hanian. O’Hanian is not only the president of Anderson Ranch, but also a first-time attendee of the Annual Art Auction.O’Hanian, who took over the head position at Anderson Ranch at the beginning of the year, knows something of the history of the event. “As recently as 10 years ago, it was very informal,” he said. “Up to the last minute, they were still deciding what to put in it. People would put work on the porches, and they’d pick what they want to be in the show.”The auction has increased in formality over the last decade – and in the revenue it brings in for Anderson Ranch programs. Last year’s event raised over $625,000.O’Hanian is just as eager to experience two other aspects of the Annual Art Auction as he is to see the final dollar tally. He is particularly looking forward to witnessing the generosity of the artists who donate work.

“Artists get asked all the time to donate,” he said. “It’s a very generous thing for an artist to do.” Especially so, he noted, because artists doing so cannot take a tax donation for the value of the art they create – only for the value of the materials used in making the piece. O’Hanian points out the unfairness in this; if a collector donates a piece, he can deduct the full value of the work on his tax return. “It’s this bias and cynicism against artists that’s inherent in the system.”And O’Hanian is anticipating how the Annual Art Auction turns the Anderson Ranch campus into a community asset.”I’m looking forward to that element,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the festival-like atmosphere, a sense of community at the Ranch. I like reaching out to the community.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is