Often using photographic processes to
make her installations of images, Joyce
Campbell has long been concerned with
representing scientific knowledge in her art.
While resident in Los Angeles in 2002, she
made a series of images titled Marianas and
Mindanao, referring to the submarine trenches
situated in the north-west Pacific. Whereas the
name Marianas derives from Queen Mariana of
Austria, widow of Philip IV, as a reminder of the
area’s seventeenth century Spanish colonists,
Mindanao comes from Maguindanaons, the
largest Sultanate historically.
Both trenches are known as abyssal zones.
Sunlight cannot penetrate beyond 150 metres so
Campbell uses a black background in Mindanao
1 to conjure the darkness on the sea floor, at a
depth of 11,000 metres. Across the Stygian black,
a curtain of white light appears like writing,
suggesting floating jellyfish, anemones and other
fluid sea creatures. Even at the unimaginable
depth of these trenches there is an abundance of
life, with thousands of species of uniquely
designed invertebrates and fish found, many of
them characterised by their longevity and
tendency not to migrate. Rather than evolving
and adapting, these denizens of the deep have
remained unchanged for millions of years, and
are studied for the revelations about the origins
of life on the planet.
Developmental biology, or morphogenesis –
the process that causes an organism to develop
its shape – is Joyce Campbell’s subject here. She
describes how she set about re-creating organic
change using inorganic materials to conjure the
idea of slow development as complex form
emerges out of simple material conditions.
“I conducted a simple set of experiments using
colloidal silver in suspension in order to produce
biomorphic images floating in a black space.
Colloidal silver is formed when a 27 volt current
is passed through a silver electrode suspended in
water. It is antiseptic and an antibacterial agent.
The works are shot on an 8x10 inch camera, and
I took multiple exposures and hand printed
Ilfochrome photographs in which the growth of
the form was represented in consecutive stages.”
This chemical process is also an allusion to life
at depth. While plants and other organisms on
the planet's surface convert water, minerals and
carbon dioxide into nutrients by gathering light in
their pigments through the process of
photosynthesis, the plants and microorganisms of
the deep use a process called chemosynthesis to
convert the chemically rich discharge of
hydrothermal vents into food. Campbell’s
mural-sized print contradicts the microscopic
scale of her subject.
Campbell’s work continues to draw attention
to the inherent beauty in natural systems. Part of
the New Zealand Artists to Antarctica
programme in 2006, she used the opportunity to
make daguerreotypes of ice forms. These works
are on exhibition at the Gus Fisher Gallery until
20 June as part of the 6th Annual Auckland
Festival of Photography.