In anticipation of the announcement of this year’s Turner Prize winner in December, I will reveal a series of pieces on each of this year’s nominations. This week I will be looking at the work of Irish-born video artist and filmmaker Duncan Campbell.
Duncan Campbell’s nominated piece, It for Others, takes the 1953 film Les Statues meurent aussi by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais and turns it on its head. Clips from the original film are used to challenge ideals of colonialism and cultural appropriation. The film, whose title translates from French into ‘Statues Also Die’, is altered by Campbell into a piece that applies meaning and power to objects in a way that surpasses simple aesthetic purposes.
The intermingling of images of African tribal masks with those of commodities and production lines has an obvious point; the artefacts removed from original contexts are transformed and presented to the viewer as simply economic commodities. Campbell, in essence, is echoing much of the criticism of early 20th century primitive art for patronising indigenous art from around the world. The cubists and their love of ‘primitive’ art was an important turning point in Western art, but the price of this movement was the separation of the peoples of Africa from their own art. I believe that by making a statement on the commodification of artefacts from the Third World Duncan Campbell also successfully comments on the commodification of the Third World as a whole.
There is also an interesting idea in Campbell’s work that the colonial ambitions of the West altered the production of objects in the colonies, causing them to abandon traditional styles and production methods in order to appeal to the Western market and taste. This distortion of traditional art forms is apparent everywhere, from souvenir shops as far afield as DisneyWorld to the ‘ethnic’ prints available in any High Street store.
When one thinks of the horrors of colonialism, it is all too easy to assume that after national liberation movements and flag hoisting colonialism ended. However, It for Others asserts the legacy of this practice in the minds and economics of the world. Especially in this globalised age of mass commodities, the cultural changes brought about by colonial aspirations still are strong within the art world.
The title, It for Others, really does sum up the meaning of Campbell’s work. Art and culture, the centre of a people’s expression, whether it be through tradition, or in fact the spiritual centre of a people is, in Campbell’s world, hijacked and reused simply for the enjoyment of the west.
Initially produced for the Venice Biennale in 2013, It for Others has been screened at several film festivals focused on Post Colonial cinema. It has received critical accolades for its reflection on the legacies of European imperialism as well as the lingering remnants of colonialism and neocolonialism that shape both art and politics in today’s world. Campbell’s piece is also one of several Turner Prize nominations that have represented Scotland on an International stage. The fact that this piece was created by an Irish/Scottish artist is very interesting, especially at this time in history; it could easily be argued that art from areas of the British Isles has been controlled, altered and standardised for the dominant Western taste. Stuffed Leprechauns or Nessy anyone? In some ways, the postcolonial critique posited by Campbell could be applied as much to Scotland and Ireland as to former colonies across the sea.
Duncan Campbell and Rodeo Gallery