Despite it’s undertone of despair, Rebecca Campbell’s “Romancing the Apocalypse” waxes affirmative and instructional. Bold and confident, it doesn’t shy away from the inevitabile rages of Time; instead, it embraces them. Each piece (and the experience of moving from piece to piece) is fluid. Each narrative seems to dissolve the moment that it’s articulated. Here today, gone tomorrow. Collectively they present eternal impressions of particular moments caught in ceremonial mid-flux. Whether the apocalypse is real or imaged, it nonetheless offers an occasion – indeed, an inspiration - to reinvent oneself.
The exhibition’s alpha and omega consists of two pieces. In “Romancing the Apocalypse,” a woman lies in a bath tub, the water’s surface strewn with flowers. Outside the window a conflagration blazes. The woman is reflective, pondering what next to do. In “Epidemic” a woman, a garland of blue birds strewn over her veiled body (veiled as with something apocalpytic) like Boticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” stands triumphant on the beach (presumably Santa Monica – the pier and its Ferris Wheel blaze in the distance). These two pieces bracket the exhibition while images of fireworks displays (“Bang 1, 2, and 3”), nuclear explosions (“Boom 1, 2, 3, and 4”), rainbows (Bow 1, 2, 3, and 4”) and portraits of women (“Beauty 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6”) describe reveal their instigating dynamic. It’s as if, facing the laden-with-trauma potential of ephemeral rainbows and fireworks displays, the threat of nuclear annihilation, and the fading of good looks, the woman in the tub has decided to recast herself, embark in a new direction, in short, to romance whatever personal or societal apocalypse confronts her.
Amidst the various Booms and Bangs of life, including these magnificent fissures rent in the darkness by fireworks, Campbell proposes accomodation, rejuvenation, and wisdom in place of resignation, passivity, and despair. In the face of work comprised of the simultaneous articulation and then destruction of beauty we must, it suggests, embrace the metamorphosis each piece offers. In so doing we can better navigate our own need and capacity for change. In texture and, especially, color, the work has the feel of illustrations to the Upanishads, the texts that articulate the Hindu religion. Except that it’s got the feel that they’ve been re-cast by Salman Rushdie, recasting eternal truths into a contemporary idiom.
With their simultaneous diagnosis and prognosis of Gauguin’s “Where do we come from, what are we, where are we going?“ the pieces leave you speechless, all the better to spur you to action. With great wisdom the artist acknowledges the inevitability of change. Instead of despairing at metamorphosis (the fading beauty of rainbows, fireworks, and appearance, not to mention the always-possible peril of annihilation), Campbell embraces it. Thus a rainbow begins to melt the moment it’s articulated. The starburst of fireworks begins an immediate descent to Earth, spent, after lighting up the sky. The wondrous shape of a mushroom cloud (an atomic hourglass, with Time passing irrevocably by) spells devastation. And the beauty of a woman’s face begins to melt, the beauty a culturally defined one (Southern California girl, too much sun).
Just as Mozart’s “Une Kleine Nachmusik” puts you in the mood for a scintillating night of mirth, so too does Rebecca Campbell’s “Romancing the Apocalypse” put you in the mood for your own private apocalypse.