Jim Campbell. A Dual Life in Art and Technology

Jim Campbell standing inside Scattered Light (2010), an installation at Madison Square Park, New York, October 21, 2010.
Jim Campbell standing inside Scattered Light (2010), an installation at Madison Square Park, New York, October 21, 2010. Photo by Joe Kohen.

Jim Campbell never imagined that he would become an artist. He studied electrical engineering and mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After graduating in 1978, he moved to Silicon Valley and developed technical expertise in image processing and high-definition television, for which he holds over a dozen patents.1 However, Campbell simultaneously began making electronic art that moved in the other direction, exploring low-resolution video as a pathway to understanding perception, memory, and time. He recalls a specific moment in 1995 when a thought woke him in the middle of the night: the number of images that could be shown on a digital screen is finite, and, because a digital image is generated by numbers and data, it could be calculated. “This loss of infinity really upset me,” said the artist. “Any image that I could see or even imagine was already part of this set of all images.”2 In his artistic practice since, Campbell makes “images that cannot be imaged . . . visual art that cannot be seen, but instead might exist beneath the analytical perceptual mechanisms of vision.”3


  1. “Jim Campbell,” Spark, KQED, San Francisco, May 2003 (posted August 25, 2011), video, 9:10 minutes, available at youtube.com/watch?v=wSJLOQMWmvk. ↩︎

  2. Jim Campbell, “The Beginning,” in Jim Campbell: Material Light, ed. Steve Dietz (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2010), 34. ↩︎

  3. Jim Campbell, “The Beginning,” in Jim Campbell: Material Light, ed. Steve Dietz (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2010), 34. ↩︎