National Gallery of Jamaica’s National Biennial 2012: Interview with Charles Campbell

By Nicole Smythe Johnson Thursday, December 6th, 2012 Categories: Biennales, Features, Interview, Updates

The National Gallery of Jamaica presents the 2012 National Biennial exhibition, which opens to the public on Sunday, December 9 at 11 am. The Honourable Lisa Hanna, M.P., Minister of Youth and Culture will be the guest speaker. In its current form, the National Biennial consists of an invited section, to which artists with an already well-established track record are invited by the NGJ to submit work, and a juried section, which is open to all Jamaican artists and all artists living in Jamaica and selected by a panel of judges representative of major stakeholders in the local artistic community. Nicole Smythe Johnson, recently appointed Senior Curator for the National Gallery of Jamaica will present a series of interviews with a selected group of artists whose work will be featured in the 2012 National Biennial.

Nicole Smythe- Johnson: What do you think about the biennial this year in terms of what you’re seeing put up right now? How are you feeling?

Charles Campbell: It looks like a really ambitious show, in the past a lot of the biennials have supported very traditional medium, it looks like their breaking out of that traditional mould which is quite exciting. A lot of the work you’re seeing it installed so you don’t really see it in its true form, but certainly there’s a whole lot of potential there. I’m really excited to see what it looks like when its all up.

Charles Campbell Installing work for the National Biennial

NSJ:  you planning to be here for the opening? 

CC: Yes I’m planning to be here.

NSJ: Can you tell us a little bit about the pieces you’ve entered this year, because you were an invited artist right?

CC: I’ve entered two pieces, one of them is a stand alone sculptural piece which is part of my transporter series. Its a sort of geodesic dome which is wrapped with an interwoven image, the image is actually the bronchioles of lungs. And the second piece I’ve entered is a new piece, the title for it is forming in my mind as I’m actually installing it so I won’t quite give it away yet. But its a piece that’s really intended to interact with the architecture of the space, so it’s made out of little triangular facets with images on them and all the images inter-connect and then it forms itself around aspects of the architecture, in this case primarily the column.

NSJ: So is that a piece that anywhere you were installing you’d do the same thing? Find a space where it worked and put it up or is this specially for the Biennial?

CC: Well I made it with the Biennial in mind, but the idea is that it can go in other spaces, so it is. I can find  a new form depending on what the architecture of those other spaces are. This is very very new work for me, so this is really the first time showing it in an art context. So its almost too fresh for me to know what it’s really about.

Charles Campbell's Transporter series. 2011. Presents a play between heavily loaded political narratives and utopian ideals, image and object.

NSJ: Ok ok so we’ll wait until we can see it. The last thing I wanted to ask you about is we’ve made some changes to the Bienniale this year so we have more representation from the Diaspora, people who are of Jamaica parentage or are resident elsewhere. What do you think about that change?

CC: It’s an exciting change partially because it helps to link all the various artists from the Diaspora and Jamaica together, which is really important. Working in Canada for a long time, I felt quite isolated as a Caribbean artist, because the issues I dealt with didn’t always resonate with a Canadian audience. So I’ve always had a strong link to Caribbean audiences and its exciting seeing the Biennial make the effort to bring those disparate populations of Caribbean people together under one roof. And I think there will be a lot of interesting dialogue between them because there are a lot of shared experiences but different experiences and different ways of looking at things. So I’m excited.

NSJ: So besides what we’ve talked about, maybe more in terms of the general feeling of the Biennial, have their been other changes in your experience?

CC: Unfortunately, I didn’t attend the exhibit last year. I came at the end when a lot of the art was coming down, so I didn’t see the show properly. But what I saw was really exciting. It was first time seeing some of Ebony’s large installations and also all the photo based work made a really strong impression on me. Again, it’s a little bit hard for me to say because I didn’t see it in its entirety but there were certain things that struck me. I remember leaving very excited about what was happening in Jamaica and the direction Jamaican art was going.

NSJ: Anything in particular you’re looking forward to this year?

CC: I’m looking forward to being done with this installation.

Charles Campbell's work in progress for the National Biennial 2012


Charles Campbell has exhibited widely in North America, the Caribbean, and Europe, representing Jamaica and Canada in events such as the HavanaBiennial and the Brooklyn Museum’s Infinite Islands exhibition. He is an active participant in the growing Caribbean contemporary arts scene as both an artist and a writer and is a regular contributor to ARC Magazine, a Caribbean arts journal.His recent work investigates the nature of time and concepts of the future using sculpture, performance and painting. He holds an MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College and currently lives and works in Canada.

Nicole Smythe Johnson
Nicole Smythe Johnson

Nicole Smythe-Johnson is a curator and writer living in Jamaica and working across the Caribbean region. In 2013, she completed her tenure as Senior Curator with the National Gallery of Jamaica where she worked on the 2012 National Biennial, Natural Histories (2013) and New Roots (2013) exhibitions. Since then, she has worked with contemporary Caribbean art and culture magazine ARC as an editor and writer, and also works with Jamaica-based contemporary art organization New Local Space (NLS) as outreach coordinator and host of NLS’ online art conversation series IN.