Winter Sweet

  • 29 May 2024

Winter Sweet: Dr Susan Ballard writing on Joyce Campbell and her exhibition LA Botanical

Joyce Campbell is a contemporary New Zealand artist and art educator. In her practice, she uses 19th century photographic techniques such as the ambrotype and daguerreotype. For ten years Campbell lived near Los Angeles and the Southern Californian desert, and her exhibition of photographic work LA Botanical was originally exhibited at G727 Los Angeles in 2007. Accompanying the exhibition was a catalogue called LA Botanical.[1]

In 2022, Campbell exhibited LA Botanical for a second time at Two Rooms Gallery in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, and a second edition of the catalogue was published. Dr Susan Ballard wrote the foreward for this new catalogue. Ballard is an art historian, curator, and writer working at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. Ballard’s research examines the histories of nature in contemporary art focusing on how artists negotiate the ecological, cultural, and social challenges of the 21st century.[2]

Ballard points out that “LA Botanical is a contemporary herbal: a record of plants and their uses — edible, medicinal, weapon, stimulant, building material…”[3] The 2007 exhibition contained thirty-nine plant based photographic images. Alongside each plate in the 2022 exhibition catalogue is the name of the plant, its extraction, and its use. As an example in plate 5, “Shikimic Acid from Liquid Amber. Key ingredient in the flu superdrug Tamiflu. Efficacy unclear. Controversy abounds.”[4] Each plate description brings the work into the twenty-first century with recognisable names such as Tamiflu and cholesterol. Campbell’s original project appears to have been ambitious. John C. Welchman, a professor in the Visual Arts department at the University of California, states that “LA Botanical had as its goal – most likely impossible to bring to its full potential – to document every plant that grows in LA for which there is a recorded use, whether as a food, medicine, weapon, abortive means, analgesic, fuel, stimulant, building material, deadly toxin, or mind altering entheogen.”[5] Completing that goal and documenting all the plants that fall into those categories would take considerable time and probably an obsessiveness – not an unusual trait in an artist.

Ballard states that the exhibition contains “an inventory of thirty-nine useful plants frozen in time by the liquid caress of a wet-plate Ambrotype.”[6] An ambrotype is a photographic form used from the 1850s to 1890s; a process purposefully chosen by Campbell as being relevant to the project she was working on.[7] “In LA Botanical, I focused on 1850, which was the year that Los Angeles was incorporated, and when the process of ambrotype was invented and photography as a reproducible medium came into being.”[8] The ambrotype process utilises the wet plate collodion glass negative process which, when viewed against a dark background, creates the appearance of a positive image. When viewed against a light background, however, the image is revealed as a negative.[9] Because of the process chosen, the images have an aged quality and the plants appear ghostly and fragile.

As Ballard sees it “Campbell’s Ambrotypes did more than describe the plants themselves, they captured nature as a more-than-human presence at once contemporary and layered through time.”[10] LA Botanical is a series photographic works depicting plants surviving in Mecca, California. The images have a ghostly appearance and feel like they might be in danger of extinction or are already extinct. But do they convey a ‘more-than-human’ presence? The 2022 catalogue includes two extra plates and none of the images display any human presence. Each plate is a close-up of the main body of the featured plant or at least a branch. Still, her statement made me look closely at each plate in the catalogue, and rather than see any human presence, I sensed an aloneness, a sadness for each plant.

Anna Tsing, a professor in the Anthropology Department at the University of California, writes that theIndustrial transformation turned out to be a bubble of promise followed by lost livelihoods and damaged landscapes.”[11] Scientists now venture that we have left the stability of the 12,000-year-long Holocene period and moved in to the Anthropocene period. Writing about care ethics, Bruno Latour, and the Anthropocene, Michael Flower and Maurice Hamington, from Portland State University, state that: “Although the start date of the Anthropocene is disputed, many scientists favor the beginning as the 1950s, when human involvement in climate change began to grow exponentially.”[12] A date that is directly relevant to Campbell’s LA Botanical work. Flower and Hamington claim “The Anthropocene forces us to consider how we care for the non-human material world.”[13] And the science of care is something Ballard mentions in her foreword.
 

In her final paragraph, Ballard says “These ghostly images care.”[14] Is it not the artist, Joyce Campbell, who cares and uses her creative process and research show the world that she cares, and in turn show us that we should care too? Care is visible in Campbell’s work. As Ballard states when talking about Campbell’s ambrotypes, “they quietly whisper, pay attention, notice, this.”[15] Australian artist Jessie Boylan's photographic work explores the harm and damage that occurs gradually, like climate change, environmental pollution, and radiation. A focus similar to Campbell. In writing about Boylan, Dr Jacqueline Millner, Associate Professor of Visual Arts at La Trobe University, says that Boylan has “a lens of care”[16] about her work. Campbell has taken this same lens and made “these ghostly images care”.

Campbell’s work and Ballard’s words have led me to thinking about the lens of care within my own work. Do I show care by the investment of time and work that describes the land as it now looks, ensuring the story is told, and alerting my audience that it's time for care? Care about a non-human-centric world, and consideration of our connectedness with nature. Although these words by Anna Tsing that Ballard quotes add to my dwindling lack of belief in our ability to improve the world and learn from our mistakes: “Neither tales of progress nor of ruin tell us how to think about collaborative survival.”[17] But we must care; we must start conversations; we must offer hope.

 

 

Bibliography

Ballard, Susan. “Winter Sweet” In LA Botanical, 2nd ed., 2-3. Auckland: RIM Books, 2022

Campbell, Joyce. “LA Botanical" Two Rooms. Accessed June 3, 2024. https://tworooms.co.nz/exhibitions/l-a-botanical/.

Campbell, Joyce. LA Botanical, 2nd ed., Auckland: RIM Books, 2022

Conland, Natasha. The Walters Prize 2016. Auckland NZ: Auckland Art Gallery Toi O TāMaki, 2016

Cornell University. “Photographic Processes: 1839 – 1889.” Accessed June 4, 2024.
https://rmc.library.cornell.edu/DawnsEarlyLight/exhibition/processes/collodion_neg.html.

Flower, M.; Hamington, M. “Care Ethics, Bruno Latour, and the Anthropocene.” Philosophies 2022. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies7020031

Millner, Jacqueline. “Care and Art — AWARE Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions.” AWARE Women Artists / Femmes Artistes, January 29, 2023. https://awarewomenartists.com/en/magazine/de-lart-et-du-care/.

Princeton University Press. “A Look Inside the Mushroom at the End of the World,” Accessed June 4, 2024. https://press.princeton.edu/ideas/a-look-inside-the-mushroom-at-the-end-of-the-world

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. "Professor Susan Ballard." Accessed June 3, 2024. https://people.wgtn.ac.nz/susan.ballard.

Welchman, John C. On the Last Afternoon: Disrupted Ecologies and the Work of Joyce Campbell. Sternberg Press & Te PāTaka Toi Adam Art Gallery, 2019

 

[1] "Joyce Campbell LA Botanical." Two Rooms, accessed June 3, 2024. https://tworooms.co.nz/exhibitions/l-a-botanical/.

[2] "Professor Susan Ballard." Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, accessed June 3, 2024. https://people.wgtn.ac.nz/susan.ballard.

[3] Susan Ballard. “Winter Sweet” in LA Botanical, 2nd ed., (Auckland: RIM Books, 2022), 2-3

[4] Joyce Campbell, LA Botanical, 2nd ed., (Auckland: RIM Books, 2022), 13

[5] John C Welchman. 2019. On the Last Afternoon: Disrupted Ecologies and the Work of Joyce Campbell. (Sternberg Press & Te PāTaka Toi Adam Art Gallery, 2019), 59-60

[6] Ballard, Winter Sweet. 2-3.

[7] Welchman, On the Last Afternoon, 59-60.

[8] Natasha Conland. The Walters Prize 2016. Auckland NZ: Auckland Art Gallery Toi O TāMaki, 2026, 12.

[9] “Photographic Processes: 1839 – 1889.” Cornell University, accessed June 4, 2024. https://rmc.library.cornell.edu/DawnsEarlyLight/exhibition/processes/collodion_neg.html

[10] Ballard, Winter Sweet. 2-3.

[11] “A Look Inside the Mushroom at the End of the World” Princeton University Press. accessed June 4, 2024. https://press.princeton.edu/ideas/a-look-inside-the-mushroom-at-the-end-of-the-world.

[12] M. Flower; M. Hamington. “Care Ethics, Bruno Latour, and the Anthropocene. Philosophies” 2022, 7, 31. https://doi.org/10.3390/philosophies7020031

[13]Flower, Hamington. “Care Ethics, Bruno Latour”

[14] Ballard, Winter Sweet. 2-3.

[15] Ballard, Winter Sweet. 2-3.

[16] Jacqueline Millner. “Care and Art — AWARE Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions.” AWARE Women Artists / Femmes Artistes, January 29, 2023. https://awarewomenartists.com/en/magazine/de-lart-et-du-care/.

[17] Princeton University Press. “A Look Inside the Mushroom.”

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