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August 2020: Crystal Z Campbell

with Lydia Cheshewalla and Christina Beatty

reflect / project launched August 7 with two works from Tulsa-based artist, writer, and experimental filmmaker of Black, Filipino, and Chinese descents, Crystal Z Campbell. This exhibition marked the worldwide premiere of Campbell’s new short sound film, Viewfinder (TRT: 19’53 minutes). Filmed entirely in Sweden, Viewfinder takes cues from decisive moments and movements to explore belonging, allyship, and monuments. Campbell’s short film Currency (TRT:2’53), is a sound-centric film of refusal—a woman wears bygone forms of currency on the tips of her hair while preserving the greatest currency for herself.

Campbell highlighted the work of two Oklahoma-based creatives for the online component: Osage artist Lydia Cheshewalla shared collaborative works from the Ephemeral Reliquaries series, and writer, educator, and arts administrator Christina Beatty wrote a new essay responding to Campbell’s films.

Viewfinder by crystal z campbell

1, Crystal Z Campbell, video still from Viewfinder, 2020; digital video with stereo sound, duration: 19:53; Courtesy of the artist. 2, Crystal Z Campbell, video still from Viewfinder, 2020; digital video with stereo sound, duration: 19:53; Courtesy of the artist. 3, Crystal Z Campbell, installation view of Viewfinder at Mid-America Arts Alliance, 2020; digital video with stereo sound, duration: 19:53; Courtesy of the artist. 4, Crystal Z Campbell, installation view of Viewfinder at Mid-America Arts Alliance, 2020; digital video with stereo sound, duration: 19:53; Courtesy of the artist. 5, Crystal Z Campbell, installation view of Viewfinder at Mid-America Arts Alliance, 2020; digital video with stereo sound, duration: 19:53; Courtesy of the artist. 6, Crystal Z Campbell, installation view of Viewfinder at Mid-America Arts Alliance, 2020; digital video with stereo sound, duration: 19:53; Courtesy of the artist.

VIEWFINDER (2020)
Digital Video and Stereo Sound
19’53” Minutes

Visit Campbell’s website to learn more. 

currency by crystal z campbell

1, Crystal Z Campbell, video still from Currency, 2020; digital video with stereo sound, duration:2:53; Courtesy of the artist.  2, Crystal Z Campbell, video still from Currency, 2020; digital video with stereo sound, duration: 2:53; Courtesy of the artist. 3, Crystal Z Campbell, installation view of Currency at Mid-America Arts Alliance, 2020; digital video with stereo sound, duration: 2:53; Photograph by Hadley Clark, image Courtesy of the artist

CURRENCY (2019)
Digital Video, Stereo Sound
Director: crystal z campbell
Performer: angela davis johnson
Videographer: david wayne reed
02’53” Minute Loop

Visit Campbell’s website to learn more. 

Monuments of Obstruction and Resistance: Responding to Crystal Z Campbell’s film Viewfinder by Christina Beatty

three girls on a boat walkway with pink lifejackets

Crystal Z Campbell, film still from Viewfinder, 2020; digital video with stereo sound, time: 18:53; Courtesy of the artist.

In a moment of public confrontation, Danuta Danielsson swung her handbag in protest. Even without knowing she was the daughter of a holocaust survivor, one could imagine why she might strike a neo-Nazi demonstrator. Predating today’s ubiquitous potential for any moment to be captured and live on forever, she may not have bargained for the public attention that would follow. Somehow, Danielsson’s act of resistance would be construed as more problematic than the violently racist ideology she opposed.

In his essay “Civil Disobedience,” abolitionist Henry David Thoreau writes: “Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made agents of injustice.” Societies depend on social contracts. Truth and justice are not required terms; on the contrary, lies of omission and oppressive violence can just as easily serve as societal keystones so long as enough participants are willing to uphold them. Few lures are more seductive to the human ego than the chance to believe one is superior.

Just shy of seven minutes into Crystal Z Campbell’s Viewfinder (2020), filmed entirely in Sweden, the sound of clapping ushers the viewer into a seemingly ancient rock formation. After panning across the moss covered surface, the camera slows down and pulls back, revealing the source of the smaller image superimposed over the shot: a large stone wedged between two ridges. In the smaller, static image, the boulder has been removed, creating a frame to peer through as if beckoning us to consider what we might be able to see in the stone’s absence.

Local folklore warns that when the boulder falls out, the last person on Earth will die. While the weight of this cautionary tale may feel unsettling, ascribing symbolic meanings to the natural world is a time honored method of making meaning and reinforcing social mores and norms. The underlying fear of the fragility of society may lend a clue about why a woman confronting racism would be considered too taboo to publicly commemorate.

The Swedish government’s efforts to create a progressive state centering the welfare of its citizens were quite conditional, guided by incredibly narrow definitions of who deserved to benefit. In an effort to weed out misfits and mixed bloodlines, a state sanctioned program rooted in the study of eugenics sterilized tens of thousands of Swedes for much of the 20th century. This campaign to engineer a superior race didn’t end until 1974.

The mere existence of the black and brown bodies featured throughout the film are monuments of resistance in a society that could have prevented their mothers from ever giving birth. In Viewfinder’s opening scene, drumbeats announce the descent of strong, graceful male dancer. After examining the stuffed creature greeting him at the ladder’s base, he mirrors the cat’s ferocious expression, asserting his own presence. The dancer is revisited throughout the house at different points; in each instance, his controlled movements are evidence that rigorous training has replaced natural gestures with new ways of moving through the world.

Three young women make their way down a pier, ricocheting from side to side as if being tossed about on a boat weathering stormy seas. Layered, non-verbal vocals contribute to the sense of confusion and uncertainty. The pier connects the water with a bathhouse meant for leisure and relaxation, but these women’s bodies appear more in danger than at peace. When they encounter The Woman with the Handbag, the young women amplify her protest with handbags of their own. Silently, they link her past resistance to present sentiments. Though the monument itself has been physically relegated to a private space, the surrounding controversy and makeshift expressions of solidarity echo across the landscape further cementing its presence and legacy in Swedish public discourse.

Filmed a year ago and an ocean away, Viewfinder feels startlingly relevant. The faulty terms of our own social contracts are more difficult to ignore as a global pandemic rages on in the midst of a divisive presidential election year. With society under such crushing pressure from all sides, perhaps removing the stone is precisely the act of preservation that will save us.

To download this essay, access the pdf.

Lydia Cheshewalla, Ephemeral Reliquaries

Lydia Cheshewalla is an Osage artist living and working in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a BFA in painting and ceramics, and has since expanded her artist explorations into the worlds of ephemeral art, community building, and creative placemaking. Her work focuses on the intersections of art, ecology, and Indigenous Ways of Knowing, blending traditional and contemporary Indigenous methodologies with modern material and process in ways that seek to challenge the Western anthropocentric perspective. Her inspiration comes from her environment and she references nature and the unknown through repeated symbols and motif.

This featured series is Ephemeral Reliquaries:

Lydia Cheshewalla (performer) and Jessica Price (photographer)
Lying in the space between two rocks; a collaboration between body and land
Davis Mountains, Ft. Davis, TX, March 2019
Digital Harinezumi photograph
Courtesy of the artists

Lydia Cheshewalla (performer) and Jessica Price (photographer)
Circle of yellow blossoms behind plastic yellow chain; an exploration of borders
Biosphere 2, Oracle, AZ, March 2019
Digital Harinezumi photograph
Courtesy of the artists

Lydia Cheshewalla (performer) and Jessica Price (photographer)
Approaching borders as shadows; an exploration of liminality and layers
Lake Tahoe, NV, March 2019
Digital Harinezumi photograph
Courtesy of the artists

Lydia Cheshewalla (performer) and Jessica Price (photographer)
Sitting in the present-past; an exploration of the tools of defense
Abandoned military installation, Marin Headlands, CA, March 2019
Digital Harinezumi photograph
Courtesy of the artists

Lydia Cheshewalla (performer and photographer)
Walking where a river was; a collaboration between body and land
Playa, Black Rock Desert, NV, March 2019
iPhone photograph
Courtesy of the artist

Lydia Cheshewalla (performer and photographer)
A line of dollars in the sand; an exploration of language and symbolism
Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA, March 2019
iPhone photograph
Courtesy of the artist

Lydia Cheshewalla (performer) and Jessica Price (photographer)
Becoming part of division; a collaboration between body and land
Santa Catalina Mountains, Tucson, AZ, March 2019
Digital Harinezumi photograph
Courtesy of the artists

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