Janus
18 minutes black and white 1973

A nude man encounters his life size nude portrait.

Janus is a silent study of two nude figures in profile, an investigation of light and shadow, the bodies’ depth and contours, and an unspoken inquiry into sexual desire and, possibly, fascination and self-love. It is only well in to the twenty-minute unedited recording that one realizes that one of the figures is a full-size photographic cut-out, and the other is its original model, the artist himself. The one figure, then, remains still, unresponsive, as the other gently strokes and problems, and finally moves forward for a full kiss on the mouth. The viewer is left to consider the surprise and pleasure of these revelations and the meaning of their moment of consummation. The story of Pygmalian is revised here, “live” video and (recorded) photographic images compared with each other, and with our expectations and assumptions.” (Peggy Gale, Invention Catalogue, Art Metropole, 1993)

“In Janus (1973) by Colin Campbell, the camera traces the artist making love to himself reproduced as a life-size nude photograph. Caressing an object that is also the subject, the artist’s embrace becomes an embrace of mediation: the act of lovemaking mirrored by its re-presentation as an image on television. Confusing the boundaries of inside/outside, of the real and not so real, visual pleasure is constructed as internal to the frame. Identification of the spectator is displaced: replaced by a doubling of presence, a mirrored sexuality, a homoerotic image.” (“Mirroring Identities: Two Decades of Video Art in English-Canada” by Dot Tuer in “Mirror Machine” ed. Janine Marchessault, YYZ Books, Toronto, 1995)

“Campbell, naked and standing, makes love to his “double” in a continuous full-bodied embrace. The intimacy and intensity of this action is paralleled by a camera moving slowly, voyeuristically, over the two figures, one of which is revealed in a long shot to be a life-size nude photograph of the artist, the action an erotic embrace of the self. The picture quality in black and white creates an ambiguity with respect to the photographic image – is it or is it not real? This ambiguity, together with the confrontation with questions of identity, truth, and presentation o self as performrer, are consistent with other works by Campbell in this period, notably This Is An Edit/This Is Real, True/False, and the tapes he produced in the persona of “Art Star.” Janus also prefigures the preoccupations with identity in its relation to sexuality that has been an ongoing focus of Campbell’s subsequent work. In his early work, Campbell was the sole performer, but his later videotapes are complex visually-and-verbally-scripted narratives involving a cast of performers.” (“Vintage Video” by Renee Baert, 1986)

”Campell, moreover, shows how all technological representations alter our sense of personal identity by canceling conventional notions of subjectivity. There is no subject here. Just as Campbell is embracing an image of himself, the camera is similarly embracing Campbell and turning him into an object.” (Carole Corbeil, ‘First Generation Video,’ Globe and Mail)

“Due to the overwhelming prevalence of tapes focused on the artist’s own body, the medium became analogous to a mirror as video immediately reflects back that which is placed in front of it. In the most successful instances, the purported mirroring capacity of video was employed to blur the distinction between object and subject, or to question the distinction between truth and fiction. Many artists first working in this medium addressed issues concerning the idea of the unified self and the inherent truth of the speaking subject.

Nowhere is this notion of the video double better played out than in Colin Campbell’s Janus (1973). Initially conceived as a play with illusionism, Campbell stands naked facing his photographic double (also naked), and proceeds to fondle it for the duration of the twenty minute tape, exploring the photograph’s flat surface as if its contours were real. Campbell did a number of similar illusionistic explorations with his face and hands but found that he was eventually compelled to experiment with his whole body: “It seemed ultimately daring for me to make a photographic cut-out of my entire body and interact with it so that I could work with the play between representation and reality.” (Interview with Lee Rodney, Feb. 1997)

Campbell states that he originally couched this work in formal terms as it related closely to ideas circulating around body art in the late sixties and early seventies (the body as a conduit or medium for conceptually based ideas). In retrospect, however, he notes a fundamental difference between his own early video explorations and those arising out of Conceptualism. While Conceptualism pointed to the frame and critiqued the presumed invisibility of institutional structures, it often did so by overlooking issues of subjectivity. According to Campbell, underlying the impetus for Janus “was an emerging awareness that I was gay and I was very interested in exploring gay imagery when there wasn’t any. At the time there were no representations of gays or lesbians and if you didn’t construct images yourself you would never see them. There were no magazines, no books, and I was in Sackville to boot!” Campbell felt that the sexual content of a tape like Janus was “painfully obvious,” and that issues of subjectivity and sexuality first explored in his early tapes have never left his work. However, Janus brought to the fore questions of narcissism and sexual relations (not simply same-sex relations) during the early seventies, a time in which there was little dialogue around issues of sexuality. Gender, as an issue, was only starting to emerge, and as a corollary sexuality was seldom discussed.

Janus points to the problem of self-seeing and the impossibility for self-knowledge of the Cartesian variety; consequently, it is indicative of the paradox of self-representation. Perhaps Narcissus’s tragedy resulted because the register of the visual holds out such promise for knowledge. Yet the promises upheld can only suggest loss, as one continues to seek something not there.” “Self Served: Early Video and the Politics of Narcissism” by Lee Rodney (April 28, 1997 York University thesis)

Cast: Colin Campbell

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