From 2009
Touch Sensitive: Anthony Campuzano at the ICA

Philadelphia-based artist Anthony Campuzano recently exhibited several new works at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, his first museum show, Touch Sensitive. The body of work contained several mixed media text based pieces, about ten total that filled the museum’s Project Space. The work ranges from two dimensional paintings and drawings to custom made, free standing bulletin boards and a beach towel, all featuring the found text and crude aesthetic that are trademarks of his work.

Campuzano’s works “Various Titles, Various Times 1 and 2” are the two free standing works in the show, situated near the back corner of the room parallel to the wall and far enough from it to invite the viewer to examine the work from both sides. They are constructed very simply from steel, red enamel and corkboard, which have several cut and painted pieces of paper pinned to them with red thumbtacks. Crowded inside each of these paper pieces is a block of black text of varying sizes. The permanence of the bulletin boards is accentuated through the placement of these pieces. The viewer gets the feeling that these texts are not meant to be moved or re-arranged despite the fact that they are attached in such a temporary way. In this manner, Campuzano very effectively skews the function of a recognizable object, a theme that is explored heavily in his work. Here he is doing it through the object, the sculpture itself, before we even delve into the content of the piece.

Another interesting juxtaposition in the structure of “Various Titles, Various Times” is the very simple, rigid and formalist construction of the boards themselves combined with the loose, imperfect blocks of text pinned to them. The bulletin boards appear manufactured to the viewer, whereas the artist’s hand is clearly recognizable in the pinned pieces of paper. The papers are cut into mostly rectangular shapes of various sizes, and are arranged in a manner that is both haphazard and ordered: the shapes appear as if they were created first and then the artist attempted to squeeze all of them into the space. Angles that appear as if they should be perfect are slightly skewed, or the edges of the papers themselves are not square, and the space between each paper varies throughout the whole piece. This discord becomes a challenge to the viewer: whether the blocks of text are meant to be read or if they should be noted for their function as forms.

The text itself consists of solid black block letters of varying sizes on a yellow background, crammed into a blue border. The letters follow none of the traditional standards of words and writing as words are broken apart into rows of letters that stop and continue onto the next line and sentences that collide into run-ons with no punctuation to anchor them. What’s more, some of the variation in letter size pushes various characters into the lines above and below, further destroying the traditional fluidity and functionality of text. The variation in the letterforms along with the placement and colors of the blocks themselves give the piece a distinct sense of movement, everything seems to vibrate as the dead, collected text springs to life.

The text is indeed dead, with most of it appearing to come from a newspaper’s obituaries page. (Campuzano is known to draw from several other sources for his found text, including newspaper headlines, wikipedia articles, song lyrics, and personal anecdotes). It is impossible to have the same experience with “Various Titles, Various Times” and the text in its original, linear context. For one, reading the piece linearly is impossible: in addition to the letterforms being solid, obviously hand painted blocks of black, the text floats around the composition without any sort of functional order: some text is read horizontally, some vertically and some is totally ambiguous. If one were to read the writings on the piece, they would be better served to take it block by block, reading each blue bordered shape as if it were it’s own separate entity. The relationship of the blocks is unclear aside from the fact that they are descriptions of people: whether or not any two blocks describe the same person is unknown or hard to tell. In fact, it is even hard to tell that these sayings come from obituaries at all. There are some hints in the syntax of the writings (once deciphered) as well as the title of the piece. Sometimes it is quite clear: sayings such as “70LAWYERANDACTIVIST” and “UNYEILDINGADVOCATEMOURNED” and sometimes is not: “CURATOR” and “RENAISSANCEMAN” are not necessarily read as obituaries. The sum of the text, that is reading all of it helps clarify but not totally, and not giving everything away to the viewer creates a more rich visual and contextual experience.

A lack of clarity is integral to “Various Titles, Various Times” and becomes more apparent the more it is digested and thought about. Questions as to the necessity of the piece’s ambiguity and the motive of its content are going to be common with viewers, as well as how it is meant to be related to in the first place. Because of the nature of the text, the viewer may feel as if this were some sort of memorial, however, if this were so, why is the text so hard to read? The text definitely comes alive, but it is more for the sake of the text, for the idea of the text. It is slightly morbid and perhaps pervasive to glorify the obituary and not the people that it was written about. We wonder just who it was who “HELPEDWOUNDEDVETERANS” or we feel empathy for the “NEWMOTHER” but these are extremely hollow experiences when we consider the text as just text. Therefore, the value, the sentimentality and the attitude of the piece can vary widely from viewer to viewer, and Campuzano’s relationship to the piece is very vague and very much unknowable without doing any sort of research.

Viewing the piece from a purely aesthetic viewpoint is a way to escape the sort of ambiguity discussed above, however it opens up a whole new series of questions and things to consider. One such question, touched upon briefly above is the question of the function of the text in the piece. We can assume that the source of the text is important because it is not randomly collected from all over, but from one common source. However, it is practically destroyed as common graphic design practices are referenced yet systematically disregarded. It is as if Campuzano is making it hard for the viewer to take him seriously, yet at the same time commanding the viewers attention and respect. The allure of the written word on a page makes it difficult for a viewer to not examine the piece more closely. When most people see words, they want to read them. When reading the words becomes difficult, the viewer starts to think about the work in other dimensions.

The hand-made aspect of the piece is one that is highly beneficial to the success of the concept and the piece as a whole. For one thing, if Campuzano’s blocks of text were printed typefaces it would do several detrimental things to the work. It would instantly become much more formal instead of simply referencing formality. It would make the text much easier to read, which makes things less visually interesting. The most important reason for the hand reproduction of the text is that it makes the work much more sentimental, much more akin to a labor of love. It takes much longer to hand paint letters than it does to type and print them, this therefore increases the integrity and the value of the work and the text. Hand painting the letters is a way of including the artist’s hand into a piece, a theme that is becoming increasingly more popular in contemporary art, especially with younger emerging artists, perhaps partly as a reaction to more established, higher-budget fabrication artists, partly as a reaction to the current state of the American economy, referencing a do-it-yourself aesthetic and sensibility. Furthermore, hand painting letters serves as a means to legitimize a work of art that is almost entirely text based as a work of art, and not as a piece of design or of function. The crudity of the letterforms are integral to the artist’s sort of “junk aesthetic” already heavily established throughout the work. The imperfection of the hand is accentuated here in contrast to the perfection of the printed page. The work is not easily mass-produced as the original text was. This is another example of how Campuzano shows his awareness of tradition and his intrinsic desire to alter and essentially destroy it.

Campuzano’s color choices function well within the piece. The black text on a yellow background increases the urgency of the work, and makes the text pop off of the plane. Large solid black letters stand out like iconic road signs, instantly commanding attention because of the high value contrast and perhaps because of a modern person’s inclination to notice road signs. In fact, the simple color choice of yellow on black is another way of relating his work, a non-functional piece of sculpture, to an everyday object, a reference that he makes over and over again. Outlining each of these blocks in blue makes them vibrate against the red border of the bulletin boards and makes the red thumbtacks much more apparent. The glossy red enamel of the bulletin board structures also further encourages the viewer to step forward and take a look at the work.

Most interesting about Campuzano’s color choices is their evident naiveté. Primary red, yellow, and blue do not seem to be well thought out or very evident of an experienced professional artist, however the decisions seem very intentional and help to reinforce the artist’s crude aesthetic, already established with the hand painted lettering. It also further pushes the piece further away from the printed page and it’s formalism, again disregarding common practices of graphic design. The colors take the piece into a whole new realm of existence, one that is purely the artist’s own, thus becoming very intimate, personal and monumental.

Viewing “Various Titles, Various Times” is a unique and multifaceted experience, and it is obvious that the piece is very well researched and every decision was given a good amount of thought and intent. It is refreshing to see an artist creating work that is rich conceptually as well as visually and adds a lot to the value of the piece when compared to other works by young, contemporary artists, especially in Philadelphia. The work does not feel shallow at all and is uniquely pleasant to look at. There is something about common objects used in different ways that really resonates with a viewer, and Campuzano nails it here with his text, his construction and his presentation. It is also beneficial to draw the viewer in through presentation and keep them there with thought, and doing so with such simplicity and elegance is an admirable quality in an artwork.

Campuzano’s work is becoming increasingly important in a world where traditional forms of media are rapidly becoming outdated, and where our ideas and sources of information are becoming more and more abstracted. The printed page in society is becoming obsolete, being replaced by the web page, newspapers are being supplanted by news sites and any content we desire can be retrieved instantly. Anthony Campuzano’s work is one artists reaction to this and his trademark “abstract journalism” is becoming increasingly more relevant as a commentary on society, every bit a fresh, new rebirth of social realism.


For the past week, I've been posting everyday for the Philagrafika Blog, mostly short analyses of artists involved in the Summer Solstice Benefit 2010. Check them out here:

Amze Emmons

Richard Hricko

Mike Houston

Alex Lukas

Charles Fahlen


changing blog roles


i'm switching things up a little with my internet identities:

-http://danhaddigan.tumblr.com replaces the role of this blog, which is frequent posting of work and work in progress.

-http://www.danhaddigan.com is still my personal website, portfolio, whatever, etc., etc.

-and thisblog will now be updated with writing- reviews, articles, etc.



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