Reviewed by Emma Hill
Art Review, London, 2001
Ken Campbell’s ‘PANTHEON’ is possibly the most austere and uncompromising of the 20 publications he has made over the last 25 years and a homage to one of the architectural wonders of the world. The brutal yet beautiful structure of the building dominates Campbell’s book and he sets his themes within a framework that makes constant reference to the letterpress printer’s tools: there is a series of architectural photographs, a sequence of computer-manipulated images of the artist’s head and a group of repeated texts worked into a grid of wooden blocks. The grid is repeated in some form on almost every page, establishing a rhythmic undertone.
The patina of the many overprints Campbell uses to achieve infinite variations of colour and depth is highly seductive. In ‘PANTHEON’, however, seduction is held in check by the unprinted edges of the page. While the grid suggests the geometric order of Roman design, the insistence on marking the threshold of the image makes this book more self-referential than previous work. Within this grid Campbell builds up a work that speaks of desolation and of belief. Repeated brooding details of the building are set against the photo-negative portraits. The head is manipulated to resemble a mask, a bust, a phallus and, in one central image, the skull of the great black dome. The face of the artist is shown as a dead thing; as Campbell announces, this Pantheon is both temple and ‘Last House’.
Campbell’s texts function in complex ways; there is seldom a linear narrative. Texts are set as images, and in tandem with images They are broken up and meaning accumulates gradually through the pages. Words are repeated and fragmented; understanding them becomes an act of excavation.