Multidisciplinary artist, experimental filmmaker, and writer Crystal Z Campbell has been named the Henry L. and Natalie E. Freund Teaching Fellow at Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts for the 2023-24 academic year.
In its 37th year, the annual Freund Fellowship involves teaching an art course at the school, giving a public lecture, and exhibiting work as part of a solo exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum in fall 2024.
Campbell’s creative research centers public secrets and the underloved, reflected in an archive-driven practice. Informed by rumor and anti-institutional forms of historical transmission alongside gaps in archival repositories and recorded histories, Campbell’s work lends attention to events, places, and people that have been underacknowledged. Campbell’s works on Henrietta Lacks — a Black woman whose cells were taken without consent and became the backbone of the biotech industry via the first immortal cell line — reflect Campbell’s interest in the intersections of perception and the optics of historical transmission. Intrigued by whispers, epigenetics, social and spatial histories, and embodiment as an archival form, Campbell is most known for time-based installations that combine archival traces, strategic opacity, abstraction, and the architectural and site histories of each location.
Campbell will spend a semester in St. Louis teaching a class of their own design, titled “Artists in the Archive.” They’ll take the class to various archives throughout St. Louis — such as those at the Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri Historical Society, and WashU — and use what they find as a jumping off point for artworks. “I’m excited for our students to learn what the archive can be for them, that they can go in and hold items in their own hands; that it can be an inspirational source,” said Amy Hauft, director of the College and Graduate School of Art.
Additionally, Campbell will have an artist studio in Weil Hall, working alongside with current MFA students. “It’s a great model for our students to see someone in the studio, to see that steadiness, as they produce a museum show,” Hauft said.
The artist’s exhibition proposal focuses on the Exodusters, the first groups of freed Black people who made a westward exodus from states along the Mississippi River following the Civil War and predating the Great Migration. The proposal is an extension of Campbell’s recently mounted solo exhibition at Artist Space with their latest experimental film, REVOLVER. Narrated by a descendant of Exodusters, Campbell describes the film as “an archive of pareidolia,” a term used to describe seeing a pattern or image of something that isn’t there. Hauft noted that one of Campbell’s previous projects centered on Tulsa and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, and that coming to St. Louis and highlighting the Exodusters seems a natural progression.
“We’re very excited to welcome Crystal to St. Louis and look forward to their exhibition here next year,” said Simon Kelly, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Saint Louis Art Museum. “Crystal’s mining of the archive has been fascinating. Their exhibition promises to be deeply thought-provoking and an important contribution to the valuable Freund Fellowship partnership between our two institutions.”
“I think of Crystal as building a spider web, connecting all these different institutions throughout St. Louis while also tapping into the city’s history,” Hauft said.
About Crystal Z Campbell
Crystal Z Campbell is a multidisciplinary artist; experimental filmmaker; and writer of Black, Filipinx, and Chinese descent. Campbell finds complexity in public secrets — fragments of information known by many but undertold or unspoken. Campbell’s works use underloved archival material to consider historical gaps and the optics of historical transmission — from questions of immortality and medical ethics with Henrietta Lacks’ “immortal” cell line to gentrification and cultural preservation via a 35mm film relic salvaged from a demolished Black activist theater in Brooklyn.
Campbell’s multi-year projects on Greenwood and the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre include Notes From Black Wall Street, a series of collaged and archival photographs painted with paint as thick as scars that mark how centuries long silent histories are registered and embodied. Campbell’s most recent film, REVOLVER, is an archive of pareidolia (a situation in which someone sees a pattern or image of something that does not exist) narrated by a descendant of Exodusters. Campbell’s creative practice spans painting, sculpture, performance, film, writing, and installations that are often site-responsive.
Campbell was the recipient of a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts and a 2022 Creative Capital award. Other honors include a Harvard Radcliffe Fellowship, Pollock-Krasner Award, MAP Fund, MacDowell, Skowhegan, Rijksakademie, Whitney ISP, and Franklin Furnace Award. Exhibitions and screenings include MOMA, Artists Space, Bemis, SFMOMA, Drawing Center, ICA-Philadelphia, REDCAT, MAG Rochester, SculptureCenter, MIT List Center, Block Museum, Walker Art Center, EMPAC, BAM, and DocLisboa. Campbell was a featured filmmaker at the 67th Flaherty Film Seminar. Their latest film, REVOLVER, received the Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival and was featured in the 2023 Berlinale Expanded Film Forum. Campbell’s artwork and films are held by MIT List Center, Duke University, MAG Rochester, Harvard Film Archive, and other collections in the U.S. and abroad.
Campbell’s writing is featured in two artist books published by Visual Studies Workshop Press, World Literature Today, Monday Journal, GARAGE, and Hyperallergic. Campbell is currently a visiting associate professor at the University at Buffalo and lives between New York and Oklahoma.
About the Freund Fellowship Established in 1986, the Henry L. and Natalie E. Freund Teaching Fellowship promotes the exhibition of contemporary art at the Saint Louis Art Museum as well as the teaching of art at the Sam Fox School. The fellowship centers on two core components: teaching in the College of Art and producing work for a solo exhibition for the museum’s Currents series.