Barbara Campbell

Artist Statement


I'd been harbouring the story of Scheherazade somewhere in my body since ...well, probably since first seeing a B-grade movie about Sindbad or Aladdin, but with any degree of intellectual awareness, since reading Robert Irwin's text: The Arabian Nights: A Companion, (London: Penguin) in 1994. Here I learnt of the meta-tale of the 1001 Nights, its migration as cultural product from East to West in the early 18th Century and of the structuring principle of Scheherazade's frame story.

But it wasn't until 2003 that Scheherazade really began to stir in me. By then another war in the Middle East had begun - this one implicating me and my fellow citizens, through the Australian Government's all-too-ready alliance with the Bush administration. And in those early days of the Iraqi invasion, what we knew of the Middle East was being relayed to us by reports from "embedded" journalists acting as our proxy, but partisan, witnesses. We could log on to our home computers on any given day and receive updated reports on what was going on over there, in a different time zone. How different was this from the actions of fantasist gentleman-anthropologists like Richard Burton in the 19th Century? Here, again, it was not the Middle East that we were learning about, it was the West's relation to the Middle East that was on display.

I began thinking about those newspaper reports in different ways.

Firstly, these articles were wedded to a reportage on time itself. A newspaper is a chronicle. It is about representing the very recent past. It marks out time for us in daily sequence. It is a machine for proscribing our lives.

Secondly, just as Roland Barthes pointed to the existence of the punctum in photography, it seemed possible to find the punctum in the language of journalism. While each article on the Middle East had a studium, the slips of language could provide moments that would break free of that studium, in a way that, given the chance, might allow other kinds of stories to emerge. In 2005, this is what emerged:

In 1001 nights cast, I perform a short text-based work for 1001 consecutive nights. The performance is relayed as a live webcast to anyone, anywhere, who is logged on to at the appointed time, that is, sunset according to my physical location.

A frame story written by me introduces the project's nightly performances. It is a survival story and it creates the context for subsequent stories generated daily through writer/performer collaborations made possible by the reach of the Internet.

Each morning I read journalists' reports covering events in the Middle East. I select a prompt word or phrase that leaps from the page with generative potential. I render the prompt in watercolour and post it in its new pictorial form on the website. Participants are then invited to write a story using that day's prompt in a submission of up to 1001 words. And so it continues, for 1001 nights.

Barbara Campbell Bio

Associate Artist, School of Letters, Art and Media, University of Sydney. I'm a performance artist who has worked with the contextual properties of all kinds of sites since 1982. Back then, sites were physical: galleries, museums, stairways, atriums, piers, to name some. Now my performance site is actually a website. I don't think this qualifies me as a new media artist. In fact I waited until the Internet acquired the patina of age before I became really interested in it, because then it became possible to discern user patterns and the messages of the medium itself. Community, distribution, globalisation, interactivity, citizen-media, were some of those messages, and these are what I'm employing now.