The artist wears the trousers

Campbell Patterson’s video and sculpture exhibition ‘‘call sick’’ explores the experience of...
Campbell Patterson’s video and sculpture exhibition ‘‘call sick’’ explores the experience of escapism. Photos: Linda Robertson.
Campbell Patterson’s first Frances Hodgkins Fellowship exhibition is an abstracted reflection on the urge to escape a bleak decade, he tells Bruce Munro.

Things are not quite right when your work phone number is in your contacts list under "call sick".

Not quite right but, in Campbell Patterson’s case, also the inspiration for his new exhibition at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery (DPAG).

Born in England, raised in Australia and then Auckland, Patterson (33) is in Dunedin as the 2017 Frances Hodgkins Fellow at the University of Otago.

The shift south was serendipitous, he says.

Last year, he celebrated a decade since graduating from Elam School of Fine Art in Auckland. The anniversary provided a natural opportunity to review and refocus.

"I had spent nine of those years working at the public library in Auckland.

"It can be hard to fit in making money and also trying to make time for your art.

"I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore.

"So this fellowship came along at the right time."

Not that it was an easy adjustment.

The first month was "awful".

The shift from trying to cram his art in around paid work to being paid to create art "took time to get my head around".

"I wasn’t expecting it ... There was suddenly all this time and space.’’With that freedom came a looming sense of responsibility.

"Possibly that pressure came from the Frances Hodgkins Fellow’s 50-year retrospective [held this year].

"It was like, ‘Ahh, who am I?’ There were some deep questions going on."

Four and a-half months in, Patterson feels he has now found his rhythm.‘‘It’s about building structure, really."

That structure seems to have a fair few night-hours built into it. Patterson admits to being an insomniac who has learned to operate on little sleep. Although since starting the fellowship he has been sleeping better; just, not until after 5am.

Being awake at night has its advantages, he says.

"My mind is quieter at night, I guess.

"It is a good time to get work done.

"At night, there’s just music, and me, and the work."

Patterson is reluctant to be pigeonholed as a video artist.

"I think I’m known for video art. I find that quite frustrating.

"I have made a lot of video art, but it is not my main focus. There is no main focus. I paint, I’ve been printing, I’ve been making little books, I’ve been writing ..."

It is not about the medium, but about which medium is the best way to treat the subject, he says.

"I think I’m good at video. But as far as my investigation into my practice goes, I sometimes find when I get called a video artist it actually makes me want to not make video.

"Sometimes video is perfect, but sometimes it’s not. I definitely like to try different mediums out and see how they work."

This exhibition, "call sick", is both video and sculpture, but it is all pants. Big pants.The inspiration was the contacts list moniker for his workplace phone number.‘‘I guess that’s kind of self-explanatory,’’ he says of the emotions and state of mind that spawned "call sick".

Patterson commissioned a tailor to create four pairs of tracksuit pants scaled up to double their normal size. He has been sleeping in the pants since shifting to Dunedin. The pants have also been worn for video performances of Patterson entering and exiting buildings.

The DPAG exhibition is  two adjacent spaces; a room screening loops of the video performances and a nearby wall where the pants (subtly visually and olfactorily altered by wearing) are displayed as sculptural works.

"My work can be pretty personal, or autodiaristic ... But I use my life more as a starting point.

"Then I blur things, so that it is more universal, rather than just about me."

Escapism is one of the themes explored in the exhibition.

"I do a loop through a house; in through an entrance and then out a window.

"I’m wearing nothing but the pants, which complicates things.

"It’s an escape ... but the purpose is abstracted by the repetition."

During the creation of the work, Patterson was ruminating on Robert Bresson’s 1956 French film A Man Escaped. Bresson was known for his thematically bleak films and tightly controlled acting, which often amounted to non-acting.

"In the video ... my free will, my movements, are all dictated by the process I have set up ... the window creates the parameters of the action."

Another theme in "call sick" is "a tired sort of weariness".

"These pants I’ve been sleeping in; they get modified ... There’s a slight sadness, a weariness to them.

"They’re monumental but they are also saggy. A little bit bleak, I guess."


The exhibition

Campbell Patterson’s exhibition "call sick" opens at Dunedin Public Art Gallery today.

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