5 Fast Facts About #5WomenArtists Changing the World: Susan Goethel Campbell

Multidisciplinary artist Susan Goethel Campbell (b. 1956) creates installations, videos, prints, drawings, and artists’ books to highlight the indistinguishable characteristics of nature, culture, and the built environment. Campbell blurs the lines between these elements, documenting our changing planet and population and visualizing the intimate, ever-changing relationship between nature and human society.

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Susan Goethel Campbell, After the Deluge: The Post-Ark Report, 2002; Photoetching with aquatint and chine colle, 14 x 11 x 1 in.; NMWA, Museum Purchase; © Susan Goethel Campbell

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Susan Goethel Campbell, After the Deluge: The Post-Ark Report, 2002; Photoetching with aquatint and chine colle, 14 x 11 x 1 in.; NMWA, Museum Purchase; © Susan Goethel Campbell

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1. Foundational Influences

Campbell has spent most of her adult life in Detroit, Michigan, and cites paintings in the Detroit Institute of Arts as having stylistic influence on her own works. Frederic Edwin Church’s Cotopaxi (1862) is one she would “look at and respond to over many years.” Campbell has also mentioned James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket (1875), which depicts an atmospheric event, as a major influence on her own explorations of landscape.

2. The Art of Repurposing

In her “Grounds” series, Campbell explores the unexpected beauty between natural and manmade forms. Campbell grew sod inside consumer packaging until it took the shape of the containers. She then upended and freeze-dried the forms, which released them from the packaging and liberated the root mass. This series demonstrates an interconnectivity between organic matter and post-consumer debris.

3. Biblical Proportions

Part of NMWA’s extensive artists’ books collection, Campbell’s After the Deluge: The Post-Ark Report (2002) is loosely based on the biblical tale of Noah’s ark. Campbell’s retelling reveals the fates of various animal species in the 21st century. The poetic—and sometimes cheeky—narrative draws on text and clippings from the New York Times and Detroit Free Press and underscores the impact of human encroachment on animal habitats.

An open view of Susan Goethel Campbell's artists' book RIM, which is made from magnetic sheeting and opens to form a circle around a hollow core. The inside panels of the circle contain rural landscape painting with handwritten text over the images. The outside are covered in magnetic sheeting. The cover of the book, which simply says "RIM" is positioned in the center of the start of the circle.

Campbell’s artists’ book Rim (2000) addresses suburban sprawl, population density, and the loss of undeveloped land in Detroit

4. Reading the Sky

In 2009, Campbell set up a camera on the 22nd floor of Detroit’s Fisher Building to take one photo each minute for an entire year. She then compressed the files into a three-hour video. The resulting installation, Detroit Weather: 365 Days, documents the ways in which weather and industry affect one another. Campbell said, “You can…see stacks from the Ford Rouge Plant and Zug Island pumping out emissions and intersecting with weather patterns.”

5. Forces of Nature

Campbell is consistently inspired by the oscillating nature of Detroit’s landscape. “To watch the landscape change quite drastically by plant life has been largely influential throughout most of my time here. That cyclical process of something manmade being reclaimed by nature has been a really powerful influence on my work.”

—Alexa Kasner is the is the spring 2020 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts; Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.