Hamish Downie’s Five Questions With – Lee Campbell

Editor Note: Hamish has another in his series of Five Questions With…

Hamish came up with this idea because he was accumulating too much material for his Famous News Sushi column and asked if he could do these mini-interviews. Why would we say no?

Thank you Hamish for being such a trooper for us. We really appreciate all for your hard work.


Let us know what you think of these interviews in the comments below.


TGG: I’m so excited to be able to spotlight this week’s independent creator. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

LC: Hi, I’m Lee Campbell, a Londoner who makes experimental films and poetry performance about being gay and working class using barbaric wit and humour. I trained in Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London where I received my Masters in Painting in 2007 and received my doctorate in 2016. My work broadly explores (gay male) identity and desire. Comedy is an integral part of my work. I use it to engage, disarm, and highlight tensions and paradoxes that exist in gay male subcultures and more broadly I work with painting, installation, film and mediums whose discourse is of a performative nature, to address ideas of control through humour, self-introspection and serious play. Control in getting people to draw, getting people to run naked into the sea, performance as a form of control, humour as a means to control, control in gay couples, control of the body in gay subculture etc. Whilst people may find humour in my work, it serves to remind the audience that we are (to varying levels) all controlled; the harsh reality that we are all socially controlled. You can check out my site for more, www.leecampbellartist.blogspot.com and find me @lndnqueerfilmmaker on Instagram and @leejjcampbell on Twitter.

TGG: Could you tell us about your latest zoom poetry performance, “Wrong kind of fat”?

LC: The spaces that young queer people are creating for themselves are animated by a constant sense of self-policing, saying the right thing, being politically correct, body image ideals; feeling quite oppressed themselves. The gay male community is very controlling about what you should look like and how you should behave – why is that community stereotyping themselves? A niched community that is then even more niched. Certain subsets of gay subculture promote themselves as generating inclusive spaces whilst containing aspects that discriminate. Disenchanted with the antagonisms in the gay male community particularly towards labelling (giving gay men an identity such as ‘cub’. ‘bear’ etc.) and body shaming, my recent performance work seeks to bring about re-enchantment with the community I am part of as a gay man but at times which I feel excluded from. WRONG KIND OF FAT reflects on the kinds of role that gay men are expected to conform to, where identity becomes something detached or external and how they can fit into that. Inspired by my experience of being amongst ‘cubs’ and ‘bears’ in the Kings Arms pub in London, this performance is in actual fact a ‘two fingers up’ to body shaming and label and saying clearly: ‘Accept me or f*ck off!’. What function does stereotyping or strict boundaries to certain kinds of labels serve? Maybe it’s about being seen. If I can say that I am ‘this’ very definite thing. I can be seen through this kind of role whereas otherwise… We always think there’s a certain kind of playfulness with these roles, but its boundaries are policed so rigidly. WRONG KIND OF FAT uses gay slang ‘bear, cub, wolf etc.’ and addresses power relations in queer subcultures and particularly within queer male spaces of conviviality which engage in processes of inclusion and exclusion. It employs protest art, of modes of representation, chanting within ACT UP and queer movements, of political campaign.
Reminiscent of early guerrilla protest video art from the 1980s, the performance combines fine art and moving image by including my own drawings of my body. There is so much humour in this work to critique and at times parody, for example, the line, ‘Mr Spinach and Eggs, stick your rules and regs in the hole at the back of the top of my legs!’ WRONG KIND OF FAT started life as a short film which has been screened at many international film festivals.. Watch here:


I then added more visuals and language (poetry) to the film and WRONG KIND OF FAT (THE SNAKE INSIDE) now exists as a longer live Zoom performance which I am really proud of. Watch here:

TGG: You recently made a short horror film, could you tell us what inspired you to make it?

LC: Mugged: Revenge Served Cold (2021) is a film about control in gay male relationships. A discovery of betrayal leads to revenge climaxing in an attack and the avenger announcing the most controlling of statements to his lover victim in the final shot. This is a very different direction for me – it comes from a body of work about me, my partner and our dog. The dog also intrudes somehow in our relationship but performances and films I had made before Mugged: Revenge Served Cold were light-hearted, playful and not serious whereas this film… something much more sinister! I like the fact we don’t really know who is controlling who in this film. To explain in more detail about the evolution and inspiration behind the film, many years ago when I was studying at the Slade, I began generating performative actions and recording these using my mobile phone in a similar vein to the film directors of La Nouvelle Vague; post-war French New Wave cinema, who were influenced by the concept ‘camera-stylo’ meaning using the camera like a pen. Experimenting with my mobile phone’s (the Sony Ericsson Cybershoot K800) properties/hardware/software, I prioritized its relative ease of use in terms of its stills/ video camera. Despite the phone’s minimal amount of recording features, the small, unobtrusive, easy to operate phone enabled me, as someone at the time who considered themselves not particularly ‘tech-savvy’ or au fait with complicated editing techniques, to get to grips with working with performance and performing in front of a camera for the first time. My phone camera was my audience. Shot and edited entirely on my phone , I produced numerous moving image collages which combined visual montage and sound elements. One of these works involved me recording myself in the shower and washing in front of a mirror to the soundtrack of the famous shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho Around the same time in 2005/6, I made a piece of artwork called Mugged (the poster that features in the film). The pink + Mugged text was to signify the increase in attacks on gay men in London around that time and I guess was my own fear of that happening to me. Referring to my latest films as excavations of personal archaeology- many of the clips that feature within them- reuse those recordings I made all those years ago with my Sony phone. Mugged: Revenge Served Cold takes those old Slade recordings, poster artwork and creates something entirely new which my friend filmmaker Jacob Holmes-Brown described as ‘quite unnerving and very voyeuristic and Lynchian in feel in the way you take what should be a banal detail and examine and stretch it out until it becomes something else and something disturbing!’

You can watch the film here:


TGG: You work in both 2D, installation, performance and video art forms. What medium do you like the best?

LC: I wouldn’t say I have a preferred medium as I like to put all these forms together somehow as part of a remixing strategy to create new hybrid art forms which I have recently been doing with my online live Zoom performances where I remediate, excavate and bring back to life a personal archive of paintings and drawings and mobile phone recording made over the span of 25 years through the medium of moving image and then remediate that remediation through the medium of live performance via Zoom. Innovating the possibilities of media re-use, feeding-back and looping round of text, and the layering of the voices, these multi-layered multimedia live Zoom performances like WRONG KIND OF FAT described above are colourful, immersive, textured, organic and disorienting montages of young queer experience told through my own personal autobiography. These performances make full usage of the green screen effect. They push Zoom’s visual aesthetics as a means to frame, act as a visual container and play with different levels of order and chaos through the visual confinement achieved.
Often with my back turned to audience and my body operates like a screen/projection surface. Green screen effect employed with a constant repetitive video being played ‘projected’ onto my body gives the impression of text and imagery superimposed over my body, that I am wearing text/imagery like a garment, that of a body that has been layered with fragments of text/images/ history. My body constantly comes in and out of the green screen; my body keeps getting subsumed and emerging again. Whilst the green screen background acts a base, each live iteration contains so many levels of improvisation that a performance can never be repeated twice.

TGG: Could you tell us a little about your research?

LC: IComedy historically comes from a queer identity defence, when it was harder to be gay in public, to be funny like Kenneth Williams who used gay slang known as Polari to communicate with other gay men covertly. As a means to express as well as emotionally protect, gay men historically and today embrace and use camp, daftness and a range of comedy forms in subversive and often surprising ways. With these ideas in mind, I am currently engaged in a research project I have designed called HOMO HUMOUR, a curated programme of artists’ moving image, film and comedy targeted towards gay men (though open to the LGBTQ+ community at large) interested in artist moving image /film practice as well as storytelling and humour/mechanisms of comedy. It is designed to generate public pedagogy amongst gay men /the LGBTQ+ community into how humour can be used to help sort through issues attached to their respective community. Given the surge in the last five years of LGBTQ+ film festivals, there is clearly a desire for queer folk to get their voices out there and let their stories be heard with the hope that narratives can be challenged, opinions changed, and active bystanders and allies created.

More on Homo Humour:

TGG: Finally, thank you for making art about working class gays, it’s so rare. How can we best support you (buy your work, your books, etc)

LC: Always looking for outlets and venues to share my work both solo and curatorial so if any of what I have written and describe above sounds of interest and floats your boat, do get in touch – always open to possible collaborations! My email contact details are on my website: www.leecampbellartist.blogspot.com


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