Christine Tamblyn

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Obituary by David Trend. Afterimage March-April 1998. Artist and critic Christine Tamblyn died of breast cancer at the age of 46 on New Year's Day at her home in San Francisco. Committed to feminist politics and interdisciplinary experimentation, Christine achieved an international reputation for her work in critical writing, performance, video and digital media. Colleagues and students regarded her as an innovative scholar and a compassionate educator, who possessed an uncanny ability for conveying complicated issues with clarity and humor. I first came to know Christine in the early 1980s, when I was an editor at Afterimage. Poignant in this context, she approached the journal about writing an obituary of a friend who had recently died of cancer. Christine immediately impressed me with her remarkable combination of professional commitment and ethical conviction, tempered with unremitting generosity and good cheer. In those early days Christine staunchly avoided anything having to do with new technology, resolutely clinging to a typewriter to create her exquisitely crafted articles. When, after several years, I expressed concern about the time I expected it took her to prepare multiple drafts of her essays, she replied that she never revised. Writing had been a daily habit that she had practiced in journals since childhood. Over the years Christine became familiar to readers of Afterimage, Art News, Artweek and High Performance, among other periodicals, and her essays have been widely anthologized. Eventually she changed her mind about technology, recognizing both the professional and political significance of challenging the male-dominated domain of computer imaging. The result was more than a decade of insightful writing on video and performance, especially as applied to experimental narrative and digital media. Christine received a B.F.A. from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1979 and an M.F.A. from the University of California, San Diego in 1986. Although Christine created work in a wide variety of genres, she achieved her greatest artistic prominence relatively recently in the CD-ROM medium. The first of her CD-ROM works, She Loves It, She Loves It Not: Women and Technology (1993), broke new ground by addressing the often problematic relationship of women to technological media. An instant success in the art and graphics communities, this occasionally comical critique of computer culture was exhibited internationally at such venues as the institute of Contemporary Arts in London; the Yerba Buena Center of the Arts in San Francisco; the Centro Cultural Caixavigo in Vigo, Spain; and the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Christine's second CD-ROM, Mistaken Identities (1996), compared the biographies of 10 prominent women. Premiering in a one-person exhibition at the International Center for Photography in New York, the work appeared in dozens of exhibitions, winning awards at the 1996 New York Exposition of Short Film and Video, the 1996 "New Voices, New Visions" competition, and the 1997 International Festival of the Image at the Universidad de Caldas, Manizales, Colombia, among numerous others. In 1997 Christine received a National Endowment for the Arts Commission to produce a new CD-ROM, Archival Quality. Addressing the topic of Christine's own life, the project was nearing completion when she died. As a catalog of Christine's writing and experiences - including the journals she began writing at the age of 12 - the work also provides insights into the art world and women's movement during this turbulent period. Final work on Archival Quality will be finished by friends and colleagues in preparation for a West Coast premier this spring. Although Christine taught at numerous institutions, most recently the University of California, Irvine, she achieved her greatest impact as an educator at San Francisco State University, where she served as graduate program coordinator and lecturer in the Inter-Arts Center from 1984 to 1996. When I joined the Inter-Arts faculty in the early 1990s, Christine's intellectual influence was omnipresent and her popularity absolute. This was largely due to the great care she gave to developing pedagogical approaches that would maximize the potential of every student. In addition to her encyclopedic command of critical theory and contemporary issues, Christine was regarded for the encouragement she offered to younger artists and the efforts she made to bridge the often difficult gap between theory and practice. Several months before her death Christine moved back to San Francisco to rejoin the large community of friends she had assembled during her long residence in the city. The occasion of her illness brought them together again, and so has her passing. A variety of memorials are planned. The official premier of Archival Quality will occur in Southern California in May at the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies, the organization that arranged the work's commission. A memorial Web site containing tributes, postings and information about Christine's work has been created at The Christine Tamblyn Archive of original journals, manuscripts, videotapes and CD-ROMs has been established at the library of University of California, Irvine. Donations can be made in Christine's memory to The Lab, 2948 16th St., San Francisco, CA 94103, or the Christine Tamblyn Memorial Scholarship Fund, San Francisco State University Foundation, SFSU, 1600 Holloway Ave., San Francisco, CA 94132. DAVID TREND is Chair of the Studio Art Department, University of California, Irvine and a former editor of Afterimage.