I know a little about the work that Ben’s been doing on his PhD, but not all that much. I confess that I’ve been told more than I understood, though this is a testament more to my own deficiencies rather than to Ben’s powers of explanation. But as I’ve been asked to give an account of the experience of seeing the work in Intermedia, I'll do my best to put this prior knowledge out of my mind. I'll also do my best to accurately remember the work – though it has been some time since I saw it. Apologies for any inaccuracies.
project2891, as it was installed in Intermedia Gallery, Glasgow, seemed in some ways a work in which the presence of the artist (or least the presence of the suggested or implied artist) was essential.
To begin quite straightforwardly is not always the best way to begin. I will try to make sense.
A dimly lit room. Towards the back of the space was a large desk filled with bits and pieces: computer equipment; personal items; pens; a coffee cup; a beer bottle; components. There was a chair behind the desk. In the centre of the desk, at the front, was some kind of audio equipment and speakers, which transmitted a quiet and rhythmic sound, roughly at the rate of a heartbeat. Coloured electrical tape ran across the wall in a pattern. This must have been functional, but I cannot recall what the function was. Did the tape tidy many small cables or wires that it bound to the painted surface, or is this a later rationalisation on my part? I can’t tell. Two small flatscreen monitors were wall mounted at either side of the desk. I don’t remember what was on them.
In the centre of the room, occupying most of the space, were a series of slim rods like withie canes, arranged in a grid formation. These were individually suspended from the ceiling at the point of their centre of horizontal gravity. Each rod was connected to a computer fan that was strong enough to provoke the movement of that rod. Small light sensors – does that sound right? – controlled the fans, which were each alternately triggered and de-activated, making the canes slowly, gently, raise and lower their heads in an endless and tentative see saw motion. The canes threw their thin shadows onto the walls and ceilings, and looked somehow like oddly waving corn. Most viewers kept to the edges of the room, stepping around the outside of the grid. A very few ventured in between the slow moving rods, which formed a low horizon line at the level of their chests.
The room was muted. The light, the tone, the sounds were all as if approximated or suggested. Nothing was exactly clear. The room was dim, and the light was diffuse, warm, and theatrical. The sound from the speakers was like the measuring of time through organic rather than mechanical means - that is, inefficiently and perhaps inaccurately, but with intention, blood, or thought. And yet there was a sense that this sound must be connected to the process of the dipping rods somehow. It must be functional, though the purpose of that function seemed inexplicable or lost.
Everything in the room seemed personal and adapted to an overwhelming degree. There was the indelible imprint of a system that had been entirely handmade, or improvised. There was a physical quality to the work that was less sculptural than human: wooden rods that dipped and bent, curving under their own weight; coloured tape tacked to the walls in almost-straight lines was measured in thumbprints and wrist lengths. There was an industry to the space, and a sincere striving towards an intention that I could not grasp, and was perhaps not intended to. The figure of the artist, of the person who had set this chain in motion, and who then monitored it, adapted it, improved it, tweaked and tinkered with it, was instilled into the fabric of every visible decision – and the decisions in the room were all entirely visible. I felt I was glimpsing a thought process. I was seeing the externalisation of a personal logic that I could never understand but only ever interpret. The only aspect to that series of logically illogical steps to be withheld was that most essential one of Purpose, leading to the equally logical, equally essential question of but what is it for? (What is it about machines that we assume them to have a purpose?)
I guess the work reminded me of the scenarios of Kabakov, Mike Nelson, or even Christoph Büchel, in the sense that I was trying to piece together intention – perhaps even narrative – from the components of a revealed system wherein the start point (intention) and the end point (result) may remain mysterious. A portrait perhaps, in which the sitter remains absent. As I came and went during the course of the show, elements came and went, changed, and seemed adapted. The sound changed, a baby basket appeared, sometimes there was a laptop on the table and sometimes not, there were more coffee cups, less coffee cups; and the rods dipped sometimes slow, sometimes fast. Throughout it all Ben was present, absent, around, and implied. The work seemed sometimes a performance, and yet there was something more sincere than could be imitated, and more genuine than could be theatrical. At its heart, project2891 was undeniably generous, human, warm, and inexplicable. Portrait of the artist, indeed.