Your third solo show, “Twenty-first Century Freemasonry”, opened on January 21 at The Proposition. What is the idea behind the title?
The title for the show is about looking for patterns inside complex systems. It is a good way to describe how I work in the studio. I start with a general impression and I accumulate parts and a framework as a piece takes shape. Freemasonry, in this context, is a term for building complex systems and meaning out of simple shapes and objects. Freemasons see their enterprise as bringing order to chaos by building the world. I too am trying to bring coherence to what I am doing in the studio.
You have been working predominantly with foam for quite some time now. Why this specific material?
In the beginning it was about using what I could afford but now I realize that using lightweight materials can be advantageous. It doesn’t require many tools or overhead, it’s non-toxic (for the most part, not such a good carbon footprint), and you can endlessly revise what you are making on short notice. Other sculptural practices require heat, time, special facilities or a crew. Staying light helps me push the materials to where they normally won’t go.
What are your influences and is music one of them?
It’s pretty random but some of the more recent things I am thinking about are Google image searches, Memes, the color of extension cords at the hardware store and Egyptian revival architecture. I tend to let my mind roam, but there is definitely a constellation of interests that I bring into the mix. A lot of it have to do with how one can access almost any kind of interest instantaneously at your fingertips. I am finding my interests and using them to help construct a bigger picture.
In regards to music, it greases the wheels when I work in the studio. I tend to build a soundtrack while working and put some artists on rotation in my mix. For this last show, I was listening to Roy Ayers, Kurt Vile, Ty Segall, Marlene Shaw, Ghostface Killah and Bert Jansch. I often explore music by way of influences. So if I hear a sample or stylistic quote I like to go back and find the root of that sound. A lot of these particular artists have a really great energy or have great hooks that keep repeating in my head while I work.
Your sculptures seem to consistently depict technological devices in a derelict state, as if mutilated. Is it an attempt to humanize technology, or a more negative statement?
To answer you question. Yes, No and both. I am really trying to depict objects in paradox. The technology is more of a backdrop for these things that are in a state of flux. I build them up trying to create a situation that has some kind of tension or potential energy. The technology is of course part of their meaning but it is not the only content. At the moment I am attracted to technological imagery because it is a rich source of reference. It can represent many things at once such as everyday life, complex systems, time, geometry and newly obsolete. I feel the machines are more like pets in terrarium. They have their own mini world and ecology.
Finally, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I actually had two good pieces of advice I got in grad school that stick with me today. The first was from a studio visit with the artist Michelle Lopez. She told me to “listen to the materials”. “Listening to the Materials”, to put it another way, is staying mentally flexible or in an open minded while making art. The visit was at a point when I was trying to force a position on the work rather than just opening up to the parameters I had created. That is pretty much how I have been working ever since.
The second was from Jerry Saltz who said that to be a good artist you have to “build your engine”. Giving the work and ultimately your process, the momentum to keep itself going. It was really a way to say that you have to construct your inner life and your imagination to help propel you in the direction you want to take your work. Embracing the things that speak to you, figuring out how to digest them and then bring it back to the studio is a really important process I try to make part of my everyday life.
Ben Bunch was born in St. Louis, MO. He lives and works in New York City. In 2004 he received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts. http://www.benbunch.com
Twenty-First Century Freemasonry
January 21 – February 26, 2012
2 Extra Place (off of First st. between Bowery and 2nd Ave)
New York, NY 10003
firstname.lastname@example.org – http://www.theproposition.com