Summer 2012 Fellow
Benjamin Wright refuses to be bored. During his second residency at the Creative Glass Center of America, he told a studio visitor that he was actively exploring dozens of core metaphors and considering others for future projects. When challenged to describe some of these projects, the Summer, 2012 Fellow unhesitatingly described six or more, before being sidetracked into specific details. He clearly was poised to add to a list that already ranged from teaching his dog to play music (a serious possibility he claims) to a time-based project utilizing plant mobility or “a single occupancy apartment complex for social insects.” “Big ideas reoccur over and over,” Wright says. He is keen to engage these ideas using glass and any other materials that seem appropriate — especially when those materials are alive.
The burgeoning cluster of concepts that currently represents Wright’s interests might be likened to droplets in a cloud, discreet items related more or less closely to one another. Clouds, in fact, evoked through varied materials and in various scales and formats were one umbrella subject of his 2012 work at WheatonArts. The composition of a cloud as massed droplets — themselves composed of massed elements on a molecular level — is an omnibus metaphor. There is the imprecision — actually illusion — of perceived edges or contours, the chain of increasingly small units that compose our world and the fluid nature of perception. “You can add almost infinite detail to something like [a cloud],” he says. One could apply that deconstructive analysis to humans, socially as a country of individuals, biologically as structures composed of bacteria. “I’m really interested in systems but not necessarily in animal or plant systems,” Wright contends.
At WheatonArts, Wright in one situation was using diaphanous fabric draped over linked balls to construct cloud-like light fixtures. In another area, he worked on an installation of ‘water-droplet’ objects that surrounded the viewer as if inside a cloud. There we find “that weird interface between you and the cloud” that we experience when flying in an airplane.
Wright also made a series of around 150 flattish wall-mounted “cloud studies,” images composed of various materials sandwiched between sheets of glass heated and slumped in the kiln. The studies were imperfect and variable in size because they were made from glass cut-offs discarded when new windows were installed in the CGCA hot shop. Irregularities were not a concern. “I’m not a big fan of the grid,” Wright explained. The sketches could appropriately be compared to landscape painter John Constable’s famous studies of weather in various locations in Britain. Like Constable (1776 –1837), Wright bases the works on observed nature. Anticipating a
planned Fall, 2012 residency in Denmark, he looks forward to a different sky and different weather.
Wright’s recent work includes a time-based project in which a planting of grass inside a building was lit through a window painted with an image of his grandmother. His background in evolutionary biology is a driving force in his work. It is evident in the utilization and observation of living things in an environment he constructs and manipulates. The grass seed was planted in carefully controlled shapes to emerge as a portrait of Wright. As it grew, it bent toward the image of his grandmother on the main light source, large windows at the end of the gallery. The show ended, but eventually, the grass would have obliterated the portrait that it initially manifested.
“I find humor in a lot of things — maybe just about everything. Humor is a way of putting people off their guard and introducing new ideas.” The rare, legendary coco-de-mer (Lodoicea maldivica) coconut amuses him. He wants to incorporate it somehow in his work. This particular species is the largest, heaviest seed in the plant kingdom. It grows too large to float and, therefore, does not function as a seed should. It can’t float and spread its species to another island. It’s stranded on two tiny islands in the Seychelles where its habitat is shrinking. Wright discovered that Joseph Beuys was also interested in the coco-de-mer which is called “the love nut” because of its provocative bi-lobed shape. Wright is dubious about tales that an area on the coconut resembling pubic hair used to tempt “sailors to have their way with it,” but finds humor in the paradox of an ineffective agent of reproduction that is sexually attracted to an incompatible species.
“I used to fight using humor,” he says, “because I thought that art-making was a serious endeavor, but as a mature artist, the part that I like is sincere expression. When you express those things that are part of you the more effective the work is.”
Written by Robin Rice