“I’m a very political person. I think about politics a lot, but I think of the driving force [of society] as cultural.” Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America in Spring 2004, Ben Wright has traveled quite a bit. He visited Haiti, Kenya, and Jamaica with his father, a doctor with the World Health Organization and as a child, learned that different cultures value different things. When he gave toy Matchbox cars to other children in a Kenyan farm village, he was surprised that his playmates thought these toys were superior to their handmade wire cars which he found “amazing.” In his recent sculpture, Wright explores how society establishes and protects what it values.
Since graduating from Dartmouth College with a biology degree in 1998, Wright has pursued a career as an artist The value and definition of security was the basis of his recent BFA exhibition at the Appalachian Center for Craft. Using the eye, really, the eyeball as an emblem, Wright looked at the way “security” has become a pervasive element of our lives. We are almost always under someone else’s eye, metaphorically and literally, and many find comfort in this. “What are we giving up for ‘security’?” Wright wonders.
More like a thematic show than an installation, many individual works from Wright’s BFA show are iconic in form as well as intent. The influence of African sculpture is evident in symmetrical, geometrical shapes and the repeated title “Guardian Figure.” A jewel-like, red-brown glass head dotted with small eyes is surmounted with a wire structure supporting eyes which resemble satellite dishes. In contrast, a huge translucent bag hanging from the ceiling bulges grotesquely with grapefruit-size glass eyeballs. In a wall-mounted row, individually framed eye spheres are each surrounded like fetishes with feathers. In making the many oversize glass eyes for the show, Wright realized that the more detail he included, the less convincing the image was. In the whimsical Missed Media, which in some ways is the most memorable piece in the show, a dangling light bulb illuminates a large door-size panel of grey Formica sprinkled with a plastic galaxy of 20,000 googly eyes.
The most ominous “eye” in the show is an authentic surveillance camera, one of the “Guardian Figures.” Friends of Wright’s recently moved into a community where constant surveillance is a selling point. Wright actually stole one of the video cameras mounted on the light posts, an act of deliberate irony.
Moving away from the eye motif, at CGCA Wright returned to his original interest in two-dimensional art. He has been engraving drawings onto slumped slighted tinted sheets of plate glass using techniques learned from the Czech engraver Jiri Harcuba. At CGCA, he worked on television-related glass screens. He is impressed with the power of television (another kind of eye), which he saw infrequently as a child. “That glass screen is a big Pandora’s box.”
He plans to reproduce a 1947 police scene (yet another “Guardian Figure”) on a screen within an arch-like frame and sketched screens for back projection to distort some two-dimensional representations. Wright calculates these graphically dynamic images to operate effectively in the “liminal space where we take in information as opposed to the narrow focus” of everyday life.
Like many CGCA fellows, Wright planned to spend most of his time at Wheaton Village making glass components which might be worked later. “The portion of time I spend blowing objects compared to the time I spend (engraving and cold) working them is miniscule, but I rarely have access to a hot shop so I’m taking advantage of it. I want the shape of the vessel to bring meaning to the object.” In a less conceptually rigorous mood, Wright finds satisfaction in making functional glass. He is one of the rare individuals who enjoys cold working and finds it meditative. At CGCA, a group of large functional bowls were destined to be surfaced with ground-down faceted areas in the battuto (hammered metal) style, and he made numerous vessels as vehicles for images.
He began a series of snuff bottles which, when complete, will address addiction—“value at it’s most skewed.” Fear is the emotion which he speculates drives addiction. Chinese snuff bottles are traditionally painted from the inside, and Wright plans to add a metal spoon, as in a traditional snuff bottle. His reverse paintings will deal with the negative value: “What are people scared of?”