Ben Woodeson: Obstacle – Berloni Gallery – The Physics Of Mortality

Berloni Gallery presents its latest exhibition with Ben Woodeson’s ‘Obstacle’. The viewers journey through this exhibition could be described as a somewhat precarious encounter, met at first glance with a manufactured, collection of Minimalist assemblages, products of the juxtaposition of manufactured and found works, the works could be seen as a stripped back, clean homage to Arte Povera – that is until one has a very definite reaction to the work.

This is a very visceral reaction indeed, and is one of caution; the instinctual reaction to a dangerous environment. In this age of Health & Safety one would expect to be handed a hard hat when viewing the artist’s sometimes seemingly hazardous works. Glass sheets flex, sharp corners wait expectantly to snag flesh, steel waits to slice, and glass to shatter over the unexpected private viewer innocently sipping their glass of wine.

The artist’s clean Minimalist practice is a form of truth to material, or at least truth to the fragility, physics, and potential danger of material as a signifier of the finite nature of the human form. These are works that reflect our own thin-skinned mortality, often with a sense of humour. There is almost a cruelty in the nature of the work: a joke of the blackest comedy.

The molecular properties of materials are stretched to their limits, glass bends under its own weight and hangs above the viewer. It is said that the artist makes work using himself as a human litmus paper; a practice that involves using his own body as not only a means to build and balance, but to reflect the caution and unease of the results.One feels that Woodeson’s studio could be a very dangerous place, the kind of environment that reflects true freedom in terms of testing sculptural limitations: like Richard Serra playing with dominoes.

Image: Ben Woodeson, ‘I Love You, I Want, I Need You… (Hot For Carl)’, 2015 photo courtesy of Berloni Gallery © 2015. 

One of the highlights of the exhibition is the piece ‘I Love You, I Want, I Need You… (Hot For Carl)’, 2015, a set of glass and brass plates that bisect the space. The piece is – as referenced in its title – a homage to Carl Andre’s ‘Equivalent VIII’ 1966, the infamous ‘bricks’ bought by The Tate Gallery in 1972 that drew heavy criticism from Britain’s press after they considered that taxpayers’ money had been spent on paying an inflated price for a collection of bricks – or in fact any of Andre’s tile pieces. Referencing that slick logical Minimalism, Woodeson’s work is a wink to the knowing viewer, that is until you see the wires connected to the work. The brass surface of the artist’s plates run with a live electric current. Again stark Minimalism becomes a conversation about body, about trepidation and the limits of the material, in turn a motif for the limitations of the flesh.

The artist’s work also brings to mind a forgotten gem from the history of British art during the period of the 1990’s when the Late Hammad Butt installed the show ‘Transmission’ at the now long defunct Milch Gallery space in 1990, not far from the site of the Berloni Gallery today. The main works in this show harboured a nasty surprise; inside large, glass spheres, which were suspended from wires attached to the ceiling, the forms hung in a line forming a giant glass Newton’s Cradle. A fragile and dangerous executive toy, tempting the viewer to bang them together and in destroying them do themselves irreparable harm as the sculpture’s glass spheres were filled with Chlorine gas.

Image: Hammad Butt ‘Transmission’ Milch Gallery, London, 1990.

In that exhibition the viewer became more and more uneasy as they sensed comparisons between their own existence and that of volatile and dangerous substances that might be released. For the artist it was a signifier of an internal corruption of the body, of being poisoned from within. Hammad Butt died of an HIV related illness during that decade.

Image: Ben Woodeson, ‘A Little Slice Of Loneliness’ (far left), installation shot, 2015 photo courtesy of Berloni Gallery © 2015.

With Woodeson we have a similar response to the work, but the tension is present in the material, and the physics of its presentation are projected onto the viewer – with a growing unease, as if being asked to walk on hot coals – the works in the show are also the epitome of installation: for although usually appearing to be sculpture, the sphere of the work encompasses the viewer. We inhabit the universe of these works through a symbiosis – each with the potential to change the other – and possibly for the worse. The artist uses the language of stark Minimalism to affect a result akin to the human fragility felt when viewing the horrors of a Bacon painting.

Ben Woodeson: Obstacle – Berloni Gallery – until 1 August 2015

Words: Paul Black. Photos courtesy of Berloni Gallery © 2015


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