Graham Bennett Heavy Shadows
Heavy Shadows Graham Bennett’s current exhibition, Heavy Shadows, continues his on-going exploration of the nature of human existence and the role of humankind in issues of conservation. The immediate origins of the exhibition lie in the commissioned work he created for Seoul in 2012, Tipping Point, and its sister piece for Auckland’s 2013 headland Sculpture on the Gulf, Overview Overlook Oversee. Both of these works are large scale outdoor sculptures with a strong figurative element, a feature that is not traditionally associated with Bennett’s work. However, representing the figurative form is not a totally new development for the artist; the figure featured in his art school and early career work of the 1960s and early ’70s. In those days the human form in his art was female, blurred and indistinct, cut out from photographs of nude female figures in motion. Until now, the figurative has been superseded in Bennett’s sculpture by work that is more conceptual, abstract in form and which indulges his fascination with the mechanical. A key component of Heavy Shadows (the exhibition) is a series of works eponymously titled Heavy Shadows. The title itself references the source of inspiration for the sculpture, the shadows cast by Seoul’s Tipping Point. This 3.8 metre pole-figure and mechanism was installed in the courtyard outside Hangaram Art Museum, Seoul during the International Sculpture Festa (ISF) in April 1012. During the day, as the sun moved across the sky, the figure and the pole created an arc of ever-changing shadows on the gridlike paving of the Square. The pattern of the paving had a web-like effect, through and around the shadow of the figure, giving the impression of a person caught in a net or trapped in an urban environment. At various times of the day Bennett documented and photographed the interlocking patterns of the shadows and paving. This was the genesis of Heavy Shadows. Working from the photographs, Graham Bennett has laser cut, in corten steel, the patterns of intermingled lines. This forms the basis for the 1.2 metre high Heavy Shadows series. Then he has rolled the steel, creating a dished effect that gives
a sense that the forms come from a section of the globe, reinforcing their similarity to lines of latitude and longitude. Humankind spans these lines. In the context of Bennett’s oeuvre, this grounds the sculpture amidst his concern about humankind’s interaction with, and interference in, the environment. It also enhances ideas around questions of who we are and where we come from. These are themes that have informed Bennett’s work throughout his career – mapping, migrating, collective and self-identification. In alternative readings of the work, the figure has the look of a specimen that has been cut open and pinned to a grid. Could it be a crucifixion? The structure looks like a torture rack. Ultimately the image offers no fixed meaning, which in itself reinforces awareness that what lies beneath it is simply the shadows of a mirrored man, a man of no substance. Bennett has taken the upper part of the figure in Heavy Shadows as the basis for his elevated, suspended work Overshadow. While this suspended, fixed figure might appear to be floating and to flex in the wind, it is cut out of lightweight, aluminium alkathene laminate which is known for its durability and strength. Bright, shiny red, the figure is painted in a colour that signals danger in a work that is a sign or marker of the place of humankind in the issue of environmental sustainability. The colouration of the figure brings to mind the iconic New Zealand work by Greer Twiss, Red Legs. Bennett readily acknowledges the analogy, one that did not become apparent until he made the decision to spray paint the work in bright red paint. However, while Twiss was playing with the appearance of illusion in his work, Bennett is exploring the formal elements of patterns and the additional dimensions that are created by the play of light on form and the shadows that this creates. He is also sounding an alarm. Despite being a skilled draughtsman, Graham Bennett has chosen to use computer generated imagery. In each of the three works, Tipping Point, Overview Overlook Oversee and Overshadow, the over life size, floating figure is computer generated. Bennett has made this horizontal human being by using a
Cover image: At Arms Length, detail, 2000 x 1200 x 450mm, Painted steel, aluminium, stainless steel, brass, wood.
shareware programme that allows virtually total freedom in creating a human form. Gender, race and physical form can all be stipulated by the end user of the programme. Everything can be modified – enlarged, extended, elongated, flattened, simplified, twisted and turned. To this computer-generated figure Bennett has added his own arms. The programme did not have the facility to twist arms into the particular configuration Bennett visualised so he photographed his own arms in the arrangement he wanted, digitized them and added them to the computer generated figure. In On Watch the figure rotates freely, its counterbalanced weight enabling it to oscillate with the elements, so that it seems frivolous and able to move independently. However, this kinetic figure is attached to measuring scales that calibrate time on the environmental clock. In On Watch the mechanisms are just out of reach but in Overview Overlook Oversee the height of the figure could be manipulated by pulling on a handle attached to a pulley system. The result of the height adjustment registers on a vertical and horizontal scale, causing a change in the reading on the clock and altering the record. In effect, on a whim, a viewer can adjust the ticking clock. Thus, although in both of these works the clock and sextant-like faux mechanisms are precise, strong and weather resistant, they are essentially ineffectual. Toying with this nonsensical apparatus is this kitset figure – an elevated ‘planking’ man of little form or substance. The man spontaneously rotates, and the mechanism can be fiddled with. Bennett is asking us to consider the relationship between the man and the measure. The message is clear – we can adjust the measurement to suit ourselves or to save the environment. Where will you pull your weight? The choice is yours. The ticking clock of environmental sustainability is even more explicit in Wait Watchers. This work comprises fifteen units which, when arranged in a triangular configuration, define a quarter of a circle, suggesting part of a clock or a watch. Presented here is the last quadrant of the environmental clock. From all accounts, humankind is currently placed at 11 o’clock on that timepiece; 12 o’clock signals the point of no return. That’s when the balloon goes up; until then we wait and watch. Pieces of each mechanism – the counter weight and counter balance, as well as the
Overview Overlook Oversee, 4700 x 2500 x 2500mm, Stainless steel, painted and patined stainless steel, galvanised steel, brass, headland SOTG 2013, Waiheke Island. Heavy Shadow #1, #6, #7, #8, 1200 x 400 x 200mm, Corten steel, patina.
little lead balloon and chain – move up and down, constantly interacting with the environment. The forms cast shadows and create patterns that track and trace this action and interaction. As well as referencing the element of time, in Wait Watchers there is a play on the phrases ‘on watch’ and ‘watching and waiting’. The versatile wall piece, At Arms Length, also measures, watches and waits. Each of the fifteen units in At Arms Length, is topped by a bowl-shaped half globe in which there is a little figure. Arranged as they are, in a semicircle, if the pattern continues, at some stage there will come a tipping point for these cups. Out-scaled by the magnitude of the problem, this ineffectual, minute man can do little to affect the situation. The torsos that are semi-buried in the buckets of At Arms Length are partly inspired by the women climbing out of a pond in Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. In his turn, Bosch too was sending humankind a warning. There are links also to Leonardo’s perfectly proportioned Vitruvian Man with his arms fully outstretched – the measure of the man. In Graham Bennett’s world the measure of the man will be determined by the steps humankind takes to save the environment. In 2012 Tipping Point carried the text “Does it weigh on your conscience, does it play on your conscience? As it does mine. As it does mine”. In 2013 he is more specific. At Arms Length says “Issues confront us and then there’s the uncertainty of how much time we have to address them – between these two poles a tenuous relationship holds. What, we wonder, and where are the tipping points”.
Robin Woodward January 2013 Robin Woodward is an art historian with a specialist interest in the history of sculpture and public art. A researcher, writer and lecturer, she currently works in the Art History Department of the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
Wait Watchers, 15 units each 150 x 100 x 60mm, stainless steel, brass, lead, silver chain, wood. Mimic #3, 430 x 240 x 180mm, Stainless steel.
On Watch, detail, 2130 x 750 x 750mm, Stainless steel, brass, lead.
Shadows and Things Clean-machined, rigidly suspended in a horizontal position, moving only in a circle whose centre is fixed at his navel, the figure of a man crowns, and is part of, a measuring device that looks like an eye. At first blush, On Watch seems hardly an unequivocal exemplification of utopian and moral confidence; as expressed, for instance, by Protagoras’s assertion that “man is the measure of all things,” or by the metrically universal claims implied in Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.1 One senses that the moral sentiments of the man are qualified in ways not evidently implied by the examples just cited. The man uncomfortably on watch seems vulnerable in a modern sort of way, producing, but simultaneously also being a product of science and technology. For a receptive viewer, On Watch may well point to grim outcomes – political emptiness, economic recklessness, moral failure on a global scale. Nearly a century ago, Max Weber offered a presentiment along these lines: “…the tremendous
cosmos of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt…mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance….‘Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart;’ this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.”2 However expressed, this kind of sensibility – without spirit, without heart – is now commonplace. In bad faith, too casually by far, the ageing generations may think that they can escape the onset of ecological and environmental disaster. Anxious younger generations increasingly feel the constrictions of Weber’s iron cage. The man looks – what does he see? The machine measures – what does it determine? Of what,
then, does the sculpture speak? In On Watch – and associated works such as Overview Overlook Oversee – Graham Bennett alludes to issues that the planet now confronts along its fraying edges and within the interiors of its late capitalist systems of production, administration, and social organization. At the same time he registers uncertainty about our ecologies and the ecological time allowed to us. “What and where,” the artist asks, “are the tipping points?”. What uncertainties do we face up to and act on; more dangerously, what shadows and images are transformed into specious certainties that obscure the truth and worse, are taken as the truth, for the sake of short-term political power and economic gain? A common example is the willful and unmonitored destruction of river, lake, and shoreline ecologies – an application of policies which do not give enough thought to enough of the consequences – while simultaneously sleep-walking into the future accompanied by shallow images, shadows portraying New Zealand as forever, a clean green paradise. The man, it seems, relies on the measuring machine, very possibly for crucial determinations. It is a means for exploring the world and finding our place in it. I think the man serves as a warning to be more, and not less, scrupulous in finding out what we need to know and value. He does so by hinting at our all-to-easy tendency to take ephemera as substantial evidence of what the world is and could be. In an illuminating way On Watch may remind us of Plato’s celebrated simile of the cave. In the cave prisoners sit chained, facing the back wall, unable to move their heads. They have sat there since childhood. On a ledge behind and above them a fire burns. Between the fire and the prisoners there is a pathway along which people walk carrying objects (e.g., constructions of human and animal figures). The light from the fire throws shadows of these objects onto the wall in front of the prisoners. The speech of the people behind them is heard, but only as distorted echoes in the chamber. A modern analogy would be a cinema or television screen. The images and sounds are but shadows of things in the real world. “Then if,” Socrates asks of the prisoners, “they were able to talk to each other, would they not assume that the shadows they saw were the real things?”.3 The problem Plato raises in The Republic is needful of a modern democratic solution employing science, humane imagination, spirited sensuality, and criticism. Many and even most of the images we are surrounded by have little more substance than shadows. Plato offers a solution to the problem in
Mimic #1 and Mimic #4, 430 x 240 x 180mm, Stainless steel.
the guise of philosopher rulers or guardians who, through long and arduous training, come to know what is eternally Good and True. Armed with this knowledge the rulers then guide others in the light of what is true as opposed to that which is shadowy and insubstantial. Plato’s solution is implausible and, to modern ears, undemocratic. Its details need not detain us here. However, the problem that Plato so forcefully defined nearly two and a half thousand years ago is, in our image and propaganda-saturated civilization, urgently in need of serious attention. On Watch offers no eternal Platonic forms of the Good. But neither is it indifferent to hope, or sophomorically skeptical. Instead, it can be understood as imaginatively conveying a sense of our capability to distinguish the real world from the blooming, buzzing, confusion of shadows that weave through daily life – a reminder that, within the stream of feeling and thought, shadows are illusions and that language is frequently inchoate, as disorienting as echoes. The man on watch does have resources though. Here are some of them: the potential to sweep his gaze around 360 degrees; a stability of perception within a given frame of reference and the means to question this frame, and remake it as seems necessary; instruments for measurement and analysis; disciplined habits of looking; a depth of sympathetic feeling and political will underlying a belief that a world of things and people can be made thus and so, for all citizens; and, finally, like da Vinci’s man, a moral imagination that can reach out to the universe, knowing that we and it are formed from the same matter. Used carefully, with humility, these resources are sufficient to potentially free us from the deceptions of shadows. They are also central to a view of democracy where citizens remain on watch,
freely using art and science to construct and sustain a world for all. The machine belongs to the man and minus the man it is irrelevant, without it he is lost. Its purposes are defined by the actions of those who use it with the hope of discovering and describing worlds and, within the fleeting present, of getting some fix on uncertain futures. There is no Platonic guarantee of certainty here, and what we discover will be by dint of active exploration using whatever instruments and understandings are available to us. Artistic and scientific imagination is always provisional, always subject to revision in the light of further experience. This is the pragmatic lesson. Looking down on the earth’s surface the man sees grid lines, shadows of his own body and movements, and of the technologies he is using. In this respect, he is already different from the passive prisoners chained in the cave, but not in the sense that he can always be sure that illusion and reality have once and for all been separated out. Rather, in the sense that he is aware of the distinction and the need for methods that allow us to grip the world through action, thought, and feeling. In this respect Protagoras was right after all – man is the measure of all things, at least man understood in a modest scientific and artistic way. The sculpture might, then, be taken as an expression of this claim, a conclusion I invite the reader to consider. To have a grip on the world means being able to exercise an active disposition to address the world: “what do we think of ourselves,” “what do we think of the world and our place in it?”. These are questions that William James, the great principally nineteenth
century American psychologist and philosopher, enjoined us to ask. They are questions pragmatically mindful of consequences and futures: “how shall we live?”, “what can we do and be?”. They are questions that On Watch stirs up. This I take to be a central point of the sculpture. Let us end with a quotation from James that captures well the orienting nature of the sculpture, and what it suggests about human experience. “‘Will you or won’t you have it so?’ is the most probing question we are ever asked; we are asked it every hour of the day, and about the largest as well as the smallest, the most theoretical as well as the most practical, things. We answer by consents or non-consents and not by words. What wonder that these dumb responses should seem our deepest organs of communication with the nature of things! What wonder if the effort demanded by them be the measure of our worth as men [and women]! What wonder if the amount which we accord of it be the one strictly underived and original contribution which we make to the world!”4
John Freman-Moir January 2013 John Freeman-Moir teaches philosophy, sociology, and politics of education at the University of Canterbury.
Notes 1. Plato, Theaetetus, trans. Robin A. H. Waterfield. London: Penguin Books, 2004. 152a. 2. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons. London: Allen & Unwin, 1930. 181-82. 3. Plato, The Republic, trans. Desmond Lee. London: Penguin Books, 2007. 515b. 4. William James, The Principles of Psychology, Volume II. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981. 1182.
Overshadow, Maquette for suspended work in the Whitespace forecourt, 4000 x 1700mm. Painted aluminium laminate.
Graham Bennett Selected CV Graham Bennett: 1947 Born Nelson, New Zealand 1970 Graduated UC School of Fine Arts. Selected Commissions and Public Art: 2012 Tipping Point, Songchu Art Valley, Korea 2010 Reflect, Sumner, Christchurch; Traverse, Hotel reception, Christchurch 2008 Reach, Wanaka; Kaputone Creek Pedestrian Bridge, Christchurch; Insight, St Margaret’s College, Christchurch 2006 Engage, Christchurch South Library 2005 Reasons to Return, Connell’s Bay Sculpture Park, Waiheke Island 2004 Fixing Positions, Rocky Bay, Waiheke Island 2003 Reasons for Voyaging Christchurch Art Gallery, Te Puna o Waiwhetu 2003 Lines Extending Kurashiki City, Japan 2002 Tribute to Firefighters, Christchurch 1997 Sea/Sky/Kaipara The Gibbs’ Farm, Kaipara. Recent Awards: 2013 Residency Lincoln University 2012 ISF Residency Seoul, Korea 2008, 2007 NZ Japan Exchange Programme (NZJEP) Grants 2000, 1996, 1995 Asia 2000 Foundation Grants. Selected Solo Exhibitions and Installations: 2013 Heavy Shadows, Whitespace, Auckland; Survey, Aigantighe, Timaru 2012 Hard to Swallow, Diversion Gallery, Picton 2011 Weighting and Waiting, Milford Galleries Dunedin 2010 Auger Augur, Whitespace, Auckland; Pivot, The Arthouse, Christchurch 2009 Diversion Gallery, Grove Mill Winery, Marlborough; Latitude, The Arthouse, Christchurch; A Part, Cable Bay Vineyard, Waiheke Island 2008 How Near, How Far?, Koru Gallery, Hong Kong; Latitude, Galerie Paris, Yokohama, Japan; Installation in ZAIM Contemporary Art Space, Yokohama, Japan 2008- Regular shows nationally in NZ at Arthouse Christchurch; Diversion Gallery Marlborough, Milford Galleries Dunedin and Auckland 2007 Affinity, Shiori Gallery, Kurashiki, Japan, with Wataru Hamasaka 2006 Ukabu, The Arthouse, Christchurch, with Wataru Hamasaka 2003 Behind Reasons for Voyaging, Christchurch Art Gallery, Te Puna o Wai Whetu 1999 NICAF International Arts Festival Tokyo representing Galerie Paris, Japan; Hashimaya Gallery Kurashiki, Japan 1998 Salamander Gallery, Christchurch 1997 NICAF International Arts Festival, Tokyo, Japan; Galerie Paris, Yokohama, Japan 1996< More than 38 solo shows between 1980 and 1996 in NZ, Japan, Australia. Recent group participation: 2013 Headland Sculpture on the Gulf Waiheke Island 2012 ISF 2012, Hangaram Art Museum, Seoul, Korea 2011 Laisee, Koru Gallery, Hong Kong; Orie Gallery, Tokyo, Japan; Auckland Art Fair, representing Whitespace; Sculpture in the Garden, Auckland Botanic Gardens; Here I Stand, Diversion Gallery, Picton; Moving On, Canterbury Artists, Art in Oxford Gallery; NZ Art, Whitespace; Sculpture on the Peninsula, Canterbury; Sculpture in Central Otago, Wanaka; Chambers 241 opening exhibition Christchurch 2010 My City, Whitespace, Auckland; Shapeshifter Dowse Art Museum, Wellington Arts Festival; PromoArte, Tokyo, Japan 2009< Participated in innumerable group exhibitions in NZ, Australia, Spain, Japan, USA. Selected Bibliography: See www.bennettsculpture.info
Graham Bennett Heavy Shadows 5 to 23 February 2013 Published by Whitespace, 12 Crummer Road, Ponsonby, Auckland, 09 361 3661, www.whitespace.co.nz Design by Dragonfly Design, Auckland. Printed by McCollams Print, Auckland ISBN: 978-0-473-23389-1
Exhibition 5 - 23 February, 2013