Saturday, 6 September 2014

Benjamin Patterson - Stop Sitting on the Fence

PLATFORM 102 in cooperation w/ Harlan Levey Projects

Benjamin Patterson: Stop Sitting on The Fence 
Curator O. Rynell Cash - Platform 102
5 September - 12 October 2015

A trip to Cologne, Germany in 1960 and an unpleasant meeting with composer Karlheinz Stockhausen are what lead to the ideas of social art practices in Benjamin Patterson's works. Patterson traveled to Cologne to attend the International Society for Contemporary Music Festival.. Patterson recalls the meeting  as "negative" and decided to  go to another festival that was an off-festival of Stockhausen's  held at the studio of Mary Bauermeister called the Contre Festival. Once there, Patterson met other young aspiring composers and artists such as John Cage, Nam Jun Paik, and George Brecht. Patterson was asked to perform the next evening with Cage and Paik in what is now known as the unofficial start of Fluxus, artist projects and ideas most active in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Patterson's one week stay in  Cologne turned into a year and half residency in Europe.

© Platform 102

Although happy to have met like-minds at the Contre Festival the meeting with Stockhausen had more of an affect on Patterson as an artist as well as an experimental composer. Patterson went into a three day isolation period to think of ways to make more "socially responsible art." The result of this socially self-imposed isolation was Paper Piece (1962), one of the defining Fluxus works that includes either selected performers or audience participation. The first actual performance of Paper Piece was in the form a letter sent to his family in Pittsburgh for them to perform. Patterson’s motivation from then on would be to make art with a social context and to take risk with his practices and compositions.

But what precisely does Benjamin Patterson draw out of his motivations by transforming them into art? Is it the feeling of the theorist that he seeks? Or is it to invite conversations about our similarities and differences? Could it be that Benjamin Patterson strikes a quintessential nature of contemporary practice that redirects our attention to the interpretation of modern truths and necessities in times of social discord?  

The exhibition Benjamin Patterson: Stop Sitting on the Fence uses a juxtaposition of Patterson's concepts within his visual art and performance practices to address aesthetic values relate to social conditioning. Although a broad subject to cover in a gallery exhibition and through one artists career  the works selected span several decades and range from printmaking, sculpture, performance documentation, and assemblage pieces giving an overview of a lifetime career.   

The exhibition title relates to a statement made by Patterson in a self conducted interview titled " I'm Glad You Asked Me That Question" where he responds to the times in which most early Fluxus works were created. There was great political upheaval in the United States at this time essentially with Civil Rights movement. Patterson felt this was not a time when artists should just sit on the fence.


With an immediacy and effortlessness that contradict their cleverness, the works that make up the exhibition «Stop Sitting on the Fence» are observations on both Patterson and society in all its diversity. And quirky indeed are these observations with the right visual weight and wonkiness to express the intimate and humanity.  Indeed, for Patterson society has enhanced what being creative means. His visibility internationally allows a sense of fellowship not only to Fluxus but to the public which are essentially his work.

The exhibition is in two parts. The entrance of the gallery serves as a study of the Patterson's approach to life and Fluxus ideologies. Installed in the back gallery are works that are presented to create discussions and address overcoming challenge. The selected works in the back gallery are to reacquaint the viewer with certain aspects of existence related to objects.

The first images you encounter as you enter Harlan Levey Projects are three photographs that document Patterson's performative work. The first photograph is of the artist performing "Variations for Double Bass" at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1989.  Next to it is a photograph of Patterson performing "The Clinic of Dr. Ben (BM,MS)" as part of a Fluxus festival in Wiesbaden, Germany. They serve as brief introductions to some of the essential works in Patterson's enormous repertoire of performance practices.

To the left of these two photographs sits a gallery copy of Patterson's "The Black and White File 1958-1998" which chronicles all the artist performances and scores from this period. The two originals are bound in a black binder with photocopies. It is a reflection of the artist work and shows the of ideas over three decades. Above the Black and White File 1958-1998  is a black and white photograph from Patterson's performance of "A Clean Slate" performed in Frankfurt where the artist uses a chalkboard to create a random score on site.

© Platform 102

Confronting you with the idea of suggestion in the centre of the gallery is 'Sit Down" . The assemblage work is simple in its construction; a white chair with an extension and a stuffed toy bear with a collar that invites the viewer into a conversation. The conjunction here, between the concrete, the speculative and the real space of the sculpture plays into fluxus ideals of instruction as art. 

«Swiss Symphony II» consists of a pendulum clock that has a crossbow attached in front a print of Salvador Dali's "William Tell". The work demonstrates the artist need for play as well as connectivity to contemporary ideas. He takes a rather ordinary and familiar object as a clock and mixes it with humour ,dialogue, art history and familiarity making it a work more about advancing creative process through visual means.

A multiple work by Patterson from his recent performance at the Nassauischer Kunstverein in Wiesbaden, Germany titled "Dr. Ben's Fluxus Medicine Show" is a presentation of "elixirs" that come with documentation and an explanation of the brain and art. At the performance I witnessed in May 2014 Patterson enters the room where he is dressed in a doctors jacket with a medical chart. Behind him is a woman acting as a  nurse in what I can best describe as the fantasy nurse, the one every guy in the movies wants walking in his room. Tight fitting uniform, white leggings, high-heels. Patterson proceeds to explain the science and theories behind why people like contemporary art. He then ask members of the audience if they would like have a neurological examination that would result in a print-out  which he then reads and gives his diagnosis. The performance is humorous in its approach to explain art history an use past ides of other Fluxus artists (Yoko Ono, Dick Higgins, Allison Knowels) to initiate their thoughts about contemporary work. 

Next is Patterson's "Marble Hat"  representing Patterson's first solo exhibtion in Europe in 1962.  The exhibition was held at French poet and artist Robert Filliou's Galerie Legitime which was Filliou's hat. For this exhibition Patterson and Filliou went on a 24hour excursion around Paris and presented versions of Puzzle Poems by taking off Filliou's hat. All the works sold in the 24 hour time period. Marble Hat is a play on remembrance, chance operations, the idea of communication and the transformation of the kitsch into an aesthetic.

© Platform 102

The "Puzzle Poem" adjacent to Marble Hat is one of  two poems the artist didn't include in his first exhibition. It is made up of five reservable pieces with different images on each side which are whimsical in their text yet honest and direct in visual vocabulary about politics and identity. This shift in Patterson's work  sets the tone for the work installed in the office space of  documented performances on video and works that are more raw and grounded in their simplicity.

Dialogue is shaped differently in the second-half of the gallery with works that give the everyday a gentle sculptural tweak and rare paintings by the artist. The works here revolve around deliberate placements to make  composition on how objects and time help define progress in western society. Because most of the works are made from found objects, this is not straight forward ideas. This transformation of the found from kitsch to philosophical requires a keen eye and requires a certain level of self-consciousness, which is exactly the sort of artist Patterson is.

On the back wall is Patterson's assemblage work «Candyland». It deals with the gap between meaning, words and objects and the fragile nature of communication. It reregisters the nature of reality through common boardgames and toys, reserving for us the concept that all attempted searches for meaning leave us somewhat entertained and rejuvenated but never replaces individual realities. Along the same line you have "Uncle Ben's Arte Shoppe" a dispense machine that offers trinkets, at the price of $4.98. Patterson uses satire and deadpan humour in this work while also revealing underlying truths and universal philosophies of wants and a price. One cannot actually retrieve an trinket leaving the object with a sense of wonder.

Rheingold, a map created by the artist marking a performance where he mined for gold in the River Rein marking the areas where gold was actually found. The performance lead to additional project for gallery spaces where audience participation was necessary. Next to Rheingold are Patterson's "Ski Poles (from Climbing Mt. Fuji)." The work is what the artist says they are, the actually  ski poles he used to climb Mt. Fuji on his 70th Birthday as part of a performance tour. He repeated this climb, shy of just two hours to the peak this past spring to celebrate his 80th birthday. Both works demonstrate a knowing and playfulness that Patterson applies to his practice and the act of taking on challenges which he feels are important to art and life.

Lastly, we have a series of paintings by the artist that depict the weather patterns over  several days in early October 2006. The images are taken from the weather reports for Europe in the International Herald for this time. While working on this series, ironically  the Herald decided to change their layout and weather report design so Patterson decided to stop a process that could have ongoing. 

© Platform 102
Benjamin Patterson w/ guest at opening
© Platform 102


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