Benedict Drew by Marialaura Ghidini
How could we define the nature of the interaction between the digital object and us’ Just a few weeks ago I might have been tempted to stop writing here and suggest you to go visit Gliss, the latest solo exhibition of the artist Benedict Drew at Cell Project Space in London, so that you would get an immersive answer to the question. Instead, I will give you a personal insight into his practice. But first I’ll attempt an answer myself: the nature of such interaction could perhaps be understood by reflecting on the notion of interface, its structure and physicality; by observing our responses to its inherent limitations and possibilities; and by considering the socio-economic environment in which it has developed and currently operates.
What happens, however, when the interface ‘as an aesthetic and structural element understood as per above’ is transported into the physicality and fixity of a gallery space or becomes a key element of an artistic practice’ Again, Gliss would have offered you to experience the above through your own physicality - and I am saying through because Drew’s work would have given you that immersive answer I mentioned above.
Who is Benedict Drew’ How could his practice be defined in the short space of an artist profile’ I would say that Drew is a multi-modal and multi-format artist, interested in digital and web culture, because ‘the web is the dominant image at the moment’ as well as the fastest-developing medium and tool for communication and distribution. That said, what distinguishes Drew’s practice from other ‘web-aware’ artists is that his work comes to life as a merging of the following elements: the ethics of musical improvisation, the sensibility for site-specificity and performativity of structuralist film-makers, the DIY attitude of live music concerts and the methods of acousmatic music.
So, when I talked (via emails) to Drew, I told him that I would not necessarily put his practice under any label because to me his work is to be understood as all-encompassing, blending a wide range of forms and formats with various languages coming from the fields of music, film and pop-culture. They go from radio shows, such as Unter Radio series for Resonance FM, and artist’s books ‘such as How I Failed to Make a Man, 2010 for MERKSKE publisher’, or from collaborative performative video-sound installations with artist Emma Hart ‘such as Untitled Seven for MOCCA in Toronto’, to web-essays ‘such as Notes on the Dumb Terminal, 2012 for Banner Repeater in London.
For Drew it is ‘normal to work in many different formats’ and this is probably because of the way in which culture is predominantly received and consumed nowadays, i.e. ‘through a prism of the Internet which has made for a much wider scope of different languages and methods’. To grasp what he means by this, I would suggest you to look at the way in which Drew has decided to present the installation Watched Items, 2011 on his website; a project that was originally presented, along with a poster to take away, for the final year exhibition of the MA Fine Arts at Slade School of Art (2011). The mode of presentation chosen reflects that ‘wider scope’ mentioned by the artist, as well as his tendency to site-specificity and interest in the role and position of the viewer, either when the display context is a gallery space or a website. In the same wake, Notes Series, a collection of works made to be presented as video lectures in actual gallery spaces, are not just works through which Drew (openly and generously) unfolds the research and issues of concerns underlying his practice, but also function as site-specific essays for the web, in which the page has been used according to its inherent characteristics: a spatio-temporal site that merges mediums, forms and languages in one and at once. Thus, for Drew, production and distribution are interwoven elements that are approached through reflecting on the notion of the interface, and its structure.
But, let’s go back to the opening question once more: how does the interface come to exist in Drew’s work, conceptually and physically’ Drew’s interest in the ‘dominant image’, the Web as a means to propagating culture (and also other phenomena), is explored along the thematic trajectory of illusion, which, and perhaps paradoxically, is both a concern at the heart of structuralist film (Drew here said to have been influenced by Peter Gidal’s essay Theory and Definition of Structural/ Materialist Film) and an element connected to the politics and economics of digital culture, of what Drew sees as the ‘techno lust’ he finds himself in. You could catch a signal of this by looking at the titles of his recent projects and works: The Persuaders (2012), The glass envelope (2011), Notes on the ecstatic (2011) and Projector Protester included in the installation Watched Items (2011).
There is a concern in Drew’s work with the digital object in connection with the relationship that we hold with it, with the way we interact with the devices that make the existence of this digital object possible. And this is the point of departure for the artists’ ongoing references to the screen, the servers, the hard drives, the computers, the projectors; all of them being the devices - or apparatuses - which conceptually and physically mediate our relationship with the desired image. An image that now might be embodied by the ‘dominant image of the web’, but it does originate and is strictly related to the filmic image, the moving-image, and the space of illusion, and desire, it carries with its existence.
In Drew’s work there is a tension between the analogue (e.g. the employment of an OHP projector) and the digital (e.g. the electronic sound processing); between the calculated arrangement (e.g. the way in which the sound travels in the space) and the DIY approach to production (e.g. the craftsmanship intrinsic to his method of working); between the immaterial (e.g. the 3D-animated sludge) and the raw and tangible material (e.g. the clay monsters); between authorship (e.g. limited editions) and the culture of creative commons (e.g. the free distribution of music on the internet). But what I think is at stake the most in his practice, it is that by surpassing divisions between categories, mediums, languages and work methods as well as operating through dichotomies, Drew’s work goes at the heart of the complexities of a our ‘media-saturated world’ (Charlie Gere, Digital Culture, 2002); proposing an alternative prism through which to observe our relationship with given interfaces, be them aesthetic, conceptual, bodily and political. As Drew well put it, this could be defined as an ‘alternate universe that is resistant to a dominant culture, but also reflects the desire that is at the centre of capital’.
In fact, the illusions of the digital territory he is analysing are very real and very tangible. And to finish with a straightforward quote about the tension between illusion and reality, and the tangibility of the digital interface in our lives, ‘the computer as waste is one of the most powerful and tragic symbol of a problematic knowledge economy’ (Josephine Bosma, Nettitudes , 2011), and thus digital cultural production and consumption Drew has set out to narrate.
Drew holds a BA in Fine Art from Middlesex obtained in the late 90s.
He came in contact with experimental film (and expanded film) through working at the LUX Centre. In the mid 2000, Drew was also involved, as a curator, in the London Musicians collective festival. He then did an MA at Slade School of Art (2010-2011) and currently is one of the artists in the LUX Associate Artists programme 2011/2012.
His latest shows/projects are:
GLISS, solo show, at Cell Project Space, London
The Non-Musician Complex, release of new album; available for download exclusively at The Wire website
The Persuaders, solo show, at CIRCA Contemporary Art Projects and AV Festival, Newcastle upon Tyne
The Map is the Territory, group show, at BANNER REPEATER, London
Notes on the Glass Envelope at Zabludowicz Collection, London.