Solo Residency: Spacing
8–25 Apr 2020
What is one to do with the individual? Social Distancing: space them out, like Carl Andre. Ben: notice how they are spacing themselves out, like breathing.
This opportunity has emerged from Blindside innovating their compliance to social distancing and temporary exhibition closure. To be honest, compliance is not something I think of when I think of good art. The more anarchic cells in my body are bouncing with hope that compliance to public health advice, enacted now, can produce interesting structural changes to pre-pandemic governance.
A quick response to global events – even when a pandemic isn’t happening – doesn’t come easily for me, in words at least.
[Tears and grief and commitment to practice have been coming more easily.]
Events at the scale of the studio, the gallery, or the university classroom, however, are different. My sculpture practice, rather than enter crisis mode in pandemic, feels bolstered as the right thing for me to dedicate some of my time to each day. I was doing, thinking, feeling different things (other than refreshing news sites and building anxieties) before this pandemic, and I will be doing, thinking, feeling different things when our more dangerous micro-inhabitants get less keen.
I would ordinarily write a residency proposal for which I might be able to invent some of the spatial and temporal elements, some sculptural investigations. Even in a pandemic there will be some room for invention. However, due to the timing of this residency, there are already interesting guides on possible activities that I wish to mine.
At Blindside I am to access and work as an individual human body in the gallery. I’ll clean up my bodily traces.
[Already this understanding of an individual doesn’t hold up to my sculptural experience. As cleaning and hygiene practices attest, any individuation is contingent. I’ve read the words porous body used quite often in this regard, but I think I prefer gooey… *looks out the window at the rain*… or foggy. The influential artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s Maintenance Art comes to mind in this moment, in many moments. It always provokes in me the question of what I am maintaining each day with my practices, what am I turning attention towards, away from, is my attention moving at all? If the cleaning maintains a slowing down of public health risk in a pandemic, I am happy. If the cleaning is about maintaining some partitioned understanding of self, I’m less happy.]
Travel between my apartment and the gallery must be direct and swift, without diversion, with social distancing. There is so much to think through, but touch comes to mind first when I think of the scales of the human and the virus and their co-becoming, and when I consider our response to mitigate the speed of travel of corona infections.
In her text The Deepest Sense, Constance Classen unpacks the sense of touch in medieval Europe. Touch, according to Classen, was the ordering force in European cultures at the time. People shared drinking cups and delighted in carvings, embroideries and metalwork, all apprehended closely in low lit rooms. Furniture was pushed to the edges of rooms to allow easy orientation by feel. Classen argues that many touch-bound aspects of life changed quite rapidly with the arrival of the plague. Broadly, these cultures worked their way into the ocular, the image and the view became a main mode of enjoyment. Today it could be argued that touch has become more about spacing, to briefly consider Derrida’s engagement with Nancy (On Touching – Jean-Luc Nancy)… can two eyes touch? Perhaps a poignant text for social distancing, Derrida considers Nancy’s writing on touch as that which is excribed or ex-ists, a parting and imparting of self, differently – a repeated fainting/passing or syncope. Instead of touch as joining, continuistic, and foundational to other senses, touch is refigured as ‘endless partition… a community without community…’ A rejection of world that generates a world as its very own rejection, in Nancy’s phrase.
As a sculptor who works mainly with slow processes of forming (bodies, imprints, impressions), I feel much closer to the medieval. But I won’t share a cup during a pandemic, for genuine fear that doing so might kill my grandmother, or you, or myself. I feel closer to the medieval because I feel as though the spacing of touch – our social distancing as a prime example – has the potential to sensitise us to touch itself. Sensitising is something I believe sculpture can do exquisitely, if not sometimes awkwardly and confrontingly. My daily self-isolation walks have been sweet. Every leaf and sound have been encountered like treasure. My friends’ words, projected 1.5m, land in my body with that much more weight.
I read Derrida’s words in this way: to space touch out might actually make touch possible. To consider oneself to be spatially continuistic with those around you might be to (perhaps accidentally) override their differences, abrasions, and dissent. To consider oneself to be temporally continuistic with oneself might be to override your own differences, tensions, and changes.
I hope the above writing helps to position the way of investigating I will be undertaking at Blindside.
With the gallery spaces closed for a much of 2020, Blindside initiated a series of on- and off-site solo residency projects. Artists included Anna Dunnill, MJ Flamiano, Jessie Gall, Simone Nelson, Mira Oosterweghel, Amaara Raheem, Ella Sowinska, Ivey Wawn, Benjamin Woods, Elke Varga, Yusi Zang.
"I’ve been invited to practice in an isolated residency at Blindside for a few weeks during the COVID-19 global pandemic. This residency is a precarious and rare opportunity. I think artists are used to this dynamic position – precarity and rarity."
This program takes place on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We recognise that sovereignty was never ceded - this land is stolen land. We pay respects to Wurundjeri Elders, past, present and emerging, to the Elders from other communities and to any other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders who might encounter or participate in the program.
Benjamin Woods was born in Melbourne in 1988, and grew up with two older sisters, who were role models for a creative life. With their lead, Ben got on the path to become an artist early, studying sculpture at VCA from 2007-2012, where he received BFA Hons and MFA. He has been showing artwork since 2011 and is a current PhD candidate at Monash University (MADA). His research stems from experience in embodied practices, and how sculpture can express and connect these experiences through processes of forming over time, across contexts. Ben enjoys complex Venn diagrams, yoga practice, queer theory, and honey.
I would like to pay respect to elders of the Kulin Nation past, present and becoming, the traditional owners and custodians of the lands, waters and airs that make all our lives possible. I acknowledge that First Nation sovereignty of this land, and all Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island lands, has never been ceded.