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Towards an Inverse Sky: Sebastian Gladstone in conversation with Bennet Schlesinger

Sebastian GladstoneComment

Bennet Schlesinger in the backyard at Signal Gallery. 

I recently met with artist Bennet Schlesinger while installing for his upcoming solo exhibition, Towards an Inverse Sky, at SIGNAL Gallery running from October 9th to November 1st. He briefly took me through his working process as we spoke about surfing, bus stops, and heavy metals.

Bennet Schlesinger "Frame 1.1, 2015, steel and tempered glass."

Bennet Schlesinger "Frame 1.1, 2015, steel and tempered glass."

Sebastian Gladstone: So first, could you take me through a few of the main ideas of your upcoming show?

Bennet Schlesinger: The initial idea for this show came from some writing I did over a two year span, titled “towards an inverse sky.” the piece talks about a man who physically comes apart: dimensional rules of space and time cease to have command over him, and only through his actions is he able to bring himself back into the world. These ideas became the jumping off point for what would become the works in the show.

SG: And would you consider this a  break from your previous work in the sense thats its a lot more open to the viewer's personal interpretation as opposed to a more imposing concept?

BS: I don't consider it a significant break or tangent from my previous art works, to me they’ve always existed within some sort of narrative. The last shows relied more on the formal/ sculptural elements to draw on my interests in art history, architecture and general poetics. This show aims to draw an arc through the story line in towards an inverse sky, not as a companion piece but as an equally important element, like two halves that make a whole. But ideally these objects can also successfully exist without a story or conceptual support.

Studio notes for Towards an Inverse Sky.

Studio notes for Towards an Inverse Sky.

SG: At the same time there are still similar tactics in the fabrication employed here, perhaps with a little more of a personable approach. What do you like about keeping some of the “imperfections” in your new work?

BS: Failure can be an important element to growth. What’s great about fabricating your own art is the ability to push material in the wrong ways, to negate the rules of craft and instill some energy into the work itself. Perfection has never been very interesting to me. I would rather have things about to fall apart than be structurally sound. I like that tension.

SG: I see a lot of references to transit and transportation in your work, do you think being raised in Southern California was a big influence on this?

BS: I used to walk to the bus stop near my house and take the bus to the beach in the morning and swim all day, then take the bus home. I was probably twelve, my mom would give me 35 cents in case I needed to call her. Being from a big family this was probably my first experience traveling alone, and also one of my fondest; riding the bus, meeting weirdos, being in public. The bus in California is a great economic leveler. In-transit is a great place to think and view the world with clearer eyes. There's a release of control that can be freeing.

Bennet Schlesinger "Mary's Room, 2013, steel and oil."

Bennet Schlesinger "Mary's Room, 2013, steel and oil."

SG: And do you look to any major Southern California artists as big inspiration into your working process?

BS: I think about John McCraken a lot, he was a surfer, had a studio in costa mesa (where I am from) and all the alien stuff. I haven’t been able to get a real answer from anyone about his belief in aliens and if his artworks are really attempts at communication with aliens or not. But I like thinking they are.

SG: What are some non artistic influences on this body of work?

Bennet Schlesinger  "Orbiting core, 2014, steel and oil/ latex on wood."

BS: The main influence on these works is the writing and the brainstorming I did for other works. I initially wanted it to be a video with a voice over recording of Towards An Inverse Sky in the background. There were different ideas for scenes that were all shot at night.  The more I worked on those ideas, the more they proved to be research for what would become this exhibition.

SG: You are also publishing a book of poetry to come out with the show, in which the initial concept came from, what do you like about adding this separate yet concurrent aspect to the project?

BS: I started writing this piece in Indonesia in 2013 and from that moment I always envisioned it existing within an art show. It since became central to my creation of this body of work. The text can be a way for the viewer to get into the feel of the installation itself.

SG: You showed at the inaugural show at Signal Gallery, and have been a part of the program ever since, can you tell me a little more about the space?

BS: Signal is a large warehouse space in Brooklyn, run by Alexander Johns and Kyle Jacques, a lot of their program is dedicated to exhibiting sculpture and installation.

Schlesinger's first solo show with Signal Gallery, Atlas, was also their inaugural show. 

SG: Signal is also known for hosting very ambitious projects, some of which would definitely be considered work that's “hard to sell”. What effect, if any does working with a space that is open to such projects have on your own work?

BS: Having had the chance to make unapologetic installation work has probably had a huge impact on the way I think about making art. Most of the work I do is in my head, outside of studio, walking around and having a location to envision has been an enormous resource.

Atlas at Signal Gallery.

Atlas at Signal Gallery.

SG: Lastly, when we spoke in your studio, you mentioned that most people don’t see the new wall pieces as paintings, but you do. What is your definition of a painting in the contemporary setting?

BS: “Sculpture is something you bump into when you back up to see a painting”  Barnett Newman

For more information on Bennet Schlesinger and Signal Gallery, check out their website here.