The idea for this body of work is generated, in broad terms, from my reactions to the human-constructed physical and social environments in which we live. Most of our interior and exterior spaces, especially in the urban setting, leave us no alternative but to perform in a grid. We are contained in boxes, and transported in boxes that follow the grid. The smaller-scale objects of our domestic lives are similarly controlling when the influence of instruments such as clocks and televisions are considered.
I chose to portray these issues with sculptures that contain ants for the opportunity to work with a living group from which I could draw parallels to human society. "Ant farms" gave me the ability to miniaturize environments and translate the essence of dwellings, urban spaces, social and psychological relationships.
Ants & Man
Scientists regard ants as the highest intelligence form in the insect realm. They possess the most complex chemical communication in the animal kingdom. In terms of geography and climate, they have adapted to almost all parts of the earth. Like social wasps and bees, ants live in evolved societies. While wasps and bees live for one or two years, ants can live six or seven, and their queens approximately twelve years.
Ants and humans share certain like characteristics of social organization and subsistence. For example, the equivalent to our early ancestors is a breed of marauder ants, which live a nomadic life in small, temporary colonies. One species of ants sustains itself by cultivating fungus in their nests, similar to the principals of farming. Another has domesticated aphids to “milk” for honeydew. Slave-making ants raid “foreign” ant nests and capture larvae, which they raise to service them. The harvester ants used in my work prefer a vegetarian diet and in nature, maintain granaries of seeds from plants in their area.
Perhaps the most similar trait shared by ants and man is their compulsion to impact their physical surroundings. Whereas man threatens the environment with his excessive development, however, the ant does a great ecological service in aerating the soil.
The Work
Square: Dimensions for some of the sculptures were derived from my own environment. For Square I used the proportions of my window. Instead of looking out, this piece encourages a voyeuristic looking in. The square elevation of this dwelling also represents a small module of a larger whole: one room of an apartment, one apartment in a building, one building in a block, and so on.
Residence: Residence shows livable space diminishing to non-livable as the angle of the interior narrows in plan. In New York City every bit of land is used for a building even if unsuitable space is the result. In appearance, it is the most architectonic sculpture. The foam insulation suggests classical elements found in establishment architecture. White sand represents a pristine lifestyle.
Street: In contrast, Street abstracts an urban block, its dimensions being the height of a person times the length of a street. The shorter height and darker sand relate to the oppression we sense in those that live in the street. Applied and enclosed cardboard is the material of their shelters. In reading the piece from left to right, the most sand and construction space occurs at left. Toward the right, sand and air holes diminish. Thus, even in the street, a hierarchy exists where there are more and less appropriate places to inhabit.
Street click for larger picture
Clock: This piece originated in similar feelings of being pressured by time. Clocks dictate the organization to our day, forcing us to consciously adhere to its temporal divisions. Time affects us on a cellular level. Humans are victims of a profound dissonance between cultural time and natural rhythm. I wished to contrast the idea of body rhythm to the clock. The clock has stopped, yet the ants continue their cycle of activity and rest in natural alteration. Life rhythms continue without the mechanical measurement of time.
Constriction: Express the sentiment if being crushed by space. Many who live in New York City exist in small spaces. This container is manipulated to communicate physical tension.
TV Tube: The television is yet another manipulator in our domestic sphere. In essence many have substituted spectating for participating in life. Furthermore television has narrowed the interactive human experience. Jerry Mander has written, “Television isolates people from the environment, from each other, and from their own senses.” (in Four Arguments for Elimination of Television). TV Tube offers an alternative viewing for the dysfunctional unit: a live presence that cannot be turned on and off. This 24-hour experience shows a society interrelating and working together productively.
Bra & Apron and Cod Piece: These pieces together comment on the ossified attitudes towards female and male social roles. The bra and apron symbolize the physical and psychological strapping of women to sexual object and domestic characttitures. The cod piece us deliberately mask-like and plastic in its (im-) potency. In too many cases, men remain convinced of an obligation to project unrealistic qualities of machismo and virility. By attaching nature directly to the body, I attempt to recall a deeper nature that operates regardless of sexual anatomy or orientation.
Washer, Burner, Blender and other pieces (no images) play on a similar theme for women. These pieces satirize the instantaneous associations to women’s roles so effectively communicated by history and media. The “good woman” nourishes her family and maintains the home in germ-free condition. Even the containers of household products are molded insidiously to echo the female figure. The ants in these objects – incidentally, female ants – are busy working, as are the women who employ these appliances and products.
click for larger picture
TV Tube
Bra & Apron and Cod Piece
Copyright 2011 Kristen Benson. All rights reserved.
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