Pop-Secret: Keith Benjamin’s “The Weight” at PAC Gallery

January 23rd, 2012  |  Published in *, January 2012

A stratified structure of litter (constructed of packaging that once housed Cheez-Its, cans of Bud Light and Diet Coke, and Pop-Secret microwavable bags of popcorn) rests precariously atop an old-school reel-to-reel tape recorder in Keith Benjamin’s “the weight,” a sculpture that teeters toward absurdity while evoking the loneliness and exactitude of a hoarder’s consciousness.  Nothing is wasted in this work of art.  You can stare at it for an hour and laugh at yourself for doing so, but then again the piece has given you the opportunity to remember what you thought you had never memorized.  Emotions and nostalgias you can’t really name are indexed within its bulky, obsessive weirdness.

“The Weight” is also the name of Benjamin’s show at PAC Gallery in Walnut Hills (which closes January 21, 2012), an apt but ironic title for a six-pack of ominous objects that seem to be simultaneously symbolic and meaningless, mystical and earthbound.  With each of the six Benjamin tells the same visual story over and over until it all becomes an homage to functionality breaking down and/or ascending to an aesthetic apotheosis:  utility transmuting itself into futility for the sake of poetry and precision.

The show is the very definition of “accidentally on purpose.”  The objects Benjamin creates seem to blossom from an urge for serendipity with an eye toward complete control.  He manufactures ready-mades and deconstructs the notion of “ready-mades” at the same time.  Each of the six set-pieces are constructed of materials mostly found in recycle bins (cardboard, wood, plastic), and yet fashioned into exquisite curios and curiosities that transcend “craft” and re-imagine “art.”  You get the feeling that for every object Benjamin shows there are probably a few thousand prototypes kept secret, hidden away in an undisclosed laboratory.

“Almost Everything” is a ball of shredded cardboard strands nestled in an old swiveling office-chair.  Resting inside and out of the sphere are colored-cardboards cut-outs (leaves and hearts and circles) that speckle the made-up foliage like magic berries.  “Library” is an unassembled or dissembled set of pre-fab shelving encased in home-made wood latticing.  This assemblage fuses the precise sparseness of a Raymond Carver story with the subtle, ground-level inevitability of Louise Nevelson.  At the same time, though, you look at it and feel as if it is nothing at all.  The mystery involved in the making and the presenting combine into a feeling of both confusion and awe.  Why is this thing art?  Why am I even looking at it? But “Library,” like all the pieces in the exhibit, pulsates precisely because Benjamin has edited out everything else.

Taking in “Library” is like being in a defunct furniture store waiting for ghosts to emerge from all the furniture nobody bought.  A metaphysical haze hovers over the whole enterprise.  But then again everything is exactly what it is and as it should be.  No ghosts here.

Keep telling yourself that.

–Keith Banner

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