Erik Benjamins

22 October 2019

  1. After-Dinner Walk
  2. Alex Reed’s Home Work
  3. Bookends & Good Hugging
  4. Bookshelves & Hard Optimism
  5. Bottega Louie
  6. Building Block
  7. Butts of Florence
  8. Crying Into the Breadbox
  9. Disintegrating Smeller
  10. Eric Payne
  11. Forgetting the Words
  12. Free Smells
  13. Happiness for Art21 Magazine
  14. Jeremy Hunter's Practice of Life
  15. SBCo
  16. Self-squaring and Double Acting
  17. Use All Five
  18. Wood Fire Chicken for Lucky Peach
  19. Young Joon Kwak’s ‘The Cave’
  20. Show All

Interview

What’s up with the whole “bummerness” thing?

“Avoiding the seductiveness of perpetual bummerness” was first a mantra. It emerged without warning during graduate art school, as many of us fell into a commonplace acceptance of unhealthy levels of self-criticality and all-around over-seriousness. I began to carve a space out for myself in which invoking an unapologetic optimism could imbue good questions and better work, ever mindful of the frictions and privileges inherent to an artist’s work. Avoiding the bummerness became a linguistic compass bearing, dipped in Southern Californian slang. It has propelled my work ever since, manifesting as artworks, email signatures, visiting lecture titles, and now a business.

What's a Choreographer of Language?

I was first introduced to choreography during my freshman year of college. Many of my dormmates were dance majors and during the first performance of the season, I experienced modern dance for the first time: wildly moving bodies and their poetry, simultaneously hi-octane and feather-light. I’ll never forget those performances! A decade later, as an artist who writes, and a writer who makes art, I've been thinking a lot about a practice of choreography as a model for other kinds of making. As a choreographer of dance writes for the body in motion, a choreographer of language writes to put text in motion, as it dances on, and breezes off the page. It’s a work-in-progress, an electric compass bearing.

Where did you learn to write?

I’m self taught! In college, I double majored in Communication Studies and Studio Art, where long nights in the darkroom were balanced by muscling through thirty-page rhetorical criticisms. When I arrived at grad school, I was thankful to have had the foundation of academic writing and its work ethic, but I was always bothered by the genre's total disinterest in any kind of accessible readability. Contemporary art discourse had its own hifalutin linguistic insularity so I headed in the exact opposite direction, finding inspiration from writing found in pop culture, travel and food narrative, memoir, and poetry. It’s been a slow process of borrowing, adapting, and creating to be as weird as possible, while still retaining clarity. It hasn't been the cleanest of journeys, but I wouldn't trade it for anything else.

What did you study in art school?

I arrived as a classically trained, analogue photographer and immediately fell for performance art. The qualities of liveness became—and still remain—foundational to my work. Things like working with a sensitivity to duration, valuing body-to-body empathy, and provoking a sensory spectatorship.

Are you still making art?

Yes! I'm a full-time artist and it’s a total marathon. Many of the self-initiated projects featured here come directly from artworks. I've been fortunate to have participated in residencies and exhibitions around the world and am also thankful for my community of artists, here in Los Angeles, that provide some of the strongest inspiration. If you’re interested in learning more about my artwork, there's a whole website for that!

Where do you look for inspiration?

As a generalist, I've found that my best work comes from disciplinary curveballs and surprise collaborations. Though I can’t deny one of the larger, longest-running influences: the intersection of food and place. At these crossroads, we can learn learn from and participate in history and culture. Cooking and eating are as cerebral as they are bodily, and I love this tenuous balance between something so controlled and unexpected. My heroes are Jonathan Gold, Anthony Bourdain, and Gabrielle Hamilton.

Doesn't it get confusing jumping around subjects and genres?

Mexican contemporary artist, Gabriel Orozco once said that he'd rather be a beginner in many things than an expert in one. I love working in this spirit. It forces me to go slow and invoke the enthusiasm and curiosity of beginner-ness.

What was the last inspiring thing you’ve read?

Art writer, Quinn Latimer’s Like a Woman has changed the way I think about how subject, voice, and point of view can shatter genre expectations in the most glorious and inviting of ways. Whether it's a review of a painting show, an essay on a quiet history, or a page-long poem, Quinn’s words vibrate in a magic kind of cozy criticality, and I am so so envious. I keep this book in my bag as you would a spare in your trunk.

Do you have a dream project?

A cookbook! To work with a chef to help tell their story by way of recipes, histories, anecdotes, and images, all packaged into a gorgeous object that longs to live a long, well-used life. The cookbook-as-model is something sacred. I turn to it in my own work all the time, but that’s another story.

Do you have any rituals or superstitions when it comes to writing?

I have to begin on paper. It’s romantic I guess, but the messy immediacy helps me lower the stakes of what always seems like an impossible start. I always journal, and do so with greater intensity when traveling. Before heading out, I head to the Japanese market down the street and always buy an A4-sized, 48-page, softcover, blank-sheet sketchbook by French school supply company, Claire Fontaine.

I’m interested! How does it work and where do we begin?

I look forward to hearing from you! Each project brings with it new variables and goals. Send me an email and we’ll set up a time to talk about what you need, and how we can get it done together. I’m based in Los Angeles, but am happy to connect remotely.

Anything else?

I hope you’re enjoying your day!