“Please Watch Your Head” reads a curious sign taped to the metal door of Ortega y Gasset Projects in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Opening the door I realize how this instruction is essential to navigate the jewel toned gauntlet of brick-a-brack curtains cascading from the ceiling in a slender corridor that leads to the main gallery space. Ben Pederson’s solo show “Some Stuff You Forgot About” represents two mature bodies of work which reveal the depth of Pederson’s philosophical approach, as well as the synergy between the artist and the curator Eleanna Anagnos.
Zigzagging inside Pederson’s installation of objects becomes a playful dance of evasion reminiscent of a life-sized Hasbro game of Operation. This “reality tunnel” forces viewers into close proximity with a flotsam of dangling artifacts: a pair of ripped jean shorts, gold and plastic chain links, strings of beads, tchotchkes, painted assemblages of cardboard resembling Ailanthus leaves, all frozen in midair.
The collection of objects, some of which repurposed from larger sculptures, function as an existential self-portrait symbolic of Pederson’s experiences, desires, failures, and earliest memories of creation. In the exhibition essay Pederson recounts that as a child he was often “sifting through a junk drawer…clutching a hot glue gun, and looking for connections.” An intuitive affinity for chance continues to rule Pederson’s practice, influencing the ways in which he formulates surreal structures through hybridizing found forms. The referential installation in “The Skirt,” the corridor leading to the main space, establishes the significance of assemblage within the broader context of the exhibition, and at the same time it also unpacks the metaphysical density of the work at the main room.
Rounding the corner into the main space, one’s eyes lift up to take in an armada of speckled peach colored mobiles suspended around the parameter of the ceiling. A row of four bonsai tree-like sculptures perched upon attenuated pedestals inhabit the center of the gallery and dictate the flow of movement through the space, much like the cosmatesque floors of a medieval basilica. With eyes raised and footsteps preordained, there is a spiritual essence which fills the room as one begins to decode the foreign abstract forms within each sculpture.
This body of work entitled “28 Shapes Later,” is Pederson’s cryptic manifesto, a transcendent exploration into the construction of a visual language comprised entirely of non-referential forms. I turn once again to the exhibition essay and glean that the twenty-eight repeated shapes fused into the various sculptures were collected by Pederson whilst meditatively accessing what he refers to as an “Alien Platonic State.” A book containing several leaves of colorful silhouettes set against black grounds displays refined examples of these shapes. The transcendent nature of Pederson’s work stems from his interest in twentieth-century French philosophy, as evident in the way he utilizes the Rhizome, a thick ground root which expands in a lateral matrix as a metaphor for subconscious desires and fears. The fulcrum mobiles and tree sculptures composed of tubular synapses and swollen nodes mirror the physical structure of this subterranean root. Intrinsic to both bodies of work is Pederson’s concept of “artist as lightning rod,” or a filter through which internal as well as external influences are then translated and re-imagined into new realities.
The generous and infinitely intriguing sculptures currently on view at Ortega y Gasset are the result of a year-long collaboration guided by Co-Director Eleanna Anagnos’s curatorial vision for Pederson’s work. Although Pederson’s whimsical, pastel-colored sculptures were on Anagnos’s radar for a number of years, it was his proposal for the annual OyG Solo Show Open Call last year that secured a slot for his work at the non-profit artist-run-space. In a city notorious for exhausting an artists’ time and creative energy I asked Anagnos why she goes the extra mile to provide opportunities for artists while maintaining a studio practice of her own. “Being a part of OyG is about creating space and a peer reviewed platform for the creative work and voices of brilliant but marginalized or underrepresented artists,” she explains. This spirit guides the programming at Ortega y Gasset. It applauds experimental risk takers such as Ben Pederson and enables for a community of creatives to flourish outside of profit driven demands.
Ben Pederson’s exhibition Some Stuff You Forgot About will run through February 3, 2019 with a closing reception and catalog launch the evening of the Sunday, February 3rd from 3-6 p.m.
Ortega y Gasset Projects application for Solo Exhibitions is currently open until February 28th 2019.