Check out the Volta art fair this week
Image by Sofie Bird Møller, courtesy of Volta.
Stay informed on our latest news!
Image by Sofie Bird Møller, courtesy of Volta.
Tell me about the show.
There’s two parts to it. One is this video installation, it’s a seven-channel video that I shot in 2014 of the house I grew up in in Denver. I found out that my parents were going to sell it. I had lived there for 18 years and they had lived there for almost 40 years at that point, and because of the neighborhood it was in, I basically knew that once they sold it it was going to be destroyed, and it was within a few months of shooting the video.
It looks really new in the video.
I guess it was well taken care of. I asked my parents to get all their stuff out of it as much as possible, and they did, and I helped them. They had recently painted their bedroom, which actually kind of annoyed me at the time. A lot of the other rooms still had marring and other stuff on the walls. But the other section is drawings that are based on photographs that I took of my first boyfriend in high school for his senior yearbook picture, and then I asked my second boyfriend, who’s an artist as well, to draw them. They’re called 'First Love as Drawn by Second Love.'
So your work primarily is video?
I would say that’s kind of the core, but I do a lot of other things, too.
What were you focusing on with this show? Architecture? Is that too obvious?
I like that it makes architecture into a kind of object. But it’s also a meditation on family, love, loss, memory — all those kinds of things. In general, with my work, I often have very personal, autobiographical things within the pieces, but then I treat them in a minimal, almost cold way, in order to flatten them out, in an attempt to make it more accessible to everybody. So, it’s taking very loaded information and loaded material and mashing it up against a minimal form.
I guess you can feel that. Just seeing an empty house gives you that feeling of, 'What happened?'
There’s a lot of suggestion of things that could’ve happened, but there’s not a lot of telling, I think.
Above: 'First Love as Drawn by Second Love (industrial landing),' 2018 and 'First Love as Drawn by Second Love (public art)', 2018, both by Benjamin Kress.
How do you think the two sections engage with each other?
I think of that boyfriend in relation to this place, this house—it was where my bedroom was where we first got together, my first gay experience. They’re very much connected.
You’ve only ever had the two boyfriends?
No, no, I’ve had other boyfriends, those were just the first two.
Did you have to look up the second one?
No, he lives here in New York. My first boyfriend, we grew up together, we went to middle school and high school together, then went to college together. Then he broke up with me during the first year of college, decided he was straight, has a wife and kid now. We’re still close, but it took a while to get over it. And then I left college—I actually dropped out of undergrad. I don’t know if it was because of him, but I was devastated from the breakup, and just really depressed. I moved here to New York to try and pursue being an artist and then met who would become my second boyfriend, Ben Kress, who did the drawings. I was in awe—I’m still in awe—of his abilities as an artist. I can’t draw like that, I wish I could. So, it was important to me that he made them. When I look at them, I think to myself, 'Yeah, it took me kind of my whole life to get to this place where I’m even able to ask this person to make these as a part of the concept of my show.' It’s all of these relationships—the love and trust that worked together in order to create that, and I feel really happy about them because of that.
It’s almost like your whole life is this show.
That’s interesting—it is kind of like that! I keep telling people, it took me 41 years to make this show—and I’m 41 years old.
When did you move to New York—when did all of this occur?
I moved to New York in ’98. So, those portraits were shot in ’95, for our senior yearbook.
Above: Stills from 'With You… Me,' 2014-2018.
It looks '90s, the things he’s wearing. What's that screen I'm looking at?
Those are glow-in-the-dark stars that I hung very meticulously on my bedroom ceiling as a child, and when I went back to shoot the house I found them there, and was amazed that they were still working.
What's this ambient noise I'm hearing?
This is pink noise, which is different than white noise. It’s lower than white noise. White noise, I think, is all the tones together, and pink noise has a lower register. I’ve always liked the sound of it and I was trying to figure out what, if any, sound I would use for this piece. There wasn’t sound in it for a long time when I was working on it. But when things are totally silent, it’s actually kind of hard to watch the piece, or to focus. It’s almost like the pink noise is similar to the sound of silence, and allows focus. When it’s totally silent you hear every little rustle of your clothes, things moving around, whatever. I always liked listening to pink noise, and I looked it up and it’s actually the sound that occurs most frequently in nature—our hearts make it, planets moving make it, electronics make it, different insects make it. So, it’s actually kind of this life force sound.
Are there other colors of noise?
There’s brown noise. But also, I love the name of pink noise.
It’s a very subtle nod at gayness.
Being a fag, yeah.
Is all of this information in the press release?
I try to make my press releases like a part of the show—as if they were another work in it. So, the main part of the press release is a correspondence between me and Lucas, who was my first boyfriend.
Oh! I got that email! It was weird—I didn’t really understand what was happening.
That’s probably my doing. We wrote a text that comes after the email, but I’m kind of opposed to doing that. I know people want it, but I sort of like that it’s clearly autobiographical, but that there’s still a lot left unexplained.
Above: 'First Love as Drawn by Second Love (the sun inside him),' 2018 and 'First Love as Drawn by Second Love (industrial stoop),' 2018, both by Benjamin Kress. Main photo: 'First Love as Drawn by Second Love (fences and pipes),' 2018. All photos courtesy of JTT Gallery.
'With Me... You,' will be on view ay JTT Gallery through October 21.
I’m re-reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being and came across this quote from the painter in the story. In it, she says to her lover: ‘You seem to be turning into the theme of all my paintings. The meeting of two worlds. A double exposure.’ I immediately thought of your paintings—am I crazy?
No, that’s a very interesting quote. Yeah, I really like the double exposure idea, of having layers or multiple meanings attached to a single thing. This body of work was dealing with otherworldly subjects, the paranormal—things that are little ethereal.
One of your painting’s is titled 'Astral Projection.' Have you ever experienced it IRL, or known someone who has?
Actually, it’s one of those things that I tried, but never actually quite got it to work. That’s why I made a painting about it. A lot of these paintings are maybe speculations about things that I was interested in, but never quite made happen. I had read a book about it and a friend of mine and I tried to do it, and it never worked out, so I thought it might be interesting to explore that as a painting idea—a sort of failed attempt.
Above: 'Astral Projection' and 'Cryptic Talisman.'
There was a guy in a class I was in once who said he left his body every night, and I remember thinking, 'Wow, that actually happens.' It just seems extremely rare.
And a part of me looks at that and thinks it must be a little scary. It’s inherently interesting. It’s one of those things where whether it happens without knowing about it, or it’s something your actively trying to do, it’s seems a little dangerous. You just don’t know what will happen.
It reminds me of Alex Grey and the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. Are you familiar with him at all?
A little bit. But actually I was looking at a lot of older religious paintings, and it struck me as I got a little older, that they’re pretty mysterious—there’s a lot of strange things happening in those paintings that are sort of inexplicable, whether you’re familiar with the stories or not. I went to Italy a few years ago, and just seeing a lot of these unusual events happening in paintings—I never really thought about it because I hadn’t been looking at that stuff so much at the time, but there are people flying around and strange things happening. So, it was an interesting moment—I looked at them in a new light.
Above: 'Close Your Eyes and Think of Two Questions' and 'Book Club.'
Your paintings are rife with stories. But what kind do you think they tell?
Well, I think what I was trying to do was not tell a particular story, but leave it open to different interpretations. I wanted to give some specific information, but leave them kind of open-ended so people can apply their own experience to it and spend more time with it. I didn’t want to make it too much of a strict narrative. I wanted to keep it mysterious.
What is your experience of the occult beyond the astral projection experiment?
It’s something that has aways fascinated and kind of scared me. I grew up religious, so it was something that you weren’t supposed to dabble with, and then of course, I became fascinated with it. It’s always been this sort of push and pull towards it. Even as I got older, I wasn’t really religious anymore, but something about it still drew me to it and scared me at the same time. I had these moments where I was like, 'I don’t know, could this be real?' It made me questions myself—do I believe in more than nothing? Something? Do I believe in more than what I can just experience? These things are embedded down there somewhere, even though I stopped being religious when I was much, much younger.
What’s the last dream you had that you can recall?
To tell you the truth, I don’t really recall my dreams. I recall them maybe the moment after I wake up, but after that I don’t really remember them. I wake up with a start and then just actively try to get up.
'Visitations' will be on view at Fortnight Institute through October 14.
Photos courtesy of Fortnight Institute.