In the Studio: Christian Benefiel’s Indirect Effect

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Christian Benefiel‘s work in Indirect Effect, currently on exhibit at Area 405, addresses the necessary stress in relationships, physical and emotional, internal and external. The pieces are constructed following a loose set of constructive rules, but are largely intuitive and meant to react to the space itself.

According to the artist, “Area 405 is a unique space, and the opportunity to work in collaboration with the existing mass of visual information is what drives much of the formal and material choices for this exhibition.”

“Speaking personally,” says Benefiel, “I have not been this excited about new work in while, and I think that I owe a lot of that to how strongly the work contrasts the space. This work has a bit more of a personal narrative to it, and since moving out of the city to the mountains of rural Maryland, I find myself thinking about my relationship to the sculpture more than I did with previous works.”

Benefiel’s earlier pieces use much of the same visual language, but were much broader in concept, and addressed issues more generally. In contrast, “These pieces carry the weight of my thoughts dealing with decision making, aging, social structure, and the impermanence of my effort,” says Benefiel. “That may sound like a lot of doom and gloom or a mid life crisis on paper, but I do not think that is the case, as I am trying to take an objective look at these common issues as they rise and fall in my own life.”

In the studio

Name: Christian Benefiel
Age: 33

Employment: Assistant Professor & Area Coordinator for Sculpture at Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, WVA

Location: Yikes! I live and work in western Maryland now, a small town west of Frederick, and south of Hagerstown originally I am from northern Anne Arundel County, and our Studio was in Brooklyn, MD (the good one) before moving out here.

Study/ Degrees: East Carolina University BFA 2004, University of Maryland MFA 2008, Post Grad-Finnish Academy of Fine Art 2010

Studio: My wife and I have a studio in an old general store. So old it was around at the Battle of Antietam. We also live there, so it is an easy commute.

Media: I would say mixed, but that term bothers me, especially on labels. I usually like listing all the parts of a given piece, I feel that they are selected for a reason, and should be acknowledged if possible. I have always moved from medium to medium in different artworks. I love process and material, and see each piece as an opportunity to learn new things. I also try to alter or improve my skill set to accommodate a desired outcome for the work and not the other way around.

Favorite Tools: So Many. I have a devoted relationship with my tools. I love mechanical tools that have a special purpose, that are custom made for a task, like a compass plane. I was recently in Amsterdam and saw a machine that was only for making wooden shoes. So super complicated, able to carve wood inside and out, and with such a specific purpose. It was fascinating to watch it run. In my shop, I have a bit of an emotional attachment with the tools as well, I love my table saw, the way it sounds while it is running, sort of sings a little bit.

Lacking code full side small

My sewing machine is another fantastic thing, all mechanical and can be very strong when hand cranked, even without power. I love that that integration with the machine. I am obsessed with keeping chisels, knives and edge tools sharp, and regularly hone them. I even strop the blades in my pencil sharpener. It is a sort of meditative task that prepares me and helps clear my mind in the shop. Really I could go over nearly any tool in the shop and fawn over it for you, but won’t.

Currently Working On: I just installed the show Indirect Effect at Area 405 and that marks a pretty big release in studio work, but I am really excited about how it looks. Since then, I am splitting my time right now between a new piece that is a return to my inflatable work with a modular system using automated blowers and parts made with CNC cutters or designing and building furniture using cast Iron pieces. The former may sound like it has a pretty steep learning curve on it, but as an artist that makes interactive work, the furniture is teaching me a lot about the shape and ergonomics of the body, so that has been really fun and I think that the two will have to start interacting at some point.

Studio Philosophy: Practice. I try to work on several projects at once, so that when I come to a block on one, I can put it aside and do some passive thinking while working on another. As a result when I am working on a show, I will usually finnish all the work together within a few weeks of each other. Most works start as a drawing, then usually go into a digital model to get measurements and tweak mechanics, and then get built at scale. I like using the model rather than building maquettes, it is cleaner, versatile, and has less clutter.

lacking code front web
Lacking code compliance in social structure, 2013. Wood, Rope, Cast Iron, Ladder.

Theory: I do not really have one, although I am kind of selfish in that I usually only make work that I have a continued interested in. For me one of the hardest things to learn as an artist was when to abandon a piece that is a dead end. I find that pieces I am excited about tend to flourish and develop more smoothly than work that is made out of some kind of desire to appease, and that letting go is a healthy part of the process.

Studio Frequency: Depends on the week, but having the studio in the house makes it pretty easy to drop in on a daily basis, even if it is only to futz around for a bit. My studio and shop are kind of the same entity, so in addition to making artwork, it is used for menial tasks like changing my oil in the car, or fixing household stuff. These activities often overlap, and even relate to one another, so I do not think of it as a session so much, as an integrated part of my life. I also make use of the facilities afforded to me at work regularly, which is fortunate, and furthers that integration.

Upcoming or Current shows or projects: Indirect Effect, currently up at Area 405 in Baltimore. The Foggy Bottom Sculpture Biennial coming in summer. The 7th International Conference on Contemporary Cast Iron Art – June, Pedvale Sculpture Park, Sebile Latvia.

How’d You Start Out as an Artist: Really If I think back, when I was 12 or 13 a neighbor took a group of kids to the National Gallery to see A Claes Oldenburg exhibit. It was the first time I was exposed to art on that scale, and I knew then that it was what I wanted to do. When I was young I was also a potter. I originally went to undergraduate school for ceramics, but switched to sculpture soon after.

Ongoing Resolution small
Ongoing Resolution, 2014. Wood, Bicycle.

Artist Whose Career You Covet: Man, that is a toughie. I definitely play a fair amount of Facebook jealousy, when I see what others are up to, but I am pretty happy with where my work has taken me so far, and try to focus as much energy on my career as possible instead. That said, If I had to pick something it would be when I talk to colleagues who work in flat, or digital media or video, and have the ability to easily ship work to exhibitions around the world, on a disc, or mail whatever. That usually runs through my mind when I am loading and/or unloading a truckload of heavy work that has to be navigated and parked in tight urban quarters before a multi-day install. Maybe it is one of those grass is greener situations, but it does look nice from time to time.

Artist Whose Work You Wish You Had Made: Ha, In direct contradiction to the previous question- anytime I see someone who has made solid public artwork, preferably large scale outdoor work, that is edgy and relevant. Those are the pieces that make me kick myself. I am constantly lusting after making work that is for outdoor display, but for whatever reason, I have been working mostly indoors for the past few years.

How You Get Through the Dull Times: I work on my house, go hiking, try to grow vegetables in the summer, and have an old motorcycle that needs a fair amount of work. It runs, but leaks everything everywhere. Usually a few days of doing things like that get me back to the studio.

Offering some sort of reward web
offering some kind of reward, 2014. Steel, Wood, Cast Iron

What Motivates You: This sounds terrible, but for the longest time it was a sort of spite – I felt like If someone told me ‘no way,’ I did my best to prove them wrong. That has kind of faded though. It was too draining. Now I am most interested in learning new things and challenging myself to apply what I have learned in my work.

* Indirect Effect will be on exhibition at Area 405 through April 19, 2014. Gallery hours are Fridays, 3:30-7:30pm and noon-4Pm on Saturdays & Sundays for the duration of this exhibit. The exhibit brings two artists together whose disparate points of departure ultimately intersect: Jennifer Gilman, an LA-based artist, includes a vast, site-specific installation made of sawdust.

** Images courtesy of the artist. Featured image at top is Lacking code compliance in social structure, 2013. Wood, Rope, Cast Iron, Ladder.

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