“Shit, Bennet is so cool,” declared a friend of mine at the opening of “On The Bleached Sun (A Turbine)” at SIGNAL gallery in Brooklyn. This particular friend knows what she’s talking about – she was valedictorian of her master’s contemporary art class at Sotheby’s – but even those in attendance with a less formal art education (myself, for example) were awestruck by Bennet Schlesinger’s show. The Brooklyn-based artists’ work is, in a word, pleasing. But behind its clean, precise aesthetic lies a depth of thought; a considered approach that comes through in everything the young artist does, be it painted work, sculpture or a handcrafted table for his sun-drenched Brooklyn apartment (a stark contrast to his windowless studio).
“On The Bleached Sun (A Turbine)” is based largely on a quote from French philosopher Marc Augé’s book, “Non-Places:”
“… It is not surprising that it is among solitary ‘travelers’ of the last century — not among professional travelers or scientists, but travelers on impulse or for unexpected reasons — that we are most likely to find prophetic evocations of space in which neither identity, nor relations, nor history really makes any sense; spaces in which solitude is experienced as overburdening or emptying of individuality, in which only the movement of fleeting images enables the observer to hypothesize the existence of a past and glimpse the possibility of a future.”
We caught up with Schlesinger to chat about non-places, living in Brooklyn and Marxist philosophy.
Tell me about the quote in the press release.
It’s a quote from Marc Augé, who’s a French philosopher and anthropologist. He wrote this book called “Non-Places.” The general idea is that we’re spending more and more time in non-places, in transit, in between. Even your car becomes this other house or something. So I had been thinking about that as a possibility for a way to think about art; that non-zone and kind of figuring that out. The way I think about art is always about abstraction and the unknown and navigating it through feeling.
So not over-intellectualizing things.
I think the best stuff works intellectually but it’s understandable if you don’t hear the story.
I find this show to be instantly digestable on a basic aesthetic level.
Instantly digestable is good, and then you can spend time with it.
So the quote refers to travel. Is travel an important part of your work?
The quote is specifically about people who are travelling nonprofessionally and how when you travel for leisure you get way more from the experience than if you do it for business. I think maybe that’s a perception thing. I think my art making is kind of about trying to get the pleasure out of the transit without having to go out of town.
What was the last leisurely trip that you took?
I went to Montauk last weekend, to surf. And I’m excited to go to Bali for the next five weeks.
Tell me about the other show you did at SIGNAL.
The other show was similarly about a non-place. It was about construction sites. I took a bunch of pictures for the show as references and made a little book. So there are 50 different construction sites and they’re places where you can’t go, you know? The last show was these structural supports that you find holding up walls. Are they related? Aesthetically, yes.
Why include paintings in this show?
For years I always thought of myself as a sculptor. I told people I only made sculptures but I secretly made paintings the entire time. I actually spent all my time making paintings.
Why was it a secret?
I don’t know. I was like, “I’m spending a year on these paintings and then I’m not going to show them and do some conceptual sculpture project instead?” That seems a bit weird. So I guess I wanted it to be honest and showing my work seemed honest.
Do you recall the first thing that you built?
I made a white picket fence with my dad when I was 12. We built it all by hand.
That’s very American.
Totally. I also made tree houses and skate ramps.
What are some objects in your house that are dear to you?
The only things I have in my house are two white paintings that I made, my bed, a table I made and two molded 60s chairs and five books.
What’s the last book you read?
Going Public by Boris Groys, it was really gnarly. He’s really intense. It kind of bummed me out but it’s good to push through books that you kind of don’t like. I really love Marxist philosophy and for some reason he’s just way more intense than the others.
What does your studio look like?
It’s 300 sq ft, rectangle with no windows.
Why no windows?
I couldn’t afford it [laughs]. It’s really dark, like a cave. I need to get lighting put in.
What is your current light source?
I have three bulbs. I’m just in my cave, working. I can’t really see what I’m doing. I think that’s good, then I emerge and I’m like, “this painting is orange!”
At what point did you know that you wanted to pursue art in a professional manner?
In high school I wanted to be a documentary photographer, so I went to school for photography first but then all the pictures I was taking were pretty abstract and I didn’t like how fast it was.
What were you documenting?
Plants. I was taking pictures of plants… That’s so weird.
Does that count as documentary photography?
Well in high school I was taking pictures of surfing and skateboarding, lifestyle stuff. I didn’t like the whole digital thing. It was always on a computer and you never really printed it out because you didn’t have the money to do that.
Do you think about the connotations or stereotypes that come along with being deemed a “Brooklyn-based artist?”
Yes, all the time. I think it’s annoying but necessary. It’s a bummer how important location is in getting your work seen, especially at the beginning. If you want to take part in more than your own little world, you have to live around other artists.
True. I noticed at your opening there was a large contingency of other Brooklyn-based artists.
That’s why I moved to New York. I was living in California, feeling like there was no viewer for what I was making. Art is like currency, it’s all speculative. If no one around you is saying it’s good, it’s hard to say it’s good [laughs]. So living in New York is great because it gives you a domestic community and an international reach.
Here’s an annoying question: how would you define your aesthetic.
Wooaaah [laughs]. It’s hard to define yourself, huh? I think an important part of my aesthetic is coming from California, and I think that’s pretty apparent.
You did just come back from a surfing trip.
I’m a walking cliché. Oh well.
If you weren’t pursuing art, what would you be doing professionally?
Probably making surfboards.
What advice would you give yourself on the day that you moved to New York City?
I was going to say “don’t worry,” but I wasn’t worried [laughs].
You don’t worry. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you worry.
I don’t. So… keep not worrying.
“On The Bleached Sun (A Turbine)” is on at SIGNAL gallery in Brooklyn to July 7th.