Jane Benson’s Rhythmic Tale of Two Iraqi Brothers

Artist lets her medium do the talking. An artist who primarily creates installations, Benson dissects larger concepts such as the mechanisms of narcissism and representation through a mixture of sculpture and video. The work often possesses a quirky humor—take for example, Happy Faux Flora (2002), an installation where the artist installed two unassuming artificial trees with hand-cut leaves in the lobby of the World Financial Center. While the title of her new solo show, “Play Land,” suggests further funny business, it is perhaps Benson’s sharpest show to date.
For her exhibition at Pavel Zoubok Gallery, Benson homes in on the story of two Iraqi brothers who escaped from Baghdad in the early 2000s. Their story becomes a vehicle for Benson to explore, on an intimately individual level, the social reverberations caused by geo-cultural fractures. The artist uses music to tell the story in a dual-channel video entitled Finding Baghdad (Part A) (2015), which serves as the show’s centerpiece. The video opens on two Iraqi instruments, an oud and a djoze, as they are perfectly split in two. The video then crescendos to a virtual duet played by the two brothers on their half instruments, each on their own screen. Playing from their new respective homes, Cologne, Germany and Sanad, Bahrain, the brothers bridge—if only momentarily—this distance through an emotional ballad, originally streamed over Skype. A poignant marriage of technology and tradition, the piece locates conflict in time and space with pinpoint accuracy. 
Benson’s video is accompanied by a handful of sculptures that also toy with this idea of split identity. Precariously balanced on tables and mirrors, Benson’s hybrid instruments stir uneasiness in the viewer. Their off-kilter nature suggests perpetual turmoil. On the walls, the artist hangs her shredded flags, which combine all the emblems of the countries where the brothers’ immediate family live. Bright and punchy, the cheeriness of these wall-pieces add to the surreal display conjured by her sculptures. Through this dark history told through a delicious melody of visuals, Benson entices her viewer to engage with the reality of displacement through the universality of music and family.

—Kat Herriman

Play Land” is on view at Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York, Oct. 22–Nov. 25, 2015.