Exertion Is Key in Benjamin Hollingsworth’s Physical New Work

May 5, 2016 10:49PM

At the heart of Benjamin Hollingsworth’s artistic practice is an intense attention to the physical labor of making. He works in an eclectic array of media: ceramic, bricks, chains, pages from used newspapers, and more. Though typically formalist, his works refuse to adhere to any single ideology, flirting both with expressive curves and minimalist hard-edged abstraction. What unites his diverse works, currently on view at The Southern in Charleston, South Carolina, is a keen sense of the bodily, with the artworks serving as remnants of the artist’s physical undertakings.

The show’s title, “Vision of Labor,” points to his artworks’ raw physicality. Indeed, though all the works on view are static, they have a performative quality. One can’t help but imagine Hollingsworth twisting, molding, or bending material to make them. Some artworks specifically refer to physical exertion, like To Hold your place in time (2016), which transforms a rock-climbing wall into the basis for a sculptural painting.

Most evocative of the human body, however, may be Hollingsworth’s abstract chrome ceramics. Intricately textured with ripples and folds, many of these sculptures look like fleshy chunks crossed with robotic machinery. Some pieces, like Tranni (Mass) (2016), are large, hulking forms, flexing an imposing presence upon the viewer. Other pieces, like Ancient Relic (2016), are smaller and more delicate, evincing a tender side to Hollingsworth’s practice.

Balancing out the sculptural works are two-dimensional paintings and works on paper, each carrying evidence of an intensive process. In Untitled (track marks – black) (2015), intricate swirls of lines belie the laborious action of applying, painting, and removing several layers of tape.

Similarly taxing is Hollingsworth’s “Our Rituals are all there” series, in which the artist painstakingly blacks out portions of a newspaper with graphite. The photographs and bits of text that remain take on an almost mystical quality, like portions of a lost holy book Hollingsworth has uncovered.

By placing his bodily efforts at the core of his practice, Hollingsworth reminds viewers that art is always an act of labor, no matter how effortless it may seem.

—A. Wagner

Benjamin Hollingsworth: Vision of Labor” is on view at The Southern, Charleston, South Carolina, Mar. 25–May 15, 2016.

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