ULTRAROMANTICISMO - Ritual Nature #002 (Tennessee Backwoods) by Ben Snell

Oct 14, 2021 12:18PM

Artistic project promoted by Comuni di Castelnuovo Rangone, Pavullo nel Frignano, Castelfranco Emilia, Savignano sul Panaro, Spilamberto and Vignola, in collaboration with Associazione Culturale Ricognizioni sull’Arte, which the exhibition of Ben Snell is curated by Eleonora Brizi.

In the age of technologies and artificial intelligence, where does the romantic spirit go?

Ben Snell is an artist who listens to and amplifies the inner dialogues of machines. Using contemporary techniques and traditional motifs, he navigates the space between creation and automation, suggesting a humanist approach to technology. Exploring what it means to be born from code, he creates drawings, images and sculptures embodied with the voice and vitality of machines.

In the series Ritual Nature Snell uses LIDAR, a range-sensing technology typically employed by the government and military to survey the land from above. By measuring the time of flight of modulated pulses of light, depth can be extracted from a scene, often to very high precision.

Snell converses with this piece of technology in hopes of understanding how "she" sees the world, in this case he does it in the forests of Virginia.

Ritual Nature explores the intertwinedness of observer and observed by refocusing on the mysticism of image-making and the perspective of the Artist. The work is performative, drawing Snell into nature in order to find his own nature.

Ritual Nature # 002 (Tennessee Backwoods) exists not as a copy or a symbol of the physical, but as an entirely new object, and even more, a new kind of object. Reminiscent of the tangible world in form and substance, it bears the biases of its makers: their marks, predilections and idiosyncrasies. Yet on its own, it speaks for itself with integrity and presence.

A careful watch quiets the viewer, noticing the quick pace of one’s life and the sublime slowness of nature. The physical world, our bodies included, bear witness to a photographic sculpture, thereby endowing the work, yet intangible, with its own materiality. This work reflects an act of metamorphosis. Following a year of trauma and despair, the artist’s process of going into nature in order to find his own nature is an act of self-care, in nurturing his creative flame.

But Ben Snell's work ranges from use and dialogue with different technologies, in addition to LIDAR. The artist also creates and works through algorithms and artificial intelligence.

In one of his most famous art projects, Snell "teaches" each of his computers to become a sculptor.

To start, he gives his computer the canon of classical sculpture: thousands of 3D models of real sculptures held in museums across the globe—sculptures like ​David,​ the ​Discus Thrower​ , and ​Winged Victory​.

For the computer​, understanding sculpture means being able to synthesize its essence. It means finding similarities and differences across these forms: patterns of shape, design, posture, and pose.

The computer​ begins by trying to recreate from memory every sculpture it sees. To overcome what would be an incredibly difficult task even for the most talented of human sculptors, ​the computer instinctively distills these sculptures into their most basic components, developing a visual vocabulary from which it can build up more complex forms.

When the computer becomes practiced—when it becomes well enough versed in this visual language—Snell asks it to close its eyes and dream of a new form, to sculpt something which has never before been seen.

The final physical form often possesses an uncanny figurative quality distilling the essence of Greek and Roman sculpture while hinting at the twisting forms of Constantin Brancusi, Jean Arp, and Henry Moore. This dream is not an average of everything the computer sees; Rather, it is an improvisation, a replaying and reconfiguring of memories. It is the first utterance of a language for a being that has learned to see in classical sculpture. It questions the creativity, originality, and agency of the machine.

However, the sculpture has another layer of meaning imbued within its materiality. Not only made by the computer, this sculpture is also materially made from the computer that conceives it.

Snell grinds the computer to dust and utilizes it as a physical medium. Every component of the computer is pulverized into a fine powder and recast into the three-dimensional form it dreamt of. Thus, the computer becomes the sculpture.

Reborn, the computer assumes a newfound physical agency. In this afterlife, it holds in balance two disparate realities: product and process, the beingness of an object, and the coming-to-beingness of an object. On one hand, this mass bears a tactility in the bits of silicon, copper, plastic, and steel that comprised the machine. On the other, traces of the computer’s invisible processing power live on in its bodily form and in the bits of matter containing its thoughts and memories. Endowed is materiality upon the impossibly immaterial.

Just like the classics who worked with stone and bronze, this sculpture materially appears to be of our time, made with the raw material of calculation.

Ben Snell, “Ritual Nature #002 (Tennessee Backwoods)”, 2021, Serie Ritual Nature, Detail #1

Ben Snell, “Ritual Nature #002 (Tennessee Backwoods)”, 2021, Serie Ritual Nature, Detail #2

To watch the conversation about the artwork Ritual Nature #002 (Tennessee Backwoods), between the artist Ben Snell and the curator Eleonora Brizi, please click here: https://fb.watch/8DQyiwlqPQ/