Rolling the Mudball: An Interview with Will Benedict
Over the past fifteen years, Will Benedict (*1978) has built up a body of work that acts as both fable and mirror for the universal ambiguities and conditions of human life. Working across media from painting to video, his practice might seem unwieldy and roaming to those not paying attention. His recently concluded survey at the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva, “Dialogue of the Dogs,” was a welcome chance to look comprehensively at his practice and see how it all fits together. Mitchell Anderson caught up with Benedict to discuss how he approached looking at his past output while creating and exhibiting new pieces, the sources that inspire his practice, and the collectivity that has powered it from the very beginning.
Mitchell Anderson: You titled your exhibition “Dialogue of the Dogs,” after a Miguel de Cervantes story which, over four centuries ago, used nesting doll narratives and questioned reality to get at some meaty, universal themes.
Will Benedict: I was really just looking for a precise model of how I think many of us work today. The story is from 1605, but what’s kind of funny is that, despite the amount of time that has passed and the historical avalanches that have occurred, these basic issues of how to tell a story, how to implicate yourself in a story, still exist. Everything I do is trying to depict the world I live in. Even though a lot of my work might look like fantasy, it’s completely based on what we have here in front of us. The example I’ve always used is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985): It’s a story which seems utterly fantastical, yet everything that takes place in that book is something that is documented as having happened to women at some point in history.
MA: The installation itself is laid out like a journey, one floor with video, the other as a maze of your pictures.
WB: The exhibition’s three rooms are the same dimensions, and everything is hung the same way in each space, just with different works. I was really obsessed with reiterating that time itself is of the issue. It’s such an unstable thing to talk about – I wanted to make it quite concrete and literal.
MA: You’ve also worked with other artists and collaborators in most of your work.
WB: Working with others is the only way I know how to get anything done. I worked with the noise group Wolf Eyes, as usual; they have a crazy awareness of the semiotic dimension of sound. I also designed a couple of wall murals with Steffen Jørgensen, of the CGI characters from our video The Restaurant (2018–) relaxing in their domestic space. They’re the first things you see at the entrance of each floor of the exhibition. In the second room is a work I made with Puppies Puppies (Jade Guanaro Kuriki-Olivo), which is a horseshoe crab that’s been converted into a sort of small grandfather clock, with his tail clicking back and forth (Horseshoe Crab, 2022). It’s a comically lonely work. In Degrees of Disgust (2019), Lily McMenamy plays an UberEats driver who gets in a car accident and takes the opportunity to pose for a fashion spread to a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Time” (1973), by the Italian band Pink Code. I’m trying to develop an exterior reality made of different bits and parts.
MA: How did you consider setting up this exhibition, with its divide between video works and more traditional, wall-hung pieces?
WB: Similar impulses are behind making both videos and two-dimensional pictures. There are stories inside of stories, pictures inside of pictures, like in all videos and comics and paintings; but once I figured out that I just had to repeat the video, to play it twice or three times in a row, that gave me this very dumb, extra-organizational principle in which video became very material. So while I’m making it explicit that video is a time-based medium, so is everything else. This is something I wanted to prove – that all things, regardless of medium, are both time-based and physical.
MA: How long had you been waiting for the opportunity to survey your career in one exhibition?
WB: I’ve been waiting to put it all together for the last five years, which I’d never really had a chance to do. I made those videos quite quickly, as I only really started taking video seriously seven years ago. It’s a lot to make in a short amount of time. It’s a stupid thing, but I’m a firm believer that the works are going to tell me what to do, in that old-fashioned idea the architect Louis Kahn had, that the brick will tell you what it wants to be. As I said before, I don’t make anything alone. It is a conversation happening in time and space with other people, slowly rolling this mudball into a bigger mudball. At the end, it’s quite obvious what has to be done with it.
“Dialogue of the Dogs”
Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève
15 Oct – 18 Dec 2022
WILL BENEDICT is an artist based in Paris.
MITCHELL ANDERSON is an artist and writer based in Zurich.