CLOSER TO THE WIND
Nature has become an arena for human play and leisure. A human in nature, hiking up a mountain or sailing in the Mediterranean sea, is always an equipped one. While exchanging words about his practice, Edmunds refers to the Norwegian expression “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes”. Garments become vital parts of our body as our safety and good health depend on them. At the same time, our play as much as our work, become extensions of ourselves into the world. We could say that our clothes extend our skins.
At first sight, the works of Ben Edmunds (b. 1994, Norwich, UK) could be perceived as an utilitarian garment. The numbers and graphics on the glossy surfaces of carbon fibre stretchers, seem to indicate its weight, something you would need to know in case of track cycling or endurance running, if you were to wear it. This data is also present in the art world as is needed for shipping artworks, one meaningful operation that co-exists with the birth year of the artist on his bio. In 2019, Edmunds registered the company Aspirational Equipment Ltd. in the UK, working with graphic designer Max Parsons to bring the brand to life. Under its umbrella of paintings, sculptures and “functional” garments, he creates a material response to the central question in his practice: what is the purpose of an artwork?
The work of Ben Edmunds can be seen as an investigation into the crossover of painting and branding – perhaps a shocking idea at first, but nothing new if we consider the ways an artist makes work to communicate a message, connect emotionally with their target market (in this case the art audience) and motivate their potential buyers. Referring back to Andy Warhol – possibly the first artist who became his own commercial institution – Edmunds is well aware of his part of the system, maintaining an empathetic and critical position at the same time. Art not only follows a market logic, but it also operates within the intellectual and emotional sphere.
As a twofold process that occurs in two separate studios, the works are the result of assembling an intuitive approach to painting with the rigorous design and implementation of graphic elements, drawing influences from mid-century modernist painting (in the line of Jules Olitski or Mark Rothko) at the same time as graphic designer Otl Aicher, to fashion brands such as Alyx Studio and Off White. Spraying fabric dye into large pre-washed canvases,
the colours bleed together like waves as the whole process is based on operating with wet surfaces. As colours move and form shapes, Edmunds paints reactively, as trimming a genoa on a windy day. After finding the best crops within the large sheets, Edmunds decides the final shape and size of the work, such as one of his trademarks to construct triangular or trapezoidal shapes, redefining the traditional square-shaped painting. When adding elements such as carabiners, etched bolts and eyelets, Edmunds enjoys finding ways to mechanise the attachment of the canvas to the frame, looking for a solution other than the well-worn stapling method. The canvas is treated as a sail or a tent, something that has to be assembled and rigged.
Words like “Horizons”, “Hope” appear on the canvases and together with the work titles Love indestructible or All the time we spent here, language invites the viewer to reflect upon existential feelings and ways of inhabiting the world. Similarly to the practice of Bas Jan Ader who said “I want to do a piece where I go to the Alps and talk to a mountain. The mountain will talk of things which are necessary and always true, and I shall talk of things which are sometimes, accidentally true”1 , the works of Edmunds distil a romantic affect, developing an artistic practice that is suggestive and idealized. An invitation to dream and reach further. Ultimately, Edmunds is interested in materialising the human urge to transcend, be in the sports or in painting. But what matters is not the transcendence itself, rather the quest for it.
1. As quoted by his friend Bill Leavitt on “In Search of the Miraculous”, Jan Verwoert, Afterall Books (2006).
Text written as result of an exchange between Ben Edmunds and Cristina Ramos