Artist Interview #2- Ben Miller

Ben Miller is an interdisciplinary artist living and working in Milwaukee, WI. He is also co-curator of 62nd dimension with Cody Frei, a guerrilla gallery that pops up in spaces throughout Milwaukee. Ben Miller takes inspiration from his hyper-emotional drawings and creates videos, live performances, and prints that defy conventional art-making in search of an authentic and genuine artist’s narrative. I decided to catch-up with Ben in a non-threatening manner through an email interview.

CW:Who or what are your influences and what do they do for you and your work?
BM: Right now… The writing and films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, tarot, Robert Wyatt, dreams, Carlos Castaneda, snow, visualization, Bob Dylan’s Christmas album, and the chants of Maria Sabina. I enjoy things that keep themselves a few steps ahead of me, things that have me in a state of wonder-fun-confoundedness. A healthy diet of laughter is an influence. Just now, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” popped up on itunes shuffle. That’s nice, too.

CW:When I first met you and your artwork I immediately thought you were trying to reveal the embarrasing, secretive, and repulsive aspects of becoming an adolescent or being human. I thought it was it was your intent to display them as admirable, beautiful, or just as valid in importance as any other human activity that usually gets more attention in traditional art concepts. As our friendship continued I observed a shift in your work when you started to use the computer to make drawings, prints, and video work. Then it appeared as if your work was arranged by some highly spiritual being. More of your work began to occupy liminal space in between God and man like it was Hercules or something. Can you talk about this observation and maybe about how you perceived this change and what caused it?
BM: I’d say that adolescent is good word for those older works. I see them as being on the same level as a bored kid putting a bag of flaming dog poop down everyone’s chimney on Easter Sunday. The shift in the work happened because the kid got tired of climbing all those chimneys and his dog ran away and he got a new puppy.
Hercules is a fun way to put it. You could say it’s between God and man, or you could say it’s between irrationality and rationality, both aspects living simultaneously–somewhat paradoxically–in the same container. There are some questions, that the more you try to demystify them, the blurrier they become. Experiences that can be grasped on one level while at the same time making no sense on another level.
In my recent makings I’ve been tinkering with creating places, beings, and objects that are amorphous in essence, in which their qualities and relation to their seemingly separate surroundings becomes foggy and evasive of definition. A perpetual state of becoming. Shedding each new skin even before it is done growing.

CW:Your recent drawings have become especially minimal in their marks as well as extremely unmonumental, what is the motivation and in intention behind this shift?


BM:
It can be fun to go hiking, howling, and running around in the woods. It can also be nice–and equally fulfilling–to quietly stare at a single plant or rock. Minimal drawings happen when I feel more like staring at a rock.

CW:I’ve seen a couple of your musical/performative live experiences before and they are definitely not unlike your drawings or videos. However, they differ because the performances are striving to encapsulate a large group of people collectively in an experience and an atmosphere whereas your videos and drawings seem separated from the viewer and seem to be artifacts of the artists unknown experience. Why this difference?


BM: My drawings are like an old man in a loin cloth sitting next to a tree by the side of a dirt path. You could sit down with him and listen to him for hours or you could just as easily glance past him. The performances are more immediately visceral, they have a more physical immensity. I love it when an artwork, music, or a film is so large or I am so close to it or so wrapped up in it that it almost envelopes my entire periphery and nearly shuts out my awareness of everything else, when the gap between the piece and me is lessened. Performances can lend themselves toward this.

CW:How does your studio practice lend itself to your curatorial practice with Cody Frei in 62nd Dimension or vise versa?

BM: I can get excited about the quiet visual explosion that happens when I put this next to that on a piece of paper. It’s alchemical; I can combine two elements in a drawing that, together, create a sensation that the elements did not create independently, and then I relish the joy of those things sizzling in a new light. Curating for the 62nd Dimension is similar to that. Cody and I find art we like, then we have fun throwing different works into the ring together, enjoying the birth of whatever new creature is birthed from that commingling.
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check out Ben’s Involvement:
62nd Dimension
Ben Miller

Artist Interview Series-Scott Reeder

Because I realize that you the reader doesn’t always want to hear everything I’m up to all the time and I don’t always want to talk about what I’m doing either I have decided to start an Artist Interview Series. I will interview five artists with five questions and hopefully this will give my blog a break from my rants. The first artist I interviewed was Scott Reeder.

Bloody Mouth

Scott Reeder is a painter, curator, filmmaker, and professor living in Chicago. His work has included involvement in founding the innovative website zerotv.com, curating the “Drunk Vs. Stoned” exhibitions, creating the Milwaukee International Art Fair, establishing Club Nutz (the world’s smallest comedy club), filming the soon to be released feature-length motion picture “Moon Dust”, as well as his paintings being added to the Saatchi collection. His paintings are snarky and humorous takes on modernist ideas and challenge the presumably over-educated art viewers in a fresh and sarcastic manner. Besides all of that I decided to ask Scott about his new and divergent work using pasta, the barriers he is trying to break down with “Moon Dust”, why he chooses to be involved with Milwaukee, and the challenges he faced becoming an established artist.

CW:Your work deals a lot with the expectations and the conventions of what art typically is. You break these down and reform them with your paintings as well as your curatorial work. Though I have only seen the short clip of “Moon Dust” on the internet, what are you intending to address with this soon to be released feature-length film?

SR:In the last few years there has been a lot of talk about how new digital technologies have made film making much more accessible and with that increased accessibility there is the possibility of expanding the range of voices making films. I guess I really believed this hype and thought what would happen if I tried to make a feature length movie for really cheap but one that was as ambitious as a lot of Hollywood movies as far as the scope of the production and level of fantasy and detail.

My other motivation for the film I think came out of a reaction to how much recent contemporary art has become completely dependent on referencing pop culture. I thought what would happen if instead of making art about a movie or TV show you made your own.Moon Dust is a fully realized world that definitely relates to my paintings and sculpture. It can also be seen as an extension of some of my curatorial projects that have a strong collaborative element.

I’m not using trained actors and while some of the film is tightly scripted ,there has also been a lot of improvisation and collaboration with the actors. Some of my influences for the project are the films of Jacques Tati and Jean Cocteau, mid-century architecture and buildings from the 1970s like Kurokawa Nakagin’s Capsule Tower and television shows from the 60’s like The Prisoner.

CW:You are a part of the bigger art world but you also choose to show work in Milwaukee, a lesser known player in the whole art scheme. In a lot of ways you are similar to David Robbins who also chooses to stray away into Milwaukee. However Robbin
s chose to leave the larger dialogue for a smaller, more “authentic” one. What are your reasons for dwelling between these two realms?

SR:
David Robbins was one of my professors when I went to graduate school and he was definitely a big influence, He helped reaffirm a hunch that I also had that the midwest is actually a really interesting and unique place and it’s valuable in it’s separation from the coasts.
From a town like Milwaukee you can get perspective about what is going on in the rest of the world without being overwhelmed by it or ending up being too reactionary. You can build your own world.

CW:What were the biggest struggles you faced trying to make a living on the artwork that you create and sharing it with a larger audience?

SR:Being an artist is really hard. It’s really difficult to get that first big opportunity that will expose your work to a large audience. And if you are lucky enough to get that chance and do something that people respond to, it’s even harder to keep people interested in what you do.
My teaching job at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has been a great grounding force in my career and helped keep me really engaged with art through different ups and downs in my career.

American Dick


Untitled, 2010


CW:I notice that your most recent spaghetti and lentil paintings are drastically different from your more humorous and well known paintings. Where do you see this type of approach taking you, are you considering staying in this direction or was this a divergence that has stayed its welcome?

SR:I would like to pursue the new work which I’m really excited about and have lots of new ideas for- I think this work still deals with humor albeit a more subtle variety. At the same time, I’m still making the other kind of image based paintings and they seem to be getting better and better so I have no plans of stopping that kind of work either. I think there are many contemporary painters working now that have really varied and expansive practices with seemingly really different directions pursued at the same. I’m just one more person working like this.

Snake on Phone


CW:You’ve played a little bit with this dichotomy of “drunk or stoned”. You’ve curated shows that express that an artist can either be hyper emotional in the way they work or hyper sensitive and in a few instances a little bit of both. From your work I kind of get the feeling that you’re both drunk and stoned, especially with the expression of the cooked or uncooked spaghetti. So which is it, are you drunk, stoned, or krunked?

SR:I’m not sure what the exact definition of krunk is- I’ve heard the rapper Lil’ Jon talk about it while yelling “WHAT?”. So I definitely like the idea of yelling “WHAT?” as much as possible, so I guess I’m krunked.
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added some new links to the side bar, make sure to check em out.
Moth Marriage
Matt Plain

Diorama of the American Museum

I haven’t posted in a while and thats because I have been working on planning my final thesis project. Without revealing too much of my plans, I am creating a full scale diorama of a museum. This isn’t just any museum but rather a mix of all the museums that ever have been and its called the Place and Time Museum. Within the museum are large scale murals, satirical exhibits, an introductory video featuring the curator, and plenty of misleading information. This Diorama is trying to cut down the incredibility of the supposed credible information givers that infest our American culture with bias and agenda in everything they tell us to believe. Here are some possible display descriptions (again not revealing too much, you’ll just have to wait and see), mural designs, as well as a possible floor plan.
Holy Relics From a Holy Land
The United States has always had a rich religious background. Since the American constitution was signed, the United States has been a Christian nation and still remains so today. Christian Relics are a part of this diverse history, deeply entwined into the theology of American Christianism. The relics exhibited here are not only sacred to the American people but are symbols, for them, of their greatness and superiority in the ways of religious fervor and order. The shoelace of Jessica Lynch for example is a relic of a soldier of Christ who fell in battle defending God’s people.

A Head Hunter and His Trophies
The Place and Time Museum is very pleased to exhibit this piece, which is on loan from a private collector. For the very first time in forty years the public can see this very unique piece of jewelry. Usually a Headhunter necklace similar to this only features one or sometimes even two heads, but this piece contains four. The heads of dictators Saddam Hussein, President Ahmadinejad, Osama Bin Laden, and Ayatollah Khomeini are all interwoven into a spectacular display of early Headhunter Revenge Art. Though the original owner of this piece is unknown, researchers say they believe it is from the early Severe Terror Risk period because it was excavated at a site near Crawford, Texas, a known head hunting territory. Notice the beautiful detail of Ahmadinejad’s last dying grimace, simply remarkable.

Women are from Venus, Men Have a Penis
In 1873 the Institute of Gender Inferiority did extensive research into the subject of women’s fragility. After a series of tests in which subjects were exposed to radiation in different prescribed doses it was discovered that women tended to grow feline ears and whiskers similar to those of domestic pussycats while slowly withering away and perishing several days later. Men, however, had the resilience to stay alive with reduced motor skills, slurred incoherent speech, and a slumped “Neanderthal brow”. Scientists postulated that not only were female subjects too weak to withstand such a barrage but their brains are significantly smaller to that of the males. It was proven that males have the intelligence to overcome such situations whereas females clearly have a weaker will to live.

“False Civil War Imminence Era” Dueling Set (Caucasian, North America)
A dueling set like this was usually used by two individuals who disagreed over a matter so greatly that they could not resolve it with mere spoken words. A heated argument would then lead to the dishonor of someone eventually and then a duel would be called to settle their differences. The duelers would then use one of these sets supplied by a man who was not involved with the feud and would march off ten paces. At the end of ten paces the men would turn to each other and attempt to shout down the other. The first dueler to be knocked on conscious would then be ridiculed and the winner would be forgiven of all dishonors. These duels rarely solved anything but rather created more feuds.

The Resurrection of Blackbeard the Pirate
During the Era of Great Fear, a group of three Muslim Extremists from Somalia with ties to Al Quaida, Hezbollah, Suddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il, and Timothy McVeigh stole the body of Blackbeard the Pirate from the conservation department’s walk-in freezer at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, California. The terrorists exported his decapitated body in a treasure chest, depicted here, to a Cryogenics lab in Roseville Minnesota. The group high jacked the lab’s scientists in the hopes that they could cryogenically preserve the pirate so that one day he could be brought back to life and terrorize the United States in the name of Islam. The plan was quickly foiled when Jessica Lynch, who was walking her dog near the lab at the time, heard loud noises from inside. She busted down a backdoor and tipped over a Cryotube containing Walt Disney crushing the terrorists to death. Lynch was proclaimed a hero, Blackbeard’s body was destroyed, and the Museum of Tolerance was shutdown by federal authorities.