Ben Wolf: Interrogating Decay
May 31st, 2011 by Maria Anderson
This Nashville-born artist moved to his current base, Brooklyn, at age 18, received a BFA in photography from Pratt, and went on to devote himself to installation and sculpture. His time in Australia and Switzerland, as well as his love for travel, feeds his installations. Wolf uses techniques from carpentry, welding, casting, and construction to build up sculptures that take their mettle from demolished buildings and environments interesting in their decay. These works are often abstract in form, and invite viewer participation through their own interpretations of the mediums, their colors and layers.
As an artist Ben Wolf voyages through neighborhoods both urban and rural, which have in common the notion of abandonment, of the ugly, with walls that crumble and the typical notions of home or a building ceasing to function in the wake of particular kinds of destruction. This destruction is what Wolf seems to interrogate in his work. Time may destroy buildings or objects, as well as wind, weather, people, tools. The ensuing destruction could be described as a hopeless sign of inevitable industry and its failures, urban corrosion, a product of ill-thought architecture, a beautiful home gone to waste, or a city that cares little for its people. Nature as well as people is a force that decomposes what artists and builders originally worked to create. Yet there is hope in Wolf’s work. He uses the excess of supplies in a city, its woods and metals, the trash, to examine and engender a new future from the decay.
When I notice homes or materials that are going to waste, falling apart, ill-made, many of which blend unnoticed into the background of the day to day milieu, I sometimes feel a sort of emotional tug, the cringe at the ugliness of it. With so much poverty and people going without roof overhead, it hurts to see wasted efforts and money, through the continuous presence of this decay. Wolf’s site-specific installation raise questions for me on the intentionality of urban development and architecture. His work isolates certain pieces of this decomposition from their environments and offers them up to the public so we can mull them over.
Remember Jeff Peña’s open source Detroit Redux project? Well, Ben Wolf was thinking about Detroit as well, and collected dormers from houses on the demolition list to create an “architectural collage.” Wolf also is a part of the Konbit Shelter, a group that displays how a combination of different skill sets working together can create meaningful, hopeful change. The Konbit Shelter group is made up of artists, architects, builders, and engineers that began this sustainable building project. The objective is sharing knowledge and resources through the creation of homes and community spaces in Haiti after the earthquake. The Konbit Shelter project’s site is truly beautiful and reminds me of Jeff’s Detroit Redux project, which also links artists and others from different fields to merge their passions and collaborate toward improving places people live, whether disadvantaged or wreaked by disaster. His work has the feel of Candy Chang’s to it, the notion of mindfully and creatively making homes, neighborhoods, and cities, and therefore improving the lives of those who inhabit them. Wolf worked with Swoon and others to create several home-like structures.
His last solo show was at Secret Project Robot, and was a site specific installation; an abstract realization of nature diminishing the ‘structure’. His last solo show, Assembly of Freight, went up at Reed College in Portland, Oregon as part of RAW and was then permanently installed in Oakland, CA. Assembly of Freight was a large scale sculpture made from a tugboat and a boxcar. The process involved speaking to many people in the Portland community to locate material to use. After conversations with countless locals, they managed to track down an old tugboat and a sea-green boxcar, both of which he then tore apart to weld back together into a single fused unit. SWOON added an interactive element to the project, creating intricate paper cutouts that viewers passing by could attach to the piece with wheat-paste. The delicacy of the cut paper next to the jarring, torn apart carcasses of long-rusted wreckage created an installation visual intricate on both the micro and macro scale. Wolf is currently in New Orleans participating in a Rabid Hands group residency at Parse Gallery.
For more of Wolf’s work, check out his website.
Photographs courtesy of the artist.