March 28, 2006

Ben Wright’s art has something to say

You’re young and you’ve got something to say. How do you say it? If you’re an artist, your art does the talking for you. In the case of Ben Wright, his mixed media work will leave you with more questions than answers.His type of political art focuses on social and cultural values as well as the consequences of political policy. As a child of a World Health Organization physician, he lived in many places around the world (including Switzerland, Kenya and Costa Rica), witnessing different cultures firsthand. As a result, he is puzzled by America’s value system and our recent exchange of personal liberties for perceived security.“In its most general senses, my work examines the concept of ‘value,’” says Wright. “I am fascinated by how the concept of ‘worth’ shifts through history, geography and cultural context … This show dwells more on how our culture of fear is perpetuated and passed down amongst generations. How do we instill our values, desires, fears and addictions to those inheriting our place on the earth?” His unusual combination of college degrees (B.S. in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology from Dartmouth College and B.F.A. from the Appalachian Center for Craft with a concentration in blown glass) supports his questioning and insightful work process.Television and mass media are the message of “Opiate.” A child’s head is being sucked through a funnel into a gold oval television that displays “Plastic Hut Educational and Funny Toy” on its tiny screen. The entire assemblage is encased in glass as if it was a valued memento.The discovery of an old medical book spurred a series of works expressing Wright’s thoughts on children’s health. His work “This won’t hurt a bit and other harmless lies …” features a drawing of a child having what appears to be a spinal tap. A magnifying disc in front of the page provides a close-up of the needle. “Deviation: Recalibration” consists of two parts, with an image of a deformed child on one side and the head of a child, with tongs measuring ear to ear, on the other.It’s no surprise that the National Rifle Association didn’t escape his notice. In “Seeing Red,” two bottles full of red liquid are topped with plastic teddy bears. Suspended in the liquid on a chain is the NRA’s “official 50-yard small-bore rifle target” sheet.Curator Kay Grubola says Wright “wants people reacting to what they’re seeing. He has a thoughtful, reasoned, uncluttered way of looking at the world.” The catch is that he prefers not to explain exactly what he’s created. Instead, he instructs us to “wander the show, let you(r) mind drift and draw you(r) own conclusions,” she says. “They will be correct, at least they will be for you.”As a result, all my assessments are mine alone, and what’s more personal than that?