Baxter St is thrilled to present sub—marine, an exhibition of new works by Simon Benjamin, the 2022 Baxter Street Residency recipient. The exhibition incorporates mixed media sculpture, photography, and video to consider the significance of the sea as a unifying force in collective histories and colonial legacies. Taking as a starting point an assertion by Barbadian poet Kamau Brathwaite that says, “the unity is submarine,” Benjamin’s work resists the notion of the Caribbean as a fractured region divided by language and nation state borders. The work instead sees the Caribbean as expansive, relational, and interconnected over multiple temporalities, transgressing colonial divisions. The presence of the sea is implied throughout the show, as Benjamin examines the region and its history, reimagining colonial narratives as well as meditating on interconnected futures. sub—marine will be on view May 3rd – June 14, 2023 at Baxter St’s storefront gallery at 126 Baxter St.
“There’s a connection between time and place in my lens-based work, as well as in my sculptural practice,” Benjamin says. “I am interested in visualizing and mapping time and place in the Caribbean.” Benjamin has traveled around the Caribbean, Brazil, and Senegal researching the culture around seascapes and coastal space.“I am particularly interested in the repositioning of the Caribbean from colonial plantocracy to tourism destination and how photography, as early as the late nineteenth century, was instrumental in crafting the carefully constructed imaginary of the region as a picturesque tropical paradise.”
For the exhibition, Benjamin has created new works that expand upon his continued interest in time and timelines, including a new iteration of his CORE sculptures. Made of cornmeal, sand, and beach detritus, each of these sculptures is site-specific and resemble core samples, with objects embedded like stratigraphic layers. Benjamin pairs the sculptures with images that are hung on the wall; like the CORE works, these images map time and space, but not necessarily following logic or chronology. The exhibition includes new iterations of an ongoing body work of altered archival photographs that circulated widely in travel media, such as postcards, and were instrumental in constructing a paradisiacal tropical imaginary of the Caribbean. These archival interventions are paired with contemporary photographs made during Benjamin’s travels, with some produced during his residency. Contemporary landscape photographs are treated with a veneer of blue paint, creating a “day for night” effect, once popular in cinema, evoking memory and signaling the trope of the “tropical dream.”
In addition to the sculptures and photography, Benjamin will also show a short, experimental film that consists of a non-linear montage of film and on-screen transcripts of “reasonings” –– open-ended conversations paired with an ambient soundscape of field recordings. As with his other media, the film will include an implied presence of the ocean, as he considers the lens of the sea as a uniting force instead of a dividing force. Benjamin examines the sea in its historical and present contexts, as well as what it might look like in the future, again touching on this fluid notion of time. With a multi-layered approach to thinking through past, present, and future, as well as the symbolism of the sea, Benjamin allows viewers to consider their own perspectives. In doing so, he invites thoughtful discussions on how images, objects, and places hold meaning throughout time.
“Simon Benjamin’s poetic sculptures and lens-based works demonstrate the power of visual culture to tell stories and are a testament to the diverse range of new voices that the Baxter St Residency Program seeks to amplify and support,” says Jil Weinstock, Executive Director of Baxter St. “We are honored to share how Benjamin’s residency has built upon the collective histories that are at the heart of his practice, and how he considers the relationship between the past, present, and future.”
Simon Benjamin is a Jamaican artist and filmmaker, whose multidisciplinary practice encompasses multi-sensory installations, sculptures, video, photographs, and printmaking. His practice considers how current realities are shaped by both visible and invisible histories. Using the framework of the sea and coastal space, his current body of work investigates the Caribbean’s complex relationship to trade, ocean travel, import-dominant consumerism, tourism, and other neo-colonial relationships imposed by the United States and the West. Benjamin received his MFA from Hunter College in New York City. His work has been exhibited at documenta fifteen, Kassel, Germany (2022); Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Governors Island, New York (2022); Kingston Biennial, National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica (2022); trinidad+tobago film festival, Trinidad and Tobago (2021); NYU Gallatin at Governors Island, New York (2021); The 92nd St. Y, New York (2020); Brooklyn Public Library, New York (2019); Hunter East Harlem Gallery, New York (2019); the Ghetto Biennial, Port Au Prince, Haiti (2018); Jamaica Biennial, National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica (2017); Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia (2019); New Local Space, Kingston (2016); and Columbia University, New York (2016). Benjamin will be an Artist-in-Residence at Baxter St. CCNY in 2022, and has participated in residencies at Light Work, Syracuse, NY, Lighthouse Works, Fishers Island, NY, Shandaken Projects and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, both on Governors Island in New York.