IMN #20 — Ben Zank
It's Monday Night #20
Tonight, let’s share thoughts about @ben_zank’s urban anomalies.
@ben_zank stages the disturbing strangeness of a body that stumbles on its own humanity and stops in the middle of its fall.
All of @ben_zank's photos have an obvious family resemblance. They are the result of the same method, and show the unity of an artistic research and gesture.
Let's take a look at his photographs.
There is only one subject; it's usually a faceless body; somehow it blends into its environment.
@ben_zank confuses our ordinary perception of the world. In each photo, we can no longer distinguish between inside & outside, organic & inert, human & non-human, living & dead, etc.
Binary oppositions don't work anymore.
Like many photographers before him, @ben_zank seeks to capture the decisive moment - the second in which the action and the composition of the scene reach their peak.
But, in his work, the decisive moment is provoked in an extremely artificial, ritualized way.
He deconstructs the myth of the magic moment - that fraction of a second during which everything is at stake, and which must be caught on the spot or lost forever.
On the one hand, it is not so much chasing a form of aesthetic perfection as an anomaly or an accident in the making. On the other hand, it shows that the photographed scene is enacted: there is nothing unpredictable or random about it.
At the same time, this controlled appearance strikes us precisely as an unexpected event, which immediately thwarts our ability to interpret it.
The art of @ben_zank is a combination of photography, performance and installation. More precisely, he uses photography to freeze performance's force of irruption and to neutralize the freedom of movement that installation gives.
@ben_zank documents an incident that he himself has organized and that disturbs the categories of the observer's understanding.
All the art of @ben_zank consists in finding the precariousness or instability of a phenomenon captured on the spot while everything is under control.
In addition, he reappropriates the logic of planking - a game that went viral in the early 2000s and consisted of taking pictures of oneself lying down in the most incongruous places possible.
@ben_zank takes up a tradition that could be called "the living meme" in which anyone can become an artist, creating an image by the astonishing combination of heterogeneous and contradictory elements.
Yes, I think @ben_zank's works are in some way photographic memes.
The power of the meme is to criticize without fabricating a discourse - a meme results in disillusionment and, at the same time, in the creation of a new mythology.
It is both a concept and a consumer product.
The photographic memes of @ben_zank are metaphysical goods.
Most of the time, it's a human body - without specific identity - melting into a urban landscape. Pieces of the city pass through it or become a part of it.
The subject of @ben_zank's photographs is a displaced, overflowing, decomposing human figure. It is unstable, hybrid, something pierces it and opens it, divides it.
@ben_zank shows the humanity that has become opaque to itself, that no longer manages to coincide with itself.
It has no face and can only show itself as a shapeless figure.
That's why @ben_zank's pictures have an aura of strangeness around them, and why you can't face them without fear.
Of course, laughter erases or rather represses this anguish. But it cannot succeed in making us forget the frightening emergence of the intimate as foreign, unknown, the absolute other.
Why are @ben_zank's photos funny?
Because they allow us to approach abysmal truths while putting us out of danger. Like the best memes.
It is the distorted humanity, which plunges us into horror by its monstrosity while taming us with the sweetness of the clown.
Each photograph acts as a mirror that reveals to us that what is most like us is also the least recognizable: the familiar seems strange, the unfamiliar appears to us as intimate.
But the critical power of @ben_zank's work is turned against the ideology of the productive, entrepreneurial, successful subject. In other words: a subject who would be master of themself & of their environment, cold, lucid, efficient, active.
Victorious, triumphant individual.
Contemporary neoliberal culture excludes failure. It denies wandering, death, the negative, or rather, it reformulates them in unreadable characters.
The work of @ben_zank reminds us that death is of this world and that failure is perhaps the most human thing.
It depicts disoriented subjectivities and shows us what we look like when we don't try to hide this fact but embrace it.
It's an ode to the lame life - decapitated, buried alive, limping, entangled in its surroundings.
What comes out of @ben_zank's little disasters isn't a great tragedy: it's a complete idleness & a deep questioning of existence - the echo of an old wisdom that has nothing pompous or grandiloquent.
To reach the grace of the angel in the middle of the fall, that is the program.
Like Diogenes (the inventor of the meme) and the cynics, he breaks the conventions by showing that they are based on a void.
It saves the anomaly against a hegemonic culture that only respects "normal behaviors" and tries to banish all aberrant movements from the world.
"Fail better", said Beckett. Each of @ben_zank's photos answers: "mission accomplished".