Ben Woodeson came to the University of Ottawa for a short term in residence, where he held an artist talk to explain his practice and journey since art school. Woodeson knew he was a sculptor from the first time he made something. As part of his work practice, he would find things, buy items and just make something out of this. At his graduate show, he strung up electric heaters with ceramic mugs full of tea sat on top of them, commenting on the domestic. Throughout the talk, Woodeson exclaimed that he didn’t know what he was doing there, and he still doesn’t.
In Piccadilly Station, London, he used 400 tins of tomato pulp as a battery source. When travelling to another residence in Toronto, they were unable to get the tomatoes due to price, so they had to pulp old tomatoes thrown away by farmers, by hand. This process led Woodeson to the thought of energy. In his MA, he accidentally made an induction coil, expanding the metal column, and slowly raised the roof. Now he felt like he was onto something and travelled back to Canada where he made a magnet inside of a wall. There was a nail, with its tip pointing toward the wall, and this was the only thing in the gallery space, showing the powerful effect of magnets.
Woodeson then got invited to do a solo show in London, which was a steep learning curve for him. He rigged microphones all around the gallery, which fed into one set of headphones placed at one point. People in the gallery reacted badly to this and often crowded around one table in the cafe that was not rigged. Another piece listened to a conversation at the reception desk, then ran it through processors to spell out the conversation at the other end of the gallery. The timing was too quick for you to run through, so people collaborated to see what they said. In this exhibition, there was a continued commentary on energy and magnetism with Morse code from self-help books being played on handmade conductors.
There was a large period that Woodeson wanted to make dangerous work. One of his first dangerous pieces he produced was 34,000 ball bearings that you are invited to walk on. He was very surprised when people signed the waver and braved the room where they were all placed on the floor – people loved it! The work then extended into dangerous kinetic works, so he went back to thrift stores for source material and continued to work with electricity.
From here, his pieces shift to working in response to a material and trying to push it to its limits. He did not want to hurt people but wants to challenge them, and the health and safety limits of the galleries that he exhibits in. This led him to glass, balancing it in corners and dangling from bungee cords attached to the ceiling. With the volume of glass that he went through on a regular basis, Woodeson wanted to move to something that would be less dangerous if something did go wrong.
Teaching was in his books, so Woodeson had to send instructions for his piece to be replicated. What was then seen in the exhibition was an interpretation of these instructions by the curators. There was a reaction to materials, which has been seen throughout his work, but now also in the written word. This is a reflection of his studio also – a collection of bits that need a home because he is reacting to them. Another university then invited him to teach, and here he created Rat Trap Neon, which used the precarious once again. If you had touched it, it was so delicate that it would break the piece and cause a chain reaction.
Woodeson took up an iron residency in Minnesota where he continued to play with the material and to stretch limits. There was play with scattered pieces that would most certainly trip someone up if they weren’t looking where they were going. He also choreographed step shingles in New Mexico, balancing them like a stack of cards. The precarious element made a return with this work as there were no fixings, nor were there any fixings throughout his work.
For now, Woodeson is working on several projects that work with the material and continuing to stretch it to its limits. Colour has also made an appearance along with glitter, and he uses these with cast iron items that are impromptu and dipped to set. Woodeson finds the smaller pieces covered in glitter attractive and sexy, while also being beautiful traps. He bought the balancing glass back with this along with cyanotypes. The world of VR has also come into play and Woodeson is playing with more technological artworks by creating it in this environment and then 3D printing the result.
All his artwork takes time to construct, and yet it is instantly made. There is always a constant process that occurs. The precarious element within Woodeson’s work will remain there, but the colour of it may change.