The Space of Art
Ohad Benit is an artist, designer and curator, who specializes in conceptual art installations, making a very curious use of space as a critical conducive area to bring out the message of his artwork. A versatile and eclectic artist, Ohad experiments with a variety of mechanisms to pass on strong messages of life, death and relationships. Curious to understand the role of space in his work, I sat down with Ohad last week for a short discussion.
Adi: Ohad, I was thinking about how to present you. You work with many different mediums: video art, industrial design, installations photography sound. How would you define yourself?
Ohad: Someone once asked my 4 year old son what is it that I do. He answered “my dad does everything”…. (laughs). It’s hard for me to summarize what I do in one definition. And I’m not interested in doing that. I work from the gut.. you know what…. actually, perhaps I can define myself as a translator, that is what I do. I don’t use words only – I use objects, sound, walls, videos, light to translate feelings, thoughts, to translate a message. Content is what’s important to me and I choose the right medium, to emphasize the content and message.
Adi: What is the role of space in your creative process and how do you choose the spaces for your artwork?
Ohad: I choose space exactly the same way I choose the right tool, or vehicle, for my work. I choose the space that is best situated and built to emphasize, strengthen and sharpen the message I would like to pass through my works. That will bring out my message in the best way possible. I go through a translation process in my mind from an abstract feeling and thought into actual work.
Adi: Interpretation is a translation, but yours is very wide.
Ohad: Not every medium suits every project.
If I want to express a certain pain, it might be that some video shot, matched with a specific sound I married it with, would be much more suitable – at that moment than a sculpture, I am working on. Both might be able to express that feeling, but I am the one choosing the right medium to bring out the essence of THAT moment and of what I want to say. So the choice is contextual to that moment and tied to a very specific feeling.
Adi: you have a toolbox, and you match the right tool with the right thought
Ohad: I work with a variety of tools, but at the end of the day I choose the right tool for me to express my thoughts and feelings at that moment. I always tell my students to expand their arsenal of tools. One must always strive to enhance their “toolbox” to allow for the most precise and accurate way of self-expression. For example, I have added audio to my arsenal of tools only 2 years ago, and ever since then it allows me to better express myself in my creations.
Adi: So it’s about the Experience, not about showcasing several works in an exhibition.
Ohad: Exactly! Space plays a crucial role in defining the experience of the artwork.
For example, when I am working on an exhibition, my focus isn’t just about the installation or the artwork. I am very busy with the experience of the viewer in the space: where should the sound be, where there shouldn’t be sound, what’s on the wall. One can get extremely tired from viewing an exhibition just by walking through miles of amazing art pieces. Often curators don’t think about the experience one goes through in an exhibition, they focus on the artwork – they praise the artwork and ignore the experience itself of going through a space filled with artwork. The end result is of some artwork that is hung on walls, and one tired, exhausted viewer who forgot what they saw in the exhibition.
Adi: You don’t separate the artwork from where it is being displayed such as in the “White Box” historic art space, you see them as one thing?.
Ohad: Absolutely. It took me a long time to find the location for my last exhibition. I had a list of requirements I needed in order to make sure the exhibition is successful: I needed audio and sound. I needed space large enough to allow performers to dance throughout the exhibition, I needed video capabilities to display video art and I needed to be able to position it all in space for it to work together. When I am scouting for spaces, I have a very clear picture in mind of what I would like to design, of how space ‘hosts’ the experience and artwork. So, of course, it is one thing: space and artwork. They must support each other. And even though I changed the space itself – I added carpeting, to cover the wooden floors which were completely off the mark for what I wanted to say, I still needed a specific structure that offers a specific energy, to cater for what I needed to get out of the art installation. I needed an intimate space to provide the right atmosphere to show heart-beats – I was discussing life and death, and time in that specific work. I wasn’t able to display it in a larger, open space – it would have gotten a completely different reaction. Space and art are one and the same. The location I choose for my artwork makes or breaks the success of the event. Think about it. Can you display a Tesla in a home garage? Yes, but be aware of the context you are making vs displaying it in a luxury space. Might be completely different than what you are trying to get.
Ohad: Do you remember one of the events that I did with Splacer were in a gallery space. The space itself was in between – the owners were waiting for permits to build a new building, and I was offered for a minimum price a prime location, in what was soon to be a demolition site.
Adi: it was a prime location opportunity, very different from your other exhibition spaces.
Ohad: from my perspective, it was a great prime location, on the main street. The specific space was perfect for what I was looking for. I got a lot of visitors from the street. People just came in to visit. That was a perfect choice in terms of getting a lot of traffic and audience.
Adi: What is your dream space for your upcoming exhibition?
Ohad: My fantasy space is a concrete shelter. I just love the idea of bare underground concrete. The framework is there, without distractions. Most of my work is focused on the material itself that I work with.
That’s why I love the idea of concrete – it represents the core and essence of the structure, of the building. It is not covered with paint that hides imperfections and to try to make it prettier. Another great thing I find in shelters and basements space is that has a very confining energy, even if it’s a 4000 sqft space. There is something very intimate there.