Consider for a moment all of the gadgets and machines we utilize every day. We are constantly at the mercy of appliances, automobiles, phones, computers and even simpler tools such as screwdrivers and wedges. They tend to simplify certain tasks – without the right tools, certain jobs are impossible – but how often have glitches, overuse, or misuse actually complicated things? Benjamin White examines the unintended consequences and byproducts of systems which exist when an apparatus isn’t perfect, and since there are no 100 percent efficient machines, the show “Impossible Machines” at Knight Arts grantee exhibition space Tiger Strikes Asteroid has plenty to work with.

The works by White are notably glum in their color scheme, which is a neutral shade of concrete gray pretty much across the board. Constructed from mortar, these forms are mostly quite smooth and exact on the outside, with the exception of tiny air pockets and flaws in the material. These inconsistencies remind us immediately of the lofty (read: unattainable) task of absolute efficiency.

Benjamin White, "41 Cone Circle."

Benjamin White, “41 Cone Circle.”

Although the constructions in the gallery seem solid and even static, many of them are actually built with moving parts. Since they are composed of a substance like concrete, we perceive them to be like most other cement objects: sidewalks, bridge abutments or cinder blocks – all more or less immobile. White’s pieces are deceptive, though. One corkscrew-like sculpture spins around a central steel armature, its core bristling with textured cones of gray stone. Elsewhere, a hard-edged, Tetris-like piece rests on the floor, seemingly a dead weight, until one manipulates its precisely fit parts, which move around one another like gears.

Benjamin White, "Uni Versal Joint."

Benjamin White, “Uni Versal Joint.”

Functionless mechanisms such as these exemplify the idea of waste quite succinctly. Does this mean they are, in fact, perfect machines? If their intended goal is to typify inefficiency, then they succeed by leaps and bounds, as their parts flop lazily for no apparent reason or hang precariously from the ceiling. While the inventions of nuclear energy or plastics have wide ranging effects both helpful and hurtful, these creations remain much tamer, content to merely call these other concepts to mind.

Benjamin White, "Brittany/Bin Laden" and "Saw it in Person."

Benjamin White, “Brittany/Bin Laden” and “Saw it in Person.”

A few works act more like picture frames or frames of cultural reference than mechanical insights. Two pieces on metal pedestals retain the heavily industrial feel of the others, but behind glass rest magazine cutouts of a pair of dolled-up blonde women (Britney Spears?) and an image of a football stadium. Has all of our technological and social progress culminated only in bread and circuses or Hollywood excess?

Benjamin White, "Paestum."

Benjamin White, “Paestum.”

One tiny piece on a nearby windowsill also contains a glass top, and we are encouraged to peer inside at its contents. This view is more of a museum fixture than a frame, and inside we see the carapace from one of earth’s oldest organisms: a horseshoe crab. Its delicate remains are preserved inside this block of mortar and sealed, transparent top for future observation. It seems in stark opposition to the encased magazines that celebrate human achievement, while this modest reminder of nature merely presents nature without any pomp. It’s easy to become distracted by the lights and the fashion, but what or whom suffers at the expense of our pursuit of pleasure and distraction? How do the machines we forge today impact the world we will have to live in tomorrow?

By counter-intuitively harnessing the power of contraptions that accomplish nothing, Benjamin White provides us a buffer between ourselves and the tools and gadgets that we use and abuse. With this ability to step back and consider what we ultimately do to the planet and to each other through our technology, we can better understand that even the best of intentions sometimes have unexpected consequences. “Impossible Machines” will be on display at Tiger Strikes Asteroid through January 26.

Tiger Strikes Asteroid is located a 319 North 11th St., on the second floor, Philadelphia; tigerstrikesasteroid@gmail.com; tigerstrikesasteroid.com.

4 Responses to “Benjamin White examines the meaning of machines”

  1. Dear Chip,
    Nice review! I wanted to point out a detail regarding “Britany/BinLaden” and “Saw it in Person.” I helped Ben install the show and your review makes me think we should have put those pieces out closer to the middle of the room. We left enough room to go around the back of them, but maybe not enough to invite viewers. The reverse side shows what’s printed on the same magazine page: Britnany/BinLaden has a picture of BinLaden and a story complete with headline about terrorism; “Saw it in Person” depicts a full page image of a “Terrorist” lying dead beside his AK-47 complete with story headline. I think these pieces are dependent on that irony. I wanted to point it out here.

  2. Chip Schwartz says:

    Hi Matthew,

    Thanks! Very sorry for the misstep. In hindsight, that makes the titles of those pieces much more coherent. I definitely didn’t realize they were two sided, but that could very well have just been my mistake, not necessarily the placement. Venturing out in that snow storm on First Friday certainly had me feeling stretched pretty thin… In any case, thank you very much for pointing that out. I hope you enjoyed the rest of my write-up.

  3. Benjamin White says:

    Hi Chip! Many thanks for your kind review. Ditto what you and Matt discussed. We thought about placement, but perhaps turning one or the other around would help the viewer. More importantly, I am so glad you drew the connections you did particularly about the horseshoe crab. I hoped that would be the conclusion, but it required the viewer to go take a look at that tiny little box furthest from the door. Thanks again for going out that night! Ben

    • Chip Schwartz says:

      Glad you appreciated it, Ben. The horseshoe crab was subtle, but one of the most poignant pieces in my opinion. It’s unfortunate I misread the other two pieces, but you can’t win ‘em all! Regardless, I thought it was a really solid show.

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