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AFA Interview: Gawking at Ben Gocker

“You know that scene in every ‘genius’ movie where a guy says something like ‘You’re insane…but you may also be brilliant.’ Ben Gocker is that in reverse.” – Downtown at Dawn.

Since Gocker’s first solo exhibition with P.P.O.W in 2010, the artist has created a site specific installation for The Boiler in Brooklyn. There Gocker presents a 16 foot long installation of objects ranging from appropriated materials ( rotting carrots, turnips, parsnips, pennies, dice, toothpaste and hollowed out bread) to a vast array of plaster objects (molded fried eggs, chalk containers, plaster letter holders, alphabets and dog head pendants) along with hand sculpted cones, cylinders and eggs.

Ben Gocker "Bad Dreams" mixed media installation 16' x 3' x 3' The Boiler, 2012

Both the visual poetics of Gocker’s objects and the ephemeral nature of his mediums encourage a dialogue surrounding the passage of time and remnants of memories that inspire the artist to form objects that are both partial and abject. Previous works of Gocker’s such as Early Poem and Scroll construct conversations on underlying social and fictional narratives while Bad Dreams reads like an early memoir, reflecting his instinctual explorations of found materials.

detail shot of Ben Gocker's installation "Bad Dreams"

At the floor of the table installation lies over looked piles of dirt and a heap of hollowed out bread that seemingly calls for an action by a maternal hand. The surface of the table is covered with a layer of sand, ever shifting to reveal charcoal marks, dispersed letters, seeds and money that lie beneath. Thirteen platforms of varied heights are placed along the length of the table, five of which are sand boxes filled with red, green, black, blue and yellow sand that function as self contained collections and narratives. The most centrally located platform presents objects that are at the root of the artist’s reflection; a mirror and hour glass recalling Gocker’s urgency for self reflection and recollection of time.

Below are a few questions that I was able to ask Ben, via email, regarding his artwork. (Thanks Ben!)

AFA: After looking through some images of your works from 2010 to present, a part of me felt like I was discovering someone’s intimate messages left carved in a tree, or even more serendipitous, like finding a message in a bottle. Has your work been a product of your intimate discoveries?

BG: Intimate discoveries sounds like a line of lingerie. Undergarments. I think I know what you mean. I mean, what do I mean by what I say, what I make? Right now I am typing these words out, I am not speaking to you in response to these questions. Here is interaction, a writing back and forth. I write “you know” but you can’t, right now, be here to affirm. And so I can do that here with this writing, these sentences. People carve words in trees or carve figures in trees because they have a knife and there’s a tree and maybe they are bored. What to carve? I love so-and-so, I was here, “shit,” someone is a jerk, a stick figure lit up by a lightning bolt? But a tree is a phone is a computer is a scrap receipt, you know, what you have at hand to write down what you have to say from We’re out of carrots to I don’t love you anymore but the words are in the air too What’s in your wallet? There is so much air because, switching tropes, there is so much bottle. To make these messages you just put your hand out and there they are. I came into work one day and on my desk was a Post-It note that read: Donny stopped by to say hello :-) You know, all of these things happen. Donny stops by to say hello :-)

detail of Ben Gocker's "Bad Dreams" 2012

AFA:  Coming out of a MFA in Poetry in Iowa, a program home to Vonnegut how is it that you had the idea to start making objects? Was there a point in your literary expressions that made you feel like words were not enough?

BG: You can do whatever you want. I had a lot of time. I wrote poems but also made things. I never had an idea to start making objects, I just did whatever I felt like doing. Words are more than enough, I mean they’re too much really. Objects are dumb, you know. But the words and the objects are pals and also enemigos. It seems to me you can’t get outside of the words or the things anymore than you can get outside of yourself. But if you can, I mean if you’re permitted entry to some sort of ecstasy, if there can be sorts of it, I guess there are, I guess it’s art it’s words as they start, the things and the words, to have some meaning sanded from them, to smooth off to let you slip by into another experience. But I can’t move beyond it all, to me I can’t put myself at a remove, but making art and writing are two ways I feel like I can begin to find that remove, even though it’s just like I’m more in the thing itself, you know? I like to draw a circle.

installation image of Ben Gocker's "Bad Dreams" photo by Downtown At Dawn

AFA:  The dialogue in your works feel predominately conceptual, while at the same time carrying an adolescent honesty. How do you feel towards your viewers? Does your work function openly?

BG: I don’t have any feelings one way or another about the people who look at my work. I hope there’s something there for them, but if there’s not that’s OK too. There are a lot of things that aren’t there for people. There are a lot of things that aren’t there for people in my work too. Right now I’m thinking how it’s very helpful to me that you’ve asked me these questions. Sometimes I’m confused by the way people react to the work. In the way people react you can see the way they think, so mostly I’m just confused by how other people think. That happens on the train too. It happens to me and it happens to other people on the train too. I mean the subways here in New York. People getting on the train and then they’re on a train. What do they do? They look out windows, they look at phones, they listen to recorded music, they talk, they sit, they stand, they sleep, they eat egg and cheeses on a roll. I’ve lost my train of thought. I hope my work is open, but I bet at times it’s open and at times it’s shut.



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