While the basic theme of Lei Benben’s three works in Tilted Horizon at Boers-Li Gallery may be water, a perhaps more interesting and powerful linking element is their conceptual framework, which includes interactions with the spaces within and outside of the frame.
These videos, in their various formats, deliberately reach beyond the frame, setting up a strong relation to the space. The familiar strips of beach and sea of Horizon (2011) are at an angle within the projection’s rectangle, dipping into the bottom-left corner, exactly fitting into the rectangular space at one end of the gallery. The sea is and is no longer the sea, departing from its cliché, it becomes a line across the screen, across the wall, while the breakers continue to crash against the sand.
Lei Benben, 48min58sec before Sunset, 2011, Single channel video, 48”58”, 5 editions; Courtesy of the artist and Boers-Li Gallery
The five screens of 48min58sec before Sunset (2011) are arranged in sequence on the wall, displaying the same video running slightly offset in time across the series of panels. The sunset is also not a sunset anymore: it is a series of suns chasing each other. In a strange effect akin to attempting to track the development of clouds, it seems impossible to catch the repetition as it progresses from one monitor to the next. Memory seemed to fail me, as the elements in the scene as they occurred across the five screens never appeared to be quite the same. The crispness of the image and the intensity of the colouring suggest a chiaroscuro night-time scene by Joseph Wright of Derby, and a Warhol-ian repetition with an iteration which introduces a cycle of time into the arrangement, perhaps referencing conceptual experiments in photography by Jan Dibbets.
Lei Benben, Out Is, 2011, Single channel video, 2”04” , 5 editions; Courtesy of the artist and Boers-Li Gallery
Out Is (2011) sitting between these two pieces, presents a single monitor sitting atop a plain black plinth, sculpturally filling the space. On screen an outlet continuously disgorges water from a dirty, metal container. Over the discharge is written “OUT IS,” an error in expression but potentially meaningful.
I am very aware that the artist leaves meaning open in these works. Is there a point at which this openness is not enough? Not enough to privilege the pieces as holding any meaning in themselves. Absolute openness is unattainable, an approach to it is certainly possible but are we losing something in that movement? I have a sense of frustration with an artist seeming to rescind responsibility for meaning. There feels like there is an unmooring of my critical faculties if I do not have something to hold onto.
At the same time, it is impossible for the work to lack all meaning, as it is a joint production between the artist, the work, and the audience. So although the artist seems reticent at her end, this is not the end of meaning – it is not that the images are without meaning, but these works they leave space for possible meanings. Lei Benben describes this as making the work “more open and speculative.”
The artist’s other works also follow this line of thought. Her ongoing series One day one photo (2007–ongoing) culls from her daily life one image that for the artist has what she describes as a “special atmosphere,” embodying something of a “natural law of things.” Beyond this feeling she is perhaps wary of assigning special meaning.
Tilted Horizon reduces the artist’s input to several precise setups that remove, in particular, the human figure, which might provide an element with which we could empathise. The installation becomes a formal presentation of phenomena within the frame encroaching on the phenomena in the room through their arrangement and the audience experience.
The clarity of Lei Benben’s results with these straightforwardly subtle works makes this a well-controlled, and at times quite beautiful display of conceptual investigations.
(Image at top: Lei Benben, Horizon, 2011, Single channel video, 5”49”; Courtesy of the artist and Boers-Li Gallery)