In this exclusive interview, we delve into the world of Ben Sang, an extraordinary contemporary artist known for his prehistoric and geologically inspired works. Now based in London, he is working on various projects, including setting up Final Hot Desert's first physical space and preparing for his solo exhibition at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art in July 2023.
Join us as Ben discusses his recent move, the origins of his fascination with the desert, the importance of curating and spatial mindfulness, his role as a somewhat unconventional figure in the art world, and his take on the fleeting nature of internet trends.
N: Hello Ben, it's great to have you with us. We are proud to call you a friend and member of our community! How have you been and what projects are you currently working on?
B: Hi :) I've been really well. I recently made a permanent move from Salt Lake City, Utah to London so I've been spending most of my time reorganizing my projects and resituating my practice. My wife, Marina Moro, and I are currently setting up Final Hot Desert's first brick-and-mortar space here as well as working on shows for Marina's nomadic project, Dovetail. I've also been making a body of work over the last year for a solo exhibition I have coming up at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art in July 2023. There's a few other projects with future shows, writing, and music videos too. It's been really busy lol.
N: Something that I have always loved about your work is that its prehistoric quality somehow gives it a universal appeal, transcending specific cultures or geographies. Is this interpretation accurate, or do your cultural heritage and certain cultures influence your work in any way?
B: I like things that are transcendent of their niches and I think that's a great way of taking in art. Geology and universal mechanics are perfect in that way in my opinion. I think one of my biggest thinking pattern adjustments was when I was forced to spend one month studying astrophysics for six to nine hours a day in order to have enough credits to graduate from Snow College. The vast change in context while not having time to work on my own practice made me absorb those ideas. That being said, I'm a Mormon from Utah and the works I make and curate tend to reflect that - at least to me.
Today even your interests are generative towards your categorization in wider culture or subculture. I think maybe playing with the layering of all these categorizations and using them as mechanics rather than as places to settle allows an artist's work to cut differently and I really like that.
N: How did the concept of exhibiting at a salt lake come about? It is almost as if you took the "white cube" approach and fit it into your world... Walk me through the thought process behind that.
B: I was like 22 when I started curating and making works for that context and at the time there wasn't a lot of really thought out understanding of what I was doing.
I grew up hiking and loving the desert because I felt a special connection out there that was really emotional for me. In my early twenties I had that same experience regularly looking at art alone at night on my laptop. It made sense to put them together so I started spending my entire income from working the graveyard shift at Amazon to ship work from around the world to Utah and taking it to these special places to photograph.
The Bonneville Salt Flats is one of those special places that naturally worked for me and it truly does take the situation of the white cube to a much more cinematic, real scale.
Nowadays it's a lot more thought out for me. I'm still really young and figuring it out step by step but I'm trying to gauge the right kind of interactions between a geographical place and the place of an artwork. Lately I've been working more in more literal white cube contexts and there are so many nuances that are equally applicable to traditional and offsite spaces. Curating is such an important context for anyone creating any kind of art and the spatial mindfulness is the same everywhere, just with different kinds of variables. When those variables are considered and connected with, whatever they may be, things tend to work really, really well.
N: You appear to be a somewhat unconventional figure within the art world, perhaps a bit of a lone wolf. How would you describe your role or presence in this sphere?
B: I'm not really attached to a particular scene so I can see how it can read that way haha.
Everything I've done up to this point has been in the context of being isolated in Utah and that's definitely become part of my identity that I take with me everywhere now.
I have a lot of really close friends from different scenes though and I think I just value those kinds of one to one relationships the most. When you work with people you really care about and connect with, you can push things a lot further along unconventional paths. I like to do everything I can and be involved in everything that I like and that maybe becomes harder to categorize.
N: Over the past few years, there has been a growing fascination with archaeology and primitivism in fashion and internet culture. How do you feel about being linked to the "Dinocore" trend? Aside from the benefits of reaching a wider audience, is it concerning for an artist to see their visual language potentially being reduced to an "aesthetic" ? I guess it's somewhat inevitable, given the hyperspeed at which new trends and visual languages enter our collective consciousness nowadays...
B: Yeah those kinds of things are funny but they're really temporary so it doesn't bother me too much. I've been associated with a lot of trends over the years that I definitely don't feel a particular connection to. Like, it's cool that people have found different entry points into my practice and through that I've learned a lot about how these entry points form. In the end, I do feel in charge of my projects and works' readings because I know where it's all headed more or less. A practice is a lot larger than a singular work or series and it's always growing in its overall function. I'm sure anybody who got into my work through those kinds of articles is pretty confused with what I'm doing now and that's fine with me lol.