benjamin thorp
artist statement

Gwendolyn Brooks, Chicago’s own Poet Laureate, once wrote, “Art hurts. Art urges voyages — and it is easier to stay at home.” I’m strongly driven by an interest in how art urges voyages and my work encourages this experience even as it is beautiful, challenging and painful. My art aspires to reorganize the relationships between sights, sounds, thought and space in order to alter one’s perceptions and shift the relationship between self and other. I am particularly interested in our awareness of the urban landscape and how our sense of self can by expanded and altered through the medium of sound.  

Using a wide range of technologies and digital media, I create sensory experiences that remind us of our humanity. My work is responsive and engages people as sentient, curious human beings. Although I have shown in galleries, I prefer to make work that is set in public site-specific installations. Sound is used in my art to heighten our sensory awareness of ourselves in our surroundings, and as a dynamic element in an effort to dissolve the boundaries of material and virtual architecture.

For example, my recent work City As Site was created as part of an artist residency that took place in the West Side of Chicago in the Little Village/North/South Lawndale neighborhood in the summer of 2010. I developed a project that introduced and taught underserved youth different technologies of sound recording and representation, and created collaborative interventions through sound and space. Participants created sound sculptures that were informed by and integrated into an exploration of the surrounding community in order to grapple with the potential of art and art practices to speak to and challenge dominant narratives and structures of everyday life. An understanding of the perception of our shared spaces and histories was interrogated through an exploration of sensory history using writing exercises as an entry point for the examination of collective memory and presumptions about visual signifiers in the city.

Each set of participants worked with a site in the surrounding area that they passed by daily. The site was a place that they wished to alter, change or speak to in some way because ofthe location's aesthetic, social, or political effect on themselves and the community. Each chosen site was visited and meditated upon daily. This process of getting to know a community and working collaboratively is a critical part of my art making practice.

Much of my work as an engaged artist is political and explores the relationship between aesthetics and politics. In another work, The Other Side of Silence, I held four workshops with an intergenerational group of Cambodian refugees and their family members at the Cambodian American Association in Albany Park, Chicago in the spring of 2010.

The Other Side Of Silence is a responsive artwork, altered by the movement and presence of viewers. Different sound vignettes and memory-scapes are triggered by sensors in the gallery floor. The gallery installation was created in conjunction with a site-specific sound mural that will be installed as part of the Killing Fields Exhibition at the Cambodian-American Heritage Museum in fall 2011.

The Other Side of Silence brings together artifacts from workshops, such as the chalkboard used in the teaching process, research and play, and recordings of interviews of survivors of the Khmer Rouge, and popular music made by artists killed in the genocide. The Other Side Of Silence examines my own growing consciousness and changing notions about Cambodia.

I believe that art has the ability to transform, and my installations are designed to emerge from the environment as openings into aesthetic contemplation, awakening individuals in new ways to the diverse world surrounding us.