Ben Cullen Williams (b.1988) is a London based artist, whose practice consists of sculptures, installations, photography, and video. In his work, Williams explores mankind’s relationship to the world in a rapidly changing environment; he focuses on key issues such as the in-between, global, local, and personal and the Anthropocene. He investigates how related spatial typologies can be understood as a physical manifestation of our own human condition. He draws on a range of fabrication processes from physical to digital to understand our phenomenological relationship to the material world in an unsettled age.
His work has been shown internationally in a range of spaces, galleries, and environments as well as collaborating with various disciplines and fields. His latest collaborations count the MIT Media Lab and Google Arts and Culture, the Los Angeles Music hall or the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Williams’ work operates on a range of scales from the human-sized to those of architectural proportions.
Williams studied at the University of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Art.
First shown at Sadler’s Wells, London.
Scenography, Aluminium, LED battens, projectors
Autobiography, a contemporary dance production by choreographer Wayne McGregor, is an abstract meditation on aspects of self, life and writing, a non-linear approach to a life story refracting both remembered pasts and speculative futures. The scenography created for the work encompasses a kinetic suspended aluminium lattice structure with interwoven light bars. The modular geometric layout references cells and scientific models. Conceived as an autonomous machine it traps and alters space, creating ever changing undefined environments, raising questions about how we perceive the human figure in relation to space and the constantly shifting terrains and states of being that we, as humans, exist in. Alongside this are a series of projectors which act as archives of light information analogous to the human body as genetic archive. This information is released through beams of light at different intervals throughout the work.
London Coliseum, 2019
Video installation, LED screen.
The bridging point between Baroque and the new vivid dramatic works of the classical period, Gluck’s melodies helped secure the Orpheus myth as one of the cornerstones of opera. Williams created a video installation as part of Wayne McGregor’s production of the opera, an exploration of grief and loss in the human body. The installation, consisting of a semi-transparent kinetic LED screen, displayed video works that Williams created in response to this series of transitional psychological states: mourning, violence, love, and death. Each work explores the fluid and undefined relationships we, as humans, have towards these states. Each also questions whether experiencing these states is essential to being human and to what extent they are a catalyst for a period of transformation. Through the projection of light from the LEDs, uncertain spatial relationships are created between the altered physical space and the internal embodied experience.
2019, Video installation, LED screen
The Music Centre, Los Angeles
The Living Archive is an experiment between Studio Wayne McGregor and Google Arts and Culture – a tool for choreography powered by machine learning which generates original movement inspired by Wayne’s 25-year archive.
Ducie Street Warehouse, Manchester, 2019
Sculpture, Aluminium, Steel, LED
Kinaesthesia explores the body as a site in a constant state of becoming and transformation. Pulsing LEDs are attached to two interlocking but separate aluminium structures connected by black wires to a steel mother grid above. These two forms are held in a state of suspension, aware of each other yet separated by physical space. Embodied is a microcosm of the networks and channels that guide our collective human experience. In an increasingly deep-rooted digital age, the work raises questions about the nature of the self within these seen and unseen networks.
2018, Sculpture, Timber, Par Can lights
Truss explores the spatial conditions of the bridges that connect Manhattan island to the surrounding landmasses. The vast steel bridges can be seen as undefined locations, with a spatial point of ambiguity occurring in the middle, neither one place or the other. These steel bridges are in a constant state of flux, vibrating through the transference of kinetic energy. Truss is constructed from timber which heightens the temporal nature of Manhattan’s steel bridges. Yet, the work sits on one unified solid plane rather than over empty space. The viewer is invited to remain outside the structure so the internal space becomes unknown territory. Normal architectural conventions are destabilised. The work acts as a portal to bridge between the self and the other.
Sculpture, Aluminium, MDF, rubber, acrylic paint, spray paint, 2018
Remnants is an installation, comprised of two individual sculptures, Anatomy and Lacuna, which explores this evolving symbiosis between the mechanical and the biological become. Anatomy and Lacuna are constructed of aluminium, both containing areas of uncertain space. Anatomy contains a plane of black viscous matter and Lacuna, a black void, creating a tension between the two sculptures. The work draws on diagrammatic anatomical and architectural models, distorting scale and hijacking visual languages, creating an undetermined terrain where the purpose of our made objects is undefined.
Sculpture, Aluminium, sodium lights, cable, black acrylic, timers
The Darkest Hour highlights our evolving relationship to technology within our cities and the impact upon our lived experience and environmental systems. It explores the ambiguous period of transitioning through dusk and speculates on possible alternate strange realities through combining outdated technology with new fabrication methods. Housed within an aluminium structure three sodium lights power on and off intermittently creating a space which is undefined, resulting in a performative moment between object and person. Alongside sits a dark reflective panel which acts as a portal, a window to the future or a dark reflection of the present.
Giclee prints, Various sizes
Fragile Strength draws from a photographic body of work Williams’ created on his journey to Antarctica with the polar explorer Robert Swan. As a young child, Williams always dreamt of venturing to the continent in the footsteps of Captain Scott, inspired by the experience of Scott’s expedition through the black-and-white photographs of Herbert Ponting, the expedition’s photographer. Williams’ own monochromatic images are in direct conversation with these at a time of rapidly increasing technological change, capturing a moment in the centuries-long cycle of melting and freezing. To question our relationship to technological advancement these monochromatic images were then recoloured using a generative adversarial network. The use of machine learning in this way results in uncanny tones and hues which are suggestive of something other, familiar but different. Through this the work provokes a dialogue about the continent’s cycle that is now in transition, on a threshold, suspected but not yet known, at a tipping point in a direction of irreversible change and brings into question our evolving relationship with technology in relation to memory, truth and the natural world.
Sculpture, Mild Steel, light bulbs, wires, arduino chip, 2017
Composed of a series of rectilinear metal forms, lightbulbs and timers, Interface explores our relationship to the built environment, while suggesting parallels between it, the human body and the self, as one of constant change, transitions and unseen systems. Bulbs turn on and off at regular intervals within the perforated forms, yet, when the bulbs are seen collectively, a random pattern emerges, raising questions of how we perceive and experience the world in an increasingly digitised built environment. Through the animation of the lights, the installation creates a series of fluid relationships: between the bulbs, between the solid and the perforate, between the installation and the space that contains it. These come together to invoke a state of the in-between, drawing the viewer in as part of work itself.
2016, Single channel video, 7 minute loop
Passage was filmed while on an expedition to Antarctica. Through its manipulated footage, soundscape and fragmentary spoken word, the work explores a world in a state of constant flux: alive, in a state of cyclical becoming, from life to death to rebirth, tracing a continual edge. Much like our own lives, the planet’s life, the sun, solar system and the universe; all moving in harmonious orbits with the same end in sight. Yet, as it heats up and the ice melts, the world is perhaps at the end of a cycle, at a key transitional moment, and within this we, as humans, simultaneously exist in a transitional moment of the self through our reconciliation with this changing environment.
Southbank Centre, London, 2019
Structure, Steel, Gauze, Lights.
Staging Schiele captures the artist’s own self-conscious framing of himself and his work. The installation created for Shobana Jeyasingh’s production is a modular steel structure given a partial skin of stretched fabric and energised by individually controllable LED batons. Williams – an admirer of Schiele’s drawings – aimed to express their tension through the architectural forces within the structure. The structure defines, yet abstracts and fragments space, creating this tension between the internal and the external. The internal can be seen as a space of becoming and uncertainty, mirroring anxious psychological states. The external is suggestive of a place of certainty and self-confidence. Tension draws out issues of our own human condition, one of becoming and transformation, between the internal and the external.
2019, Moving image and print
As the world changes, humankind seeks to define itself within a new shifting landscape. Our inhabited world is a place of continual excess growth; as cities are rapidly built and expanded, they inadvertently embody our dreams and desires, imbued with a sense of permanence and immortality. Yet, since the world is in constant flux they cities exist as a contradiction to it. The future is often depicted with landscapes of glistening cities and hovering cars, or dystopian visions. As vast environmental change is predicted, we stand at a crossroads of alternative futures; one of optimism and one of damnation. However, perhaps it is possible to reflect and see a middle route that is more in tune with our human condition of continual transformation. Through fragmentary images, landscapes and words, (C2H4)n explores this relationship we have with the present, past and future, imagining a world that is perhaps truer to the human condition, an environment and continual journey of the undefined and the in-between.
Follow Ben Cullen Williams on Instagram@bencullenwilliams
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