Benjamin Bullitt Schmechel
Ben Bullitt Schmechel's final BA Fine Art project is focused on collaboration. Looking at affirming attitudes towards space, objects and education, Ben’s project uses discarded objects, photographs and redundant spaces around the college. We spoke to him about the build-up to the degree show and the importance of collaboration.
What’s changed since we last spoke?
Ben: The project has developed dramatically. It has moved from being a set of very loosely based, playful sculptures, separated by colour and dispersed around the College to a live sequence of improvised movement and choreography that interacts with the objects throughout the building. Another significant development has also been that we now have a name for the project, ‘GO!’
What processes have you gone through to get your project to where it is now?
Ben: I think it has stemmed primarily from the continued attention and development of the collaborative play sessions that I have been doing throughout the project with Beatrice and Korallia. Beatrice had noted down a quote from a Richard Tuttle poem that has helped us shape our approach towards the project. “Wood, the struggle. Cloth, the grace.” It seemed to describe the relationship between our three practices meeting. Korallia’s knowledge of and inclination towards movement and the body has also really helped develop this project to what it is now.
With only a week to go, how do you feel about the Degree Show?
Ben: I am feeling really excited and happy about the project. It’s really motivating to see this symbiosis between structure, space and movement come together. I am looking forward to seeing how people respond to the pieces and the choreography. It’s about enquiring into what you can do with these objects and this space, and how can you engage a space and how you can relate people together. I am also excited to see how the project might develop during the show.
Have you enjoyed working on this project?
Ben: It has be so fun and exciting. Working this way with people and animating what were vague ideas into something that could possibly developed into a bigger project has been a great experience. It is really starting to feel like this project has the potential to go somewhere else and really transform into its own thing outside of the Degree Show.
Tell us about your project and what inspired your brief.
Ben: This project comes out of a relationship with the space and architecture at Central Saint Martins, as well as the desire to carve out an alternative learning space. I have been using predominantly discarded objects and residual spaces around the college. It’s an interest in finding moments and pockets where there can be a real integration of friendship, intellectual work and artistic production. I think it’s about finding what the necessary conditions are for those three things to happen together. There is not necessarily a strict logic behind the pieces themselves.
What about your processes behind the build-up to the Degree Show?
Ben: It has been developed through a lot of intuitive play. The first week I got here I started pulling down billboards around where I lived. I used a Stanley knife to take out thick sections of the posters and then created collages. After that I maintained an interest in materials I found on the street.
For a period of about 40 days I found an object every day, altering it in some way and then photographing it. I really developed an intuitive desire to have a relationship with these sorts of objects. From there, I was part of a project that was based on coming up with a reflexive critique about the space here at CSM. It got me thinking about education and I started occupying residual spaces within this building. I think that the next stage in the process is working on how to have an active relationship with the objects I am using within these spaces.
How are you currently preparing for the show?
Ben: Over the next few weeks I’ll be working on integrating the photographs I have to work with this piece in order to develop a relationship with the objects. I’ll also be working with Beatrice and another student, Korallia, to distribute these photos and map them. In conjunction with that, we will be working with some dancers to look at the photographs and objects to see how we can react to them physically and create a body of movement.
You’ve been collaborating a lot within this project. How important is collaboration to your practice?
Ben: I think collaboration is crucial. It has started to characterise everything I do. This entire year my work has been in conjunction with others. I just became aware of the positive influence this had on everything really, on my work and my tactical aptitude. It has allowed me to stop and become more reflective about my own methods. It’s had a multiplying effect that feels very natural and there is an evident mutual benefit.
What is the general feeling within your programme towards the Degree Show right now?
Ben: There was an initial feeling of stress but I think it has reached a point where people realise that they just have to produce. It’s a period of calm now where the focus is no longer about creating something that is meant to be the be all and end all of our education but is instead about becoming engrossed in your own work. That change in focus has sort of done anyway with those initial existential worries. It’s also pretty fun at the minute because we don’t really know exactly what everything is going to look like.
What aspect of the show are you most looking forward to?
Ben: For me, the promise of clarification or a brief moment of lucidity is exciting. It feels important because the project is based on questions that I am asking in my life about the world. I am not sure if I have arrived at the right answers yet but it’s part of a progression of thought that I am interested in pursuing. I think that I am becoming more and more aware that the ideas that I am interested in are social ideas.
What are your post-Degree Show plans?
Ben: I’ll be working on a two-month research trip called ROAM. A group of us are leaving at the end of July and traveling around the continent speaking to schools, going to sites of interest, communes, ecological camps, communities and squats. Along the way we are going to pick up different students that we have collaborated with. It will result in a compilation of interviews, documentation, recording of these different environments and an ongoing collective art practice. Hopefully this will give way to a year-long project during which we will spend time in the Crossing at CSM. The aim will be to bring attention to researching and thinking about modes of collaborative art practice, as well as self-organised models of education.