Mass Movement: Art by senior Ben Reid shakes, rattles and rolls
Ben Reid, Class of '10
It’s fair to say that no adult or child who visited a recent art installation entitled “An Absurdist Celebration of Tragic Nonsense” left uninspired.
For UNC Asheville Senior Ben Reid, that spells success as an artist.
Reid’s art installation at the S. Tucker Cooke Gallery in Owen Hall several weeks ago was alive and buzzing—literally. Platoons of ceramic sculptures spread across the floor, and clanging machines hung above the sculptures like zeppelins. A unique electronic musical composition played in the background.
Reid explained his creation this way, “These ceramic sculptures represent small problems that build up and become swarms,” he said. “I made this part of the show to depict a future where life is still shaped by small stresses and concerns.”
Overhead, six wood and metal machines were suspended from the ceiling. Each of the machines was programmed to spring to life at random intervals. They clanked, whirred, thumped and beat against themselves and then fell silent until another machine began to “play.”
“These (machines) represent the soul outside the body,” said Reid as he fine-tuned the electric wiring powering each machine. He said he thinks each machine incorporates elements of travel and aerial movement—from planes to birds to insects.
Just installing the display took him more than 24 hours. Creating each machine took weeks, including soaking and forming the wooden bodies in his bathtub, and hand forging the cymbals on some of the machines.
Art meets engineering
He said each of his creations is focused on function, without a lot of decorative elements. Each wooden sculpture is equipped with flappers, beaters, strikers, shakers and scrapers to make its own particular sound, powered by gears and levers and springs that look like the inside of an old alarm clock.
In addition to continuing his art projects, Reid is also wrapping up a detailed application for a prestigious Wingate Fellowship, a $15,000 prize for undergraduate art students to continue their work.
Though Reid’s art is mechanical in nature, he has no background in clockworks or mechanics. He is a self-taught designer and is continuing to test and create mechanical art pieces for future shows. His current Internship at Asheville Orthotics Prosthetics Center, a company that produces custom artificial limbs, orthopedic braces and footwear, also gives him an opportunity to use his sculpting skills to help people.
Gregory Straub, president of the company said, “Our clinicians and technicians take their jobs seriously, while adding their own personality and character to the products they produce. We see our business as an art form, and we like to have fun with everything we do. Our customers leave us with a functional device designed to make their lives easier and more comfortable, as well as a piece of handcrafted art.”
“I like using my skills as a sculptor to help people,” he said. “Prosthetics is a really exciting field. I like the problem solving and invention aspects of the work. It really energizes me.”
In fact, Reid is considering pursuing a highly specialized master’s degree in crafting prosthetics. He sees it as a compliment to his work as a sculptor. “It is really a companion to my art and goes full circle with touching people with my work—be it prosthetics or inspiring children to become artists or just encouraging adults to be creative.”
“Look, I really don’t want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you’re alive, you got to flap your arms and legs, you got to jump around a lot, you got to make a lot of noise, because life is the opposite of death.”
– Mel Brooks (Quote posted in the gallery to complement Reid’s installation)
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: In late March, Reid was awarded a $15,000 National Wingate Fellowship. Way to go, Ben!