A Conversation with assemblage artist Joseph Bennett

By Eli Hans

If anyone walks their talk, environmentalist and artist Joseph Bennett certainly does. Passionate about creating awareness about overconsumption, caring for our planet, water conservation and more, Bennett has discovered a creative way to express his commitment to his beliefs through his fascinating found objects assemblages. We recently had a conversation about his upcoming exhibition.

“Falling Into Place”
Sat, Jan 11, 6pm
The Studio Space
Subida al Caracol 11
Raffle tickets 100 pesos for 3 tickets


Eli Hans: What attracts you to this particular art form?

Joseph Bennett: I am passionate about saving objects from the landfill and breathing new life into them. As an environmentalist, I am painfully aware of how much we, as consumers, tend to discard. I love transforming “junk” into something exquisite for two reasons: to raise consciousness about the mass of trash that accumulates in our everyday lives. And secondly, I actually find many of these discarded items to be beautiful. The patina and oxidation, the way time tarnishes bits of wire and wood. Even a broken wine glass found in a junkyard has an inherent beauty in it.

EH: How did you discover this was the art form you wanted to explore?

JB: As a child, I would often watch my mother stop by the side of the road to retrieve broken or leftover pieces of furniture to restore. And my father had a workbench in the basement that I found fascinating, with its dusty cabinets and jars filled with rusted nails, and old metal pieces. When I was eight or nine, I began making assemblages and shadow boxes. Yet, it wasn’t until after graduate school, when I took an art class and saw images of Joseph Cornell’s assemblage work, that something deep within me finally awakened and I thought: “That´s for me.” Cornell became my first muse — especially for my early work.

EH: How is your work received by the public, who might generally be more familiar with painting or traditional sculpture?

JB: I find that people spend considerable time being engaged with these pieces. They seem to be intrigued by the juxtaposition of objects, and wonder where things came from. I am often asked about the symbolism of the pieces, so I have taken to writing brief text about each piece and the inspiration behind it. The public enjoys reading about them, and seemingly connects more deeply to each work.

EH: Are there any themes that tend to intrigue you more than others?

JB: I was a psychiatric social worker for more than ten years and worked a lot with the homeless population and the disadvantaged, so those themes seem to show up in my work. But often, it is really about falling in love with the beauty of each object and discovering where each belongs in relation to another.

EH: I hear that assemblage artists have attachment issues. Is that true?

JB: (laughter) In more ways than one! It is a challenge to create pieces that are archival, that will last and withstand travel. Mainly the challenge is to find ways to adhere all the objects in congruent, seemingly invisible ways. I use rusted screws and nails, tension, and as a last resort, glue.

EH: Can you tell me something about the title of the exhibition “Falling Into Place”?

JB: I have found that in my artwork it is wise to get out of the way and try to not force things together. When I come from a place of trusting the process, the pieces tend to “fall into place” organically. And typically one of the works that I am especially attracted to becomes the title piece for the show; in this case an old kitchen drawer from a recent remodeling project in colonia San Antonio holds bits of antique santos, wood, chain and even a vintage billiard ball inside is called falling into place.

EH: What can the public expect when they come to see your exhibition?

JB: There are more than two dozen works on display. We encourage viewers to vote for their favorite piece, which invites even more involvement with the work. And I am raffling off a favorite piece called “Dreaming in Blue.” It excites me to know that someone will be able to come away with a unique work of art they might otherwise not be able to afford. Also, Lucas’ Tacos will be here serving up tacos and quesadillas hot off the grill…so come hungry!

Joseph Bennett’s exhibition “Falling Into Place” is open for one night only, Saturday, January 11, from 6-9pm. Subida al Caracol 11, just above the intersection of Cinco de Mayo and Prolongación Aldama. Call 185 8093 for more information or to arrange for a private showing.


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