Ben Parryby Jill Conner
New World Disorder
Black & White Gallery
As each day passes, automatism saturates deeper into everyday life. Natural spontaneity has been stifled by technological convenience, a fact frequently misplaced within individual routines. Ben Parry’s cluttered installations and prints are extremely witty and sensationalize the mundane through the construction of mechanically engineered performances. Using fragments of computers, road signs, washing machines, motors, cars and toys, Parry makes allegories out of found objects. The artist’s use of elements that initially furnished lives of the First World calls attention to the existing global hierarchy and the ironic juxtaposition it poses to the democratic notion of globalization.
A light box reading "Believe Nothing That You Hear and Only Half of What You See," hangs on a wall near the gallery’s entrance, in the periphery of the artist’s traveling installation titled "TV World Order and the Technological Military Machine." Eight figures comprised of mannequin bodies, ducts, and propellers stand in a circle facing a rocket-like gizmo. Televisions serve as heads and faces while intermittently flashing static. One disfigured, electronic form uses the small hand of a baby doll to press a red button labeled "Total World Destruction." Each mechanism subsequently lights up as the rhythmic noise of static screens suggests the sounds of military combat. The meaning and effect of this installation emerges from the ironic combination of crude constructions within a conventional exhibition format.
Parry, however, goes further and reaches into the physical structure of the gallery’s floor to create "Electronic Dream." More polished in appearance and conceptual in style, a collection of lights shine up from beneath three long sections of opaque plexiglass expanding upon the timelessness that is inherent to most of his work. Political convictions continue to appear in five additional, framed images. Created out of print and mixed media, these pieces reflect a Warholian serial use of imagery to reaffirm the powerful nature of consensus. One of the untitled pieces, for example, portrays countless numbers of British stamps bearing the profile of Queen Elizabeth as a red silhouette of marching soldiers advances down across the surface of the work.
A third site-specific installation, situated outdoors in the gallery’s courtyard, continues the artist’s visual satire on nationalist and capitalist megalomania. "Stop" and "Go" signs spin among other odd constructions such as a globe wearing a gas mask beneath a tattered umbrella lined with fighter jets and rockets. The artist also includes an assemblage of Coca-Cola cans fashioned in the shape of a machine gun. The play between word and image imbues each work with a provocative nature while recontextualizing the militaristic nature of globalization into a euphemism for colonization.
Considering the widespread, jaded mood surrounding the war waged in Iraq, Parry’s exhibition is right on target. These installations, however, exhibit a weakness while colliding with paradox. Although the artist’s criticism of patterned living is valid and clear, his argument contradicts the reality that societal structure is needed to live successfully. A regular influx of change, however, is required to unsettle the forces of monotony, because it is within monotony that destruction finds its origin. Although the military is an example of automatism par excellence, Parry does not fall short in addressing the fact that technological culture increasingly transforms consumers into the objects that they buy.
Jill Connor teaches at Parson's new school.