Interview – Ben Jeans Houghton
Hello, could you tell us a bit about your practice?
Hello, of course and thank you for this opportunity. I create work in sculpture, installation, film, photography, drawing, writing, improvised performance and sound. Through these mediums I explore the study and practice of Magic/k, Astrology, Animism, Philosophy, Cinema and Psychology. The work seeks to invigorate and question its various themes by utilising and subverting their mechanics, subsuming their subject specific language and structures by re-applying them to new contexts; getting inside ideas and realities to translate the esoteric to the exoteric, making the hidden visible. Throughout my practice and the work that I produce sympathies between Magic/k, Alchemy and Contemporary Art; ritually arranging objects and symbols in the physical, visible world, to create narrative dialogue that affects and changes our invisible, conceptual and emotional world, are of key concern.
‘! Blessed Be :)) Merry Part :(( But Again !’ 2017 Solo Show, Space Inbetween, London, UK
‘WREST IN PIECES’ 2018 Still from Documentary about Noise legend Jamie Stuart from Blyth, UK
What are you exploring at the moment?
During my residency organised between Hong-ti Arts Centre, Busan, South Korea and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK, I have been researching Korean Shamanism and exploring the rich narratives that exist between it and the cultural and religious contexts that surround it. I am fascinated by the performative and dynamic relationships that exist between the material and immaterial worlds that Shaman dance between. Their ability to offer insight and afford opportunities for personal transformation through perfomative ritual art seems vital against the backdrop of dogmatic materialism that dominates much of our contemporary lives.
‘Low Tide Offerings’ 2018 Works in progress, Hong-Ti Arts Centre, Busan, South Korea
During my stay I have been exploring the city and landscape of Busan, collecting discarded objects from the industrial areas, markets and beaches, to act as material in creating votive sculptures that will form an installation that constellates a set and setting within which my interests and ideas may be communicated for the final exhibition. I will create and install a kind of low tide of objects, whose definitions strobe between, religious offerings and rubbish. I am interested in found objects and made sculptures as artefacts and vessels that exist or existed to carry and translate meaning. I feel that visual art can afford a communication of necessarily invisible things in wonderful, odd and arresting ways, invigorating questions and inspiring imagination and reflection in those who are open to give it their time and attention.
‘Ritual Tools’ 2018 Works in progress, Hong-Ti Arts Centre, Busan, South Korea
Building upon my most recent work ‘2ndlife’ a 1hr film essay shot in Japan, edited in England and shown at and commissioned by Bloc Projects, Sheffield earlier this year, I have been documenting and discovering various places, peoples and moments that I have encountered in Busan; interviewing Mudang (Shaman) and Monks (Buddhist), attending Guts (pronounced ‘Goots’ – ritual performances) and Religious Festivals whilst wandering the streets and beaches, towards generating material for a new film essay.
Pre production still from Film Essay ‘SCREAMING BIRD SINGING DAWN RAINBOW MOUNTAIN’ 2018 Featuring Mudang (Shaman) Kim Dong Eon performing a Gut (pronounced “Goot” – a ritual performance) Busan, South Korea
I use my video camera to collaborate with chance by being free enough to follow relevance when it arrives, to take notes and observe life unfolding, from which I make new plans to chase the ideas that present themselves to me. For instance, filming a pig’s head offering being washed by the seas waves before noticing married couples posing for photo shoots in front of the Dadaepo sunset, then writing about memento making and collecting sculptural material from the tide line on my way back to the studio. Each moment offers an adventure to thought, to observe and then reflect as a way to think through the making of art, later leading to a regenerating of those ideas and questions, through video and installation, to someone who was not there.
Detail ‘Low Tide Offerings’ 2018 Works in progress, Hong-Ti Arts Centre, Busan, South Korea
My research will be presented here as a short film made from my growing archive of footage alongside costumes I have made for improvised ritual performance, instruments made from tools and objects using contact microphones and sculptures inspired by the many offerings and rubbish that wash up on the beach at low tide. I hope to create a dream-like space in the gallery that seems both odd and familiar in equal measure; offering an opportunity to notice what is common with fresh eyes and to contemplate what is different with invigorated imagination.
Upon my return to England I will begin the process of editing and writing a new film essay based on my experiences in Busan that will centre around the rich dialogues at the edges where Shamanism, Buddhism and Materialism meet in material and immaterial ways.
Have you found there’s anything in particular that has influenced you over the years? What inspires you?
I have always been inspired by emphatic enthusiasts, people who love what they do, who really care about it and build the tools and language around them they need to keep learning and discovering what and why they are so interested in what they have chosen to chase through life; people who use their subjects as a vehicle towards inner and outer discovery. From Film Makers to Entomologists to Shamans, people who are on the edge of themselves and their subjects and forging new ground. I am fascinated by narrative, whether it be written, oral or performative. I have always sought out people who practice what they study: Philosophers, Spiritualists, Witches, Druids, Shamans and spent time experiencing the active and open parts of their living traditions and contemporary improvisations as a way to dialogue with them and different realities. Through my field work and research I map tangents; working out what I think and where my own experiences and practice fit within or beyond my interests through dialogues of parity and difference. I see art as my vehicle and tool box and a way to express the ideas and questions I come across to other people who may be interested to ask new questions or old questions in new ways, of new or old things, of themselves or the world at large that surrounds us.
Where do you work? Could you show us a picture of your working environment?
My desk in Studio 5 Hong-Ti Arts Centre, Busan, South Korea (The helm of the current incarnation of my personal Alchemical UFO:)
I am currently working in my allocated studio at Hong-ti Arts Centre, but when in Newcastle I work from my studio at The Newbridge Project in the city centre. I think a studio is a kind of holy place where a person can foster the time and space that makes a kind of generative tangential process of creating and absorbing permissible. A space to occupy in non linear ways that fosters the conditions needed for deep research and luminous leaps of thought. Making is very important to me, often I think by making. I feel it is very important to be able to nurture and grow ideas at their own pace, letting things bud when they are young and fragile and not burning them up by applying too much scrutiny or pressure for them to be a certain way or thing early on. I think there can be a kind of violence to the idea of making a specific end product that doesn’t afford the freedom to improvise or come across the kind of non-linear appropriateness that a surprise outcome can express.
What’s on your bookshelf/what are you listening to or reading at the moment?
Every week I listen to Rune Soup a podcast run by Gordon White that consists of interviews with emphatic individuals from various disciplines with a leaning towards topics that engage with magic/k, culture, geopolitics, anthropology and the paranormal. It takes a little time to digest the subject specific language and referents but it is so worth it and each episode is vastly different. I had a lot of odd experiences with bodily energies (which I now know to be Kundalini), dream states, journeying and immaterial entities as a child and until I came across Rune Soup and followed up the various leads flagged up in different shows, and started reading around, I had no way to contextualise what had been a hugely formative part of my life. I would recommend the old episode with Josephine Mcarthy or the newish one with Rupert Sheldrake as a good primer if the subjects are of interest to anyone reading this, but they are all very different and wonderfully so. I really love to listen to people talk who care about what they are talking about and who have the ability to make the specifics of their subjects tangible without dogma. I love YouTube lectures and ‘Terence McKenna – Opening the Doors of Creativity’ is an iridescent fave, as is the word, ‘iridescent’.
I have a pretty large library of books centred around art, occulture, religion, psychology and philosophy. I volunteer for Amnesty bookshop and spend a lot of time rooting around in their basement finding things to replenish their esoteric, occult, religion and philosophy shelves and if things don’t sell within a set time I will often buy them. These are the books I brought with me to read whilst I am in Korea:
Dreaming The Dark: Magick, Sex and Politics (Starhawk)
Book Four (Aleister Crowley)
Zen Meditation (Tyneside Zen Buddhist Group)
Making Magickal Tools and Ritual Equipment (Keith Morgan)
Sigils, Ciphers and Scripts (Mark B. Jackson)
Chaesu Kut: A Korean Shamanistic Performance (John A Grim)
Starships (Gordon White)
Next on the ever growing list are some novels by Ursula K. Le Guin hopefully combined with a small holiday to Portugal and some local fruit.
Could you give us between ten and twenty words that define your practice?
This is an interesting exercise!
i/material, oneiric, improvisation, mirrored, iridescent, thresholds, tangential, narrative, atmosphere, ritual, tool, search, fallible, exploratory, poetry, sigilic, emotional, song
Where can people see your work?
My more recent work can be seen at:
https://cargocollective.com/bjh – which I have recently built and am continuing to update.
My old website is still live but is trapped in a 2012 groundhog day due to a hard drive crash and the loss of some software, so there is more older stuff on there with links to films too. In the end it will all be consolidated in one place, but making new work and being in the now is always my priority so consistently trumps my own historicism. Wow you can’t write ‘trumps’ in the same open way anymore! Synonymously haunted language! :(((
I also use Intsagram as a kind of visual diary and use the hashtag function to archive my photographs of found sculptural moments by tagging them with #formcrush because I have such a crush on sculpture, especially incidental sculpture.
Our last featured artist, Seb Trend, asked “If you could own any artwork in the world, what would it be?” Could you answer that question and give us a question to ask our next featured artist?
If I could own any artwork in the world it would be the Tarot deck by Pamela Coleman Smith, which wonderfully, I do. Anyone can be lucky enough to as well as it is available from many bookshops or online. I feel that the Tarot is one of the most important pieces of Art ever created. Contained within it is a spectrum of imagistic narrative that symbolically affords multplicitous opportunities to question and reflect with specificity on whatever aspect of your life, or the world around you, that you bring to its table. I feel that the Tarot, like Magic/k and Art, creates a space within which meaning can bloom, bear fruit and invite us to act towards affecting brave positive change; to free ourselves from the seduction and cycles of habituation, and to move forward towards an ever clearer knowledge of who and what we are and why. Art gives us the chance to experience the boundless opera of our inner selves, by experiencing it, what a gift!
My question for your next featured Artist is: Are you a person who has dreams? Are you dreams that have a person? And or Neither?