Christopher Joshua Benton builds humble, colourful and bright art pieces with found objects
The multi-disciplinary artist, who’s currently based in Dubai, gives us the details behind his far-reaching practice, replete with installations and furniture design.
- Ayla Angelos
- 1 April 2021
Creativity has always been at the centre of everything that Christopher Joshua Benton puts his mind towards. An artist, music journalist and advertising creative director who’s currently based in Dubai, his portfolio features a mix of disciplines including photography, film and installation. He originally grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, attending the University of Georgia before heading to Oxford University to study English.
It was after moving to New York City to work as a stylist and music critic that his career really started to kick off, “so research and visual culture has always been at the heart of what I do,” he tells It’s Nice That. “Since then, I’ve been daisy-chaining advertisement gigs, and most recently I’ve worked as a creative director at Huawei where I mostly direct ads for TV and produce photoshoots. For the past eight years, I’ve been living in Dubai. I like to think of myself as an American in exile.”
In order to succinctly give us an understanding of what he does, Christopher summarises his outlet as being “media-agnostic”. In this sense, he produces work by “any means necessary”, in turn utilising the best channel and tools to fit the brief. His main media are sculpture, photography, film and textiles, and he often combines all four to create large-scale installations. “This gives the viewer different access points and scales to engage with the work,” he says, which is much more achievable having hailed from an advertising and design background. In this sense, Christopher views art as a medium that doesn’t have to be too simple. “Projects can be picked up, completed and then revised. And it doesn’t have to be smooth or perfect – art can be rough, unfinished and complicated. It’s the complete opposite of my training.”
This free-reign attitude and customised workflow have enabled Christopher to work on a plethora of projects, with works presented at the likes of James Arts Centre, the Fikra Graphic Design Biennal, Alserkal Avenue and Dubai Design week. The majority of his works have been conceived with a strong propensity for research, as well as an adoration for uncovering lost histories in local neighbourhoods. This means that Christopher will spend much of his time meeting new people, working collaboratively with local makers, craftsmen and “everyday people”, he adds. The byproduct is a portfolio replete with humble, colourful and bright art pieces and installations, all of which place emphasis on his fascination with found objects.
“I collect things sometimes for years,” he continues to explain, “and get so excited when I finally find a use for it. The confluence of events that bring an object to life embeds it with a history that becomes shorthand for a type of meaning. Langdon Winner famously asked, ‘Do artefacts have politics?’ and you can feel these systems of power converge into the materials that I find and use.”
These objects can range from pieces of clothing, bits of carpets and curtains, to clips and “fragments from social media”. Not to mention memes sourced from the internet and various elements from advertisements. Christopher’s works resonate with this sourced mentality to great lengths, as seen in one of his earliest projects, titled Chirag’s Things, where the artist collected various items from a shopping trip in the neighbourhood of Satwa. The project addresses The United Nations calculation of liveable housing and involved him visiting an apartment that had 18 people living in just one room. The sculptures he created in response illustrate the amount of space one person has, and the result is a see-through boxed rammed full with the items he found from a list provided by Chirag, who’s from the neighbourhood.
Christopher now turns us towards his body of work, How to Be at Rest, the latest and most favoured of the bunch. Over the last two years, he’s been photographing and collecting “bricolage chairs” that he’s found in industrial working-class neighbourhoods in the UAE, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. The chairs are modified and “constructed by South Asian and African expatriates,” he says, provoking a sense of pure craftsmanship and originality with each and every piece. These works were presented at Dubai Design Week and later at the Art Jameel Centre. “Essentially the gesture is simple: I buy chairs from local shops and craftsmen and re-stage them in new places, presenting them as readymades.”
Each chair comes with its own story and would have been previously used as furniture in offices or in schools. They use simple materials that would have been collected from local neighbourhoods, such as cement, plywood street signs and paint buckets – a feature used to “signal towards UAE’s rapid growth,” he says, implying how the project goes far beyond the function and aesthetics of a well-designed piece of furniture. “As design objects, the chairs mount strange juxtapositions, like an office chair with a paint bucket as the base, or a school chair with a street sign as a back. This frugal innovation speaks to a culture, intelligence and style that is unique to so-called ‘marginalised’ communities. It also puts into view the pressures and lack of means that exists for a large part of the community here, which is often ignored.”
“People – even residents – know Dubai for the glam, but never the grit,” he concludes. “This project also highlights the main modes of my process: centring dialogue, working collaboratively, and collecting and assembling everyday material to talk about great neoliberal forces.”
Christopher Joshua Benton: How to Be at Rest (Copyright © Christopher Joshua Benton, 2020)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.