Benjamin Crowley: Walking to the edge of a small cliff
‘I follow with my eyes till they crash’
by Tim Walsh
Walking to the edge of a small cliff finds us occupying Benjamin Crowley’s point of view (POV) at the edge of a cliff face in northern Iceland. We inhabit Crowley as he kicks loose rocks and dirt from this position and watch it sail downwards to the water below. He does this action without much energy or verve, despondent and doubtful.
The presentation of this video is direct: looped, no sound and shown on a screen propped up from below in line with the tray of the CLUTCH truck. We clamber up and look down from above at the video playing on it. We inherit a multiplicity of layered spectatorial and performative positions in our interactions with the work: we are seen looking, we look, and we see from Crowley’s own POV a scene from far away. In part, we are also glorified in our position: raised, lit by the screen and in view of those watching the truck.
Looking down at the screen we assume his stance from 2014, when the footage was recorded on the NES residency in Skagaströnd. Here he toys with virtual and real space – our position equated with his own through a modest illusion. In the repeating of this, the viewer is implicated in the time of the work’s production and the artist’s sentiment. Doubt plagued him and his contemplation fits his standing on the cliff: frustrated, scheming.
The new work also relates to his reading then of the writings of Søren Kierkegaard, in particular his 1844 text The Concept of Anxiety, written under one of Kierkegaard’s many pseudonyms. In the text, Kierkegaard likens anxiety induced by standing on a cliff’s edge to the “dizziness of freedom”: a sense of possibility of our capacities as humans that brings us to a point of disorientation. As a family member with a fear of heights once recounted to me, it isn’t purely the fall that we fear, but the knowledge that we have the power to throw ourselves off that is terrifying. Atop this cliff, Crowley and we the viewer share a moment of anxious, existential recognition.
The work for CLUTCH Collective acknowledges within Crowley’s recent work a loop where the viewer finds themselves embodying Crowley’s own view at the point of making. In ‘The Burning’, his 2015 solo exhibition at MetroArts after his residency abroad, he constructed four flights of stairs that led up to a raised crossroads of sorts. At the centre of the crossroads, the viewer looked down into a square pit to be blinded by a grid of 8×8 light bulbs: repelled but coaxed forwards.
This structure developed as a concept from the footage we now see in Walking to the edge of a small cliff. In ‘The Burning’ viewers repeated Crowley’s gesture of looking but with no image. In this new work, the gesture and image are reunited, the platform now replaced by the truck. In his recent residency at Media Art Asia Pacific (MAAP), Crowley projected footage of his finger touching a sheet of fabric from his POV onto an actual sheet of fabric strung across MAAP’s exhibition space. These recent works represent a new sentiment in Crowley’s work that plays with our role as spectators. He breeds our engagement with his own. We look on, following with our eyes his view.