Artist StatementEnveloped in a graveyard of oxidized, monumental sculpture parts, the crane’s orange arm bounced under the several thousand-pound weight of the stainless steel legs. Over the roaring of the crane’s diesel engine I guided the operator through the maze of aluminum shells with a combination of yells and hand gestures. The chrome legs hung for a moment between the crane’s boom and the rusty steel of the I-beam cart before slowly touching down. In a rushed moment trying to get back to my fabrication duties, stars burst in front of my eyes as the half-ton cart snuck up behind me and collided with my heel. Leaving me with a torn ligament in my mid-foot and rendering me crutch bound for the next six months. Emerging from the experience of healing my orthopedic injury, I have begun to explore sculpture informed by medicine and surgery. Dealing with my own mobility issues led me to research the history of prosthetics, bringing me to the American Civil War. During an unplanned visit to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland, I encountered a number of photographs of Civil War veteran amputees. Amputation and its repair have become quintessential images of Civil War trauma. As a recent Baltimore transplant, I experienced the Uprising following the death of Freddie Gray, one of the occurrences fueling the current dialogues in the United States identifying racial equality. This historical moment directly reveals wounds left unresolved following the American Civil War. This past spring confronted me with the now historically compounded and unhealed racial wounds in American culture. My current work explores cultural, political, and racial wounds through the lens of injured bodies. I began to see amputation as symbolic of the conflict and our current societal state. Being informed by images and artifacts of the conflict, my work is currently exploring trauma and our attempt to restore the architecture of the body. Prosthetics’ effort to restore functionality to the damaged body creates a stirring emotional portrait of the damage the war caused and failed to resolve. Historical prosthetics in this American regional and contemporary context function as icons of the difficulty to reunite and heal the American corpus. Beyond my use of materials to carve and fabricate sculptures that reference the assimilation of flesh, bone, and prosthesis, I am also utilizing projections made with the mirror lens reflex camera obscura. The mirror lens reflex camera obscura - essentially a hand built projector - allows for a projection to be made onto an exterior surface from the interior transparency of the camera’s housing. Building the projector and controlling the projection surface supports a range of multi-dimensional sculptural possibilities. These non-digital projectors allow me to investigate the interplay between machine, body, and space with a ghost-like corporeality. Through this synthesis of material and light, I want to question the intersection of healing, injury, and the reconstructed body. I am interested in using medical culture in sculpture to build communications of compassion for others. Through handmade and structurally unsound prosthetics I am seeking to connect medicine and healing empathetic relationships. In addition to works investigating the repair of the body, I am also exploring objects that evoke the visceral bodily injury through the use of modern materials like polystyrene combined with traditional plaster and shellac. My investigation of historical and contemporary medicine and orthopedics can provide a forum to discuss issues of history, material, and human compassion. I hope to create a dialogue where empathy for disease and injury become a source of solidarity.
Michael Benevenia is an artist interested in history, materials, and medicine. He attended Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts where he earned his BFA with honors in Visual Art and Art History. He studied various structural plate welding processes at HoHokus School of Trades, and worked for The Sculpture Foundation supervising the building and installation of monumental metal sculpture. Michael has shown in a number of group and juried shows across the US, and been featured in print and online publications. Michael currently lives in Baltimore where he is pursuing his MFA at MICA's Rinehart School of Sculpture.