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Erik Benjamins works across the visual, performing and culinary art communities to explore how our comforts and expectations shift as we move between home and away places. Some recent collaborators have included a classically trained perfumer, a university photographer, a jazz vocalist, and a few nationally-acclaimed chefs.

Erik received his MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/Tufts University and his BA from Loyola Marymount University. He is a member of ABC [Artists’ Books Cooperative], an internationally-based cohort of artists working in and around printed matter. He has exhibited in some museums, galleries, art book fairs, alternative art spaces, and a restaurant.

And he has a mailing list.


Web design… Andy Nahman
Typefaces… Benjamins Gothic by Benjamin Critton Art Dept. & Life by Francesco Simoncini.
All content © E.B., 2016.

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Free Smells, 2016

Appropriated neon-sign and risograph takeaway realized for an exhibition of the same name.

“Free Smells” was an exhibition of projects about home and away places completed over the past four years. Two new works were also created: one, a neon sign whose form had been appropriated from a popular nation-wide sandwich store and folded into my practice as another working mantra; two, a double-sided risograph print providing context to the exhibition on one side, and on the other, a complete list of the chemical ingredients and scent accords I’ve used during my forays into fragrance-making.

I’m at ease when I cook in the kitchen. Home cooking is one of my favorite choreographies. I’ve rehearsed it many times and find comfort in performing the right moves at the right times. If the chop is over salted or undercooked, relax. It’s just practice, and there’s always more pork. Like Steve Lambert says, “utopia is not a destination, but a direction”.

If my cooking practice were a peanut butter, it would be of the smooth variety: refined, elegant, dependable, easy pleasing. And if we are to compare life choreographies to peanut butters, then my art practice would most definitely be crunchy. Some prefer crunchy with its road bumps, the unavoidable frictions, that jut up and outward along an otherwise perfectly satisfying smooth slick.

While a butcher block sculpture of the Mayor’s “mañana” may not seem to immediately converse with a pristinely etched butt of a Florentine sculpture, try backing up to work towards a constellation of meaning. These are some disparate materials and traditions, unified in valuing the slower, quieter powers of place and home—all done with the gratitude, curiosity and hunger of a just-arrived dinner guest.

Neon sign fabrication by Leafcutter Studio and risograph printing by No Style, S.P. Exhibited alongside Kristen Dikio’s “Public Cards” from March to April at Open Mind Art Space, Santa Monica, CA.

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En la tierra del mañana, 2015

A trio of works on Santa Fe slowness.

“Carpe diem mañana” — Bumper sticker text

A butcher block sculpture has blood grooves formed by the Mayor’s “mañana”. A poetic takeaway menu includes the Mayor’s original letter and short writings on Santa Fe. An almost-on-timekeeper is heard, not seen; the hours and half hour chimes are pedal steel guitar phrases sounding of a honky tonk dream that burst into the gallery space during open hours.

While on residence at the Santa Fe Art Institute, I became fixated on local uses of mañana that often implied a perceived laziness. As an optimistic visitor, I found great inspiration in the term and intended to recalibrate its usage to value slower moving and patient production. The resulting trio of work was exhibited at “Art in restaurants is on the same level as food in museums” — Niles Crane at Turf Projects in Croydon, South London, curated by Lauren Godfrey.

Audio sample.

Pedal steel guitar performed by Greg Butera; recorded and mastered by Will Courtney; handwriting sample by Javier Gonzales, Mayor of Santa Fe; risograph printing by Hato Press, UK; project sponsorship by Turf Projects, Croydon, UK and Santa Fe Art Institute, Santa Fe, NM.

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Butts of Florence, 2014

Travel memoir comfortably sized for your back pocket.

In 2006, I spent six months in Florence, Italy as an American student abroad. Eight years later, I returned for six weeks to teach, walk, watch, think, eat, and learn. Butts of Florence is a collection of writing and photographs taken during this six-week stay. Formal black and white photographs of the butts of various Florentine sculptures punctuate writing that adopts the forms of diaristic entries, appropriated letter writing, travel guide tips, restaurant reviews, and poetic prose. Together, text and image build the arc of a hungry, critical, introspective, romantic, and grateful visitor. This work was intended to be completed with quickness and spontaneity: being sent to print before the last mosquito bites had healed.

You saw the Instagram picture.

I’ve been in Florence for now two days, still brutally jet-lagged. I keep waking up at a 4 or 5 in the morning. These have been slow, long days. Already a pace aggressively different than the last few weeks in LA for me. It feels good though. There’s a kind of whiplash, still reeling from the absurd, unnecessary non-stop-ness of my end-of-semester weeks in late April/early May. Many things to learn from, which is why it feels so good to be here. And why I write to you now, not simply because it’s been far too long, but also because you are an inspiration! I cannot help but think about your travels and yes, your wisdom, when reeling slowly and pleasurably, freshly here in Tuscany.

Why are our celebratory reunions with such wonderful, important conversation separated by miles and miles of time?!

I know you’re at the farm now, but I don’t know what’s next. If you feel the need to slip in a quick jaunt to these parts, I’ll be in Florence until the end of June. Then there’s a week or so where I’ll be traveling around before going to a friend’s wedding in Lucca. Back in LA on 7 July. So, when is the rendezvous happening?

Would love to hear how you are! Do you have a steady mailing address?

With love,
E

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Butts of Florence (No. 15, No. 24), 2015

Intaglio image prints on Arches cover paper 250 gm, No. 15 in a limited edition of 10 (3 donated to MATERIAL Press) + 2AP, No. 24 in an unlimited edition, 19.5” x 15” ea.

Working with master printer, John Greco, at Josephine Press in Santa Monica, it seemed appropriate to counter the lo-fi casual’ness of the Butts of Florence publication with an object appropriate for the walls of the Getty. No. 24 is in an open edition and un-numbered, while No. 15 is a limited edition realized for MATERIAL Press’ limited edition series.

On the day you depart, there’s not much time for romantic, heart-tugging reflection. Your ride leaves at 6:30, continuing the small and consistent waves of anxious pin pricks. You make it to the airport on time, early even, able to enjoy a last cappuccino immediately followed by a macchiato. The euro centesimi, pulled from a sandwich bag you found in a back pocket of your suitcase. The ziplock probably used to safely transport some kind of electronic device you didn’t even end up using. It’s really not until the plane has been taxied out and churns to a start on its own accord that you begin to think. Hit with the consequences, longings and excitements of the departure home. In the air, still diagonal, you look out, holding sight of every familiar architectural landmark you can find. Terracotta roofs and that yellow I never got the name of. Desperately, you look for the bigger markers that make their way onto the usual postcards: the dome, the river, the palatial garden. Such ideal vantage point, though out of your control. A roll of the dice from the Lufthansa Gods—right window? Left? Aisle seat? Still, you look desperately. And then, the Cascine, the Arno, the trickle of bridges, the Cupola and all of Oltarno. For a moment, the whole place, from such perspective that you can block it all out with your thumb. The Munich-bound plane banks left and the city in miniature falls below the oval window and is replaced with direct, blinding sun.

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I Dolci di Amici degli Uffizi, 2014

Four-fold, color broadsheet newsprint poster in Italian.

A poster of eight ink-transfer drawings of pastries from various Florentine museum cafes.

Realized for ABCEUM – a collaborative project by ABC [Artists’ Books Cooperative] – that re-imagines the museum as a book installation. Each room in the museum is an artist’s book of a different size and material. I Dolci di Amici… serves as the museum cafe. Worked on and completed in the same spirit and speed as Butts of Florence.

Nel 2006, Erik ha trascorso sei mesi a Firenze come uno studente americano all’estero. Otto anni dopo, è tornato per sei settimane per insegnare, imparare, camminare, guardare, pensare, e mangiare. I Dolci degli Amici... è composto da otto disegni ad inchiostro a trasferimento di dolci provenienti da varie caffetterie dei musei fiorentini. Al suo ritorno a Los Angeles, Erik ha voluto completare questo lavoro con rapidità e spontaneità, mandando il poster in stampa prima che le sue ultime punture di zanzare fossero guarite.

A non-ABCEUM edition with altered front and back covers is available for purchase.

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Searing Red Dust (The Vanishing Huy Fong Foods Cookbook), 2014

Unique cookbook of unfixed Inkodye prints within a custom-made clamshell box.

“[Judge Robert] O’Brien acknowledged in his ruling that there was a ‘lack of credible evidence’ that health problems have resulted from the odor, as residents claim, but said that the smell seemed to be ‘extremely annoying, irritating and offensive to the senses warranting consideration as a public nuisance.’”
– “Sriracha plant must cease operations that cause odors, judge rules.”
Frank Shyong, Los Angeles Times, November 26th, 2013.

Realized for LA Heat at the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles, this one-off cookbook contains Sriracha-inspired recipes contributed by Angeleno chefs. The enclosed, looseleaf recipes are printed with a UV light-sensitive ink and left unfixed meaning that every time a reader opened the box to view the recipes, the prints continued to exposed and darken. Readers were encouraged to transcribe or photograph the recipes as they were only viewable for the duration of the exhibition. Over the four-month run of the exhibition half of the pages were stolen and then replaced.

Recipes by...
Matthew Biancaniello, EAT YOUR DRINK
Kuniko Yagi, Hinoki and the Bird
Jack Benchakul, Cognoscenti Coffee
Wes Avila, Guerrilla Tacos
Randy Clemens, The Sriracha Cookbook
Natasha Case & Freya Estreller, Coolhaus

As LA Heat closed after a nationally publicized run, Searing Red Dust… was adapted for the pages (and cover!) of VIA Issue 03. Each recipe was cooked, scanned, and printed life-size for the reader. The following statement concluded the five-page parade of dishes:

Searing Red Dust (The Vanishing Huy Fong Foods Cookbook) is a collection of seven recipes, contributed by local chefs in response to the Huy Fong Foods signature condiment, Sriracha. This project emerges at the tail end of a near yearlong lawsuit filed by the city of Irwindale, California that catapulted, in diverse and unprecedented ways, the condiment into public spotlight.

In October of 2013, the City of Irwindale filed a lawsuit of public nuisance against Huy Fong Foods, Inc., for emitting clouds of “searing red dust” during the peak pepper-grinding season. Local residents reported burning eyes and throats so bad, they had to stay inside their houses. In May of 2014, the lawsuit was dropped. Only recently, after local and county government representatives visited the factory and saw the efforts that CEO and Founder David Tran had made to improve the air filtration system, they felt comfortable moving forward as collaborators rather than adversaries. “We’re almost sorry that this has gone on so long,” Irwindale Mayor Mark Breceda announced on May 27th.

This collection of contact-scan photographs and accompanying cookbook emerge from a collision of global adoration and local aggression surrounding the (in)famous condiment. For many, Sriracha occupies a savored spot on kitchen shelves and cafe tables. It is a valued ingredient used on a range of culturally diverse comfort foods. Over the last year, a Sriracha festival, a nationally reported museum exhibition, and a cable TV special have validated an entrenched fandom and prevelant material culture surrounding the condiment. Though as the lawsuit testifies, such scales of spiciness production are not without physical and psychological antagonisms. I did not appropriate the term “searing red dust” for my project to satirize its use by an Irwindale resident. Rather, this gesture counters the condiment’s symbolic value with a documented sensory assault of spice particles entering in through eyes, mouth and nose.

Using my kitchen and a flatbed scanner-as-camera, I’ve introduced these dishes from a plate’s perspective. Sitting on glass, Kuniko’s soy-braised potato and Wes’s chili negro slump with weight and heft. These images give a form that is both seen and felt to contributions from local chefs that have creatively responded to Sriracha. The sensing body becomes a means to engage with the photographs, an instigator for the project, and most assuredly, a primary component within the Irwindale–Huy Fong Foods, Inc. lawsuit.”

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Slow Smoke, Slow Soap (Pt. 1) w/ Ashley Eden Kessler, 2013–14

Custom scented candles smelling of the kitchen and bi-lingual printed matter.

A scent-forward project in two parts: for Originally from Australia, a two-person exhibition with Jonathan Takahashi (1) and the home space (2). Slow Smoke... emphasized scent and smelling as a primary, intimate and forceful means with which collapse the boundaries between a historic, public cultural place (Olvera St.) and private, domestic culinary place (the kitchen).

…And in that darkened, former storage space adjacent to Mr. Churro, you could stumble in and collide into the thickest wall of molecules emanating gently from three burning, formidably sized, tripe-wicked candles. The viewer, forced to aggressively shift into smell-sensitive, embodied participant.

Project sponsorship by The Institute for Art & Olfaction, Los Angeles; fragrances by Ashley Eden Kessler; translation by Kellie Kemp; risograph printing by Devon Tsuno/Concrete Walls.

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Slow Smoke, Slow Soap (Pt. 2) w/ Ashley Kessler & David Whitaker, 2013-14

Limited edition of twenty trios of custom scented candles poured into hand thrown earthenware vessels.

A scent-forward project in two parts: for Originally from Australia, a two-person exhibition with Jonathan Takahashi (1) and the home space (2).

This edition of Slow Smoke… has been scaled for your domestic space. I’ve poured the fragrances into smaller-scaled vessels and by way of match, you may decide when to ignite, pause, and expire the lives of these artworks. And upon completion, these vessels will beg of you to cycle them into your home for regular use, perhaps as a wine cup, an ice-cream bowl or a dish for your sambal olek.

Upon first burn, leave candle lit until the pool of melted wax roughly matches vessel diameter (at least an hour). If wax remains after candle expiration, throw the vessel into the freezer for a few hours to then easily scrape away the remaining bits. Use soap and water to clean before daily domestic use.

Project sponsorship by The Institute for Art & Olfaction, Los Angeles; fragrances by Ashley Eden Kessler; ceramics by David Whitaker.

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Slow Smoke, Slow Soap (Pt. 3) w/ Ashley Kessler & Janelle DolRayne, 2015

Custom-scented candles poured into unfired clay pinch pots.

For the third and final iteration of Slow Smoke… we made 108 unfired clay pinch pots that became the fragile housings for candles poured with the very last of the fragrance oil. The candles were installed for one week in the tiny loft gallery space at the new Chinatown home of the IAO. I asked my friend and poet, Janelle DolRayne if she would write a trio of poems, one for each fragrance. The poems, handwritten and hand-bound in small books, were read among the strong scents in that sauna of a room.

Project sponsorship by The Institute for Art & Olfaction, Los Angeles; fragrances by Ashley Eden Kessler; poetry and books by Janelle DolRayne.

Avoiding the Seductiveness of Perpetual Bummerness (25 Oct 2013), 2013

Slide-show lecture.

In the spirit of slide lectures by Alfredo Jaar and Steve Lambert, Avoiding the Seductiveness… was framed as the first in an ongoing practice of artist talks.

Dedicated to Diane Meyer, Kyra Pearson and Tony Schwensen.

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Orangeout, 2013

Artist sticker in an edition of 10.

A contribution to John C. Gonzalez’s, artist book and print subscription project, Sticker Book. My sticker forced the subscriber to orangeout an entire page of their publication. From John’s website:

Sticker Book is a 100-page volume of found photographs organized into a limited edition print book including a subscription of 13 limited edition stickers created by affiliated artists from November 2013 - November 2014. I invited a group of artists to create new works for Sticker Book. Each month one artist designs a limited edition sticker and the work is mailed to the owners of Sticker Book. The recipient may then place the sticker on any page within their edition.”

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Just arrived, a traveler bounds without direction, filled with inextinguishable drive and awe, until feet weigh heavy and head and stomach spin for they can't remember the last time they slept, or ate for that matter, and now flung back, near stumbling with exhaustion, with hunger pangs screaming for acknowledgement, the traveler, now lost, finds themselves surrounded by, assaulted by, teased by the discomfort food, and so they must decide to taste, participate, and venture, or anxiously search on for the edible familiar, 2012

Sound, scent, archival inkjet photographs, acrylic paint on wall, wood, hardware, and publications.

A sensorially and sensually immersive installation explores an unresolved narrative about a hungry, tired and lost traveler encountering “discomfort food.” A substantial experimental dissertation containing scholarly text, a cookbook, travel anecdotes, food histories and more was written and self-published, first as a limited-edition artist book and now available in a second, unlimited edition.

Audio sample.

Thesis committee: Barbara Gallucci (sculpture), Tony Schwensen (performance), and Jamie Bissonette (culinary arts). Choreography by Harumi Elders. Performers: Hannah Wendel, Elizabeth Cappabianca, and Ryan Gillis. Vocal score and performance by Nicole Stromsoe. Publication design by Benjamin Critton Art Dept.

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Thirty-five Years a Chorus for the Stuck, Worn, Bound & Broken with Rachel and Alex Raven, 2012 & 2014

Performance and limited edition of 100 audio compact discs.

Thirty-five Years… was performed at Anthony Greaney, Boston MA for Time, Body, Space, Objects 2 curated by Alice Vogler and Vela Phelan on 20 October, 2010. The exhibition date fell within the same month of the end of live broadcasting of NPR's celebrated radio show, "Car Talk." Loosely adopting the format of a language instruction class, a husband and wife pair of singers continually re-performed forty-six call-in, failing car onomatopoeias taken from the final year of broadcasting. A printed matter takeaway listed the phonetic spellings of the sounds with their suggested diagnoses.

A studio recording of the vocal score has since been made available for purchase. It is suggested to the buyer that the score be listened to in its entirety while driving.

Audio sample.

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PRONOUNCED, 2012

Artist book realized for Ed Rucha's seventy-fifth birthday.

PRONOUNCED offered a three-part translation of "number 75s" from various takeout restaurants in the Boston area. Realized for and gifted to Mr. Ed Ruscha as a component of ABCED, on the occasion of his 75th birthday and exhibited in "Ed Ruscha: Books & Co." at Gagosian Gallery, NY and Museum Brandhorst, Munich, Germany. PRONOUNCED was only available for purchase from December '12 to December '13, the 75th year of Ed Ruscha's life.

A bootleg edition is available for download.

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Homesick, 2012

Apartment buzzerer of oiled maple and enamel paint for 143 Park Drive, Boston, MA.

Designed to simultaneously buzz all forty-five apartments at 143 Park Dr., my former residence in Boston of three years. This action was carried out on 24 December, 2012.

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Honey Hunger Pangs, 2012

One-night footnote intervention and graphic redesign of the Dinner and Drink Menu at the Beehive Restaurant, Boston, MA.

The Beehive’s dinner menu was redesigned to include footnotes that poetically outlined an epistemological proposal for the senses and the sensual.

Menu design by Benjamin Critton Art Dept.

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Capital T, 2011

Two-hour long group performance with local aspiring actors at Anthony Greaney Gallery.

Using the format of an acting workshop, we worked and re-worked a two-page excerpt from the Eat, Pray, Love screenplay as a means to explore our frustrations and loves of the tourist.

Performers: Mimi Augustin, Netta Gaye, Ryan Gillis.

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Election Song on Gentle Repeat, 2012

Hand-painted lawn sign for the ’12 US Presidential Election.

Engaging the political by means of never-ending reading loop.

Realized for I Want to Believe 2: Yards Work! curated by Garland Kirkpatrick and held at Bolivar, Santa Monica, CA.

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On November 4th… & On November 6th…, 2008 & 2012

Two artists books.

A two-volume, two-election artist book set transcribing the artist’s Facebook newsfeed of status updates immediately following the predicted victory of Barack Obama’s first and second presidencies.