Kostia Benkovitch – FAD Magazine
We managed to catch up with the artist Kostya Benkovich who is one of the twelve artists participating in the KCAW Public Art Trail.
Can you tell us briefly about your artistic practice?
In my works, I frequently use popular symbols from pop culture. I take an instantly recognizable image and deconstruct it through choice of medium, color, scale and modular construction, which completely alter its context. These reconceptualized images would take on completely new critical, political and desacralized connotations. Freedom and its lack/absence are the major recurring questions in my work. As a medium, I use steel rebar aided by welding and forging techniques. In Russia, steel rebar is a coded medium, strongly associated with the lack of freedom. Different types of bars accompany Russians from birth to death: they can be spotted in many fences, gates, windows, prisons, and even in cemetery fences. Steel reinforcement bars are an unmistakable symbol of aggression.
Is sculpture your main medium or do you work in several mediums?
Yes, you could say that sculpture is my main medium. However, I do not see myself as a classical sculptor, as my work is mostly flat and relies on a graphic method. I mean that my works are a symbiosis between graphics and sculpture. I would define my approach as linearity in space. I studied at the Stieglitz Academy of Art and Design in St. Petersburg, at the Department of Decorative and Monumental Art, and specialized in architectural ironwork. I try to make the most of my skills while working on a project. However, if I see that a different medium may be better suited to the intended message of my artwork, I am happy to use acrylic paints and spray cans on canvas, apply watercolors on paper, or simply switch to format digital. The idea is still of paramount importance, no doubt. However, the artwork only wins if the concept is matched with high quality execution. Ai Weiwei’s works perhaps embody this principle at its best: they carry deep meaning while being carefully and skillfully crafted (and I’m not afraid of that word).
Yes, I’m quite a fan of Ai Weiwei. In 2015, when visiting his exhibition at HAM in Helsinki, I was very impressed by his installations rebar and case (2014) and Trash can (2014). The first artwork referenced the Sichuan earthquake and strongly resembled child-sized coffins, commemorating children who had perished in an earthquake because the steel reinforcement bars of their school were not strong enough to withstand the terrible earthquake (apparently they were of a much lower quality than necessary). Steel rebar should be made of a very strong material that is not meant to break or bend. If that happens, then the world crumbles, both literally and metaphorically. The second facility, Trash can (2014), is inspired by a garbage can and is intended as a tragic commentary on rural poverty in China and the neglected homeless children who sought refuge in a garbage can, only to die of carbon monoxide poisoning trying to light a fire in the hope of warming it up. Each work hit me like a punch in the solar plexus.
What impressed me the most was the way Ai Weiwei married his concept and the quality of execution, the way he combined the relevance of his ideas with the traditional artistic methods, characteristic of the applied arts and decorative. He used wood, porcelain, steel rebar, plastic and other materials, and every minute detail carried a certain message. Everything was in exactly the right place, working to improve the overall impression. Ai Weiwei’s art is extremely well done: the correlation of skill and concept is simply outstanding. It is my ideal. This is exactly the impact, the effect that I seek to achieve in my work.
Among other important masters who influenced my approach, were Jasper Jones, Anish Kapoor, Richard Serra, Dan Colen and Anthony Gormley (I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit him in his studio, it was an unforgettable encounter which I cherish immensely !).
What work are you showing on the KCAW Public Art Trail and where is it?
I participate with my installation The right hand of God (and the bloody flood) which takes place in Napoleon’s historic garden in Holland Park in central London. It presents the right hand of God dominating the rivers of blood. The idea for the work came to me while watching the documentary footage, recounting the most devastating war between Russia and Ukraine. This Hand is the hand of judgment for the perpetrators of evil, and the place of refuge for the innocent, who suffer the greatest injustice caused by this war.
I often approach biblical stories, seeking to bring them closer to our contemporary situation and to give them a relevant interpretation. Visually, the installation deals with the established religious iconography of the Right Hand of God, common to both Late Antiquity Jewish art and Christian iconography from the Late Classic and Early Middle periods. Age. In the Bible, the right hand of God had sacred significance and appeared as a sign of God’s presence, a manifestation of God’s voice, and a symbol of God’s acceptance of a sacrifice. However, I confused the symbols of God’s benevolence and protection with his apocalyptic wrath in one image.
Today, as never before, humanity stands on the brink of World War III, threatening nuclear apocalypse and total self-annihilation. I believe it has become our personal duty to read the warning signs and prevent the approach of catastrophe. And the sculpture is the reminder.
It is the second work of the “Divine interventionsseries exploring the idea of God’s interference in human affairs. The first work was completed in Russia in the summer of 2020, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when the whole world appeared overcome with panic over the unknown and fast-spreading deadly virus.
This work was installed above a railway collector in Bratsk. The dark, gaping space of the collector evoked both a planet and an abyss. The right hand of God in a rubber glove was the epitome of the pandemic and the tribulations it caused.
How do people discover your works and are they informed of your projects?
Like many contemporary artists, I have personal accounts on Facebook and Instagram, where my fans can follow my posts, discover my new works and learn about upcoming projects. I also have my own Wikipedia page.
I became known as an activist artist mainly through social media, and that’s how my projects and installations went viral. Normally, I posted photos of my street “interventions” (i.e. my works) on social networks, then my followers shared them via their networks. Some of these projects eventually reached millions of people. Most of the opposition media (before they were shut down) would also support my actions.
I have been involved in a number of large-scale museum projects and collaborated with leading contemporary art galleries and curators. My works are also found in many museums, private and corporate collections around the world. Speaking of the UK, in 2017-2018 my works were exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery as part of the critically acclaimed exhibition “Art Riot: Post-Soviet Actionism“. However, this is my first time attending an art festival in London and this outdoor installation is my first in the UK.
What are your plans for the rest of 2022?
Well, I have projects in mind. In the fall and winter of 2021, I was busy working on a major project dedicated to American hip-hop stars who died too young and too soon. This project was supported and encouraged by the Bird & Carrot art residency initiative.
Many people have heard of the Club of 27, but I’m exploring a recent new phenomenon, which I tentatively call “20:21”. They are lyrical heroes, turned outcasts and rebels, who rapped their emotionally charged poetry, entrusted love dramas to their listeners and shared their views on important social events, becoming the voice of all a generation. In this project, I comment on the impact of social media, discuss how major fashion brands influence teens, and briefly discuss the causes that led to the emergence of the BLM movement. This project is set to launch in London early this fall, so don’t miss it.
Also, we negotiate with Bird & Carrot on the making of the next work in the “Divine Interventions” series. The sculpture will be called Stairway to Heaven. Like Jacob’s Ladder in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 28:10-22), this staircase connects Heaven and Earth and symbolizes the hope that impending catastrophe will be averted and mankind will recover from the trials of the last years.
I also plan to participate in the Carte Blanche festival, planned in Tel-Aviv this summer. It is a street art festival, so I will have the opportunity to try my hand at making outdoor graphic works and medium-sized murals.
Additionally, with Bird & Carrot, we are planning an installation commemorating the plight of refugees around the world. It is called “Suitcase” and features a lone abandoned suitcase made of steel rebar, a symbol of displacement and homelessness, and an embodiment of the past life that was destroyed by war. According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, 100 million people are now forcibly displaced around the world.
The Right Hand of God, Konstantin Benkovich Napoleon Garden, Holland Park, Kensington, London W8 6LU, UK – August 30, 2022
The project is part of the artistic residency initiative Bird & Carrot. With special thanks to Catherine Loewe, our Art Trail 2022 committee.
- KCAW Art Trail
- Kostia Benkovitch