Based in Grand Rapids, MI, Ben Pederson is a multi-media artist whose work includes, but is not limited to, sculpture, sound installation and video. Pederson’s videos exemplify the concerns that run throughout all of his work. Issues of identity, transformation, media and humor are dealt with in a patently surreal manner.
The complexity of Pederson’s video work is often located in their humorous aspect. The videos employ humor to indicate the pain and sorrow from which it is often born. There is an aggressive edge and a dark tone to even the funniest moments of Pederson’s videos. The videos are ironic without being cynical, humorous while far from being jokes.
Bruce Nauman’s 1987 “Clown Torture” video provides a comfortable context for Pederson’s videos. In Nauman’s work, as in Pederson’s, humor and video itself are referents, ideas by which identity and performance relate. Pederson often appears in his videos in thin guises performing in an absurd way. In such work it is suggested that the self is a mediated entity, a product of high and low culture. Identity is formed, and transformed, through the performance of adapted routines.
Pederson employs a garish aesthetic and a discordant conflation of media to a disorienting effect. Images and scenes drawn from a broad scope of mainstream, mass media collide with no evident formal or conceptual link. Given this technique, one of the great feats of Pederson’s videos is that they do not seem random or arbitrary, but instead well orchestrated to create a unique and immediately felt sensation in the viewer. A poetic sense of rhythm provides cohesion and movement in the videos, which often end in a very different place than they begin. As in the most effective works of surrealism, Pederson creates space in his videos where expectations are subverted, new associations and new intellectual territories are discovered.
While avoiding sentimentality, Pederson is able to expresses genuine affection for the subjects that are manipulated and distorted in his videos. Likewise he avoids cynicism as he deftly maneuvers through the glut of mainstream culture to create works that are at times as dark as the corners of the subconscious. Sitcoms, pop stars and highbrow concepts, blended in Pederson’s videos, create disorienting, conflicting emotions that speak more accurately to the human experience than any one of them on their own.
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