You told me…
4 September - 19 October 2019
You told me
you didn’t know who you are
but I told you
I love who you are
and then you told me
you loved me
so I asked
how you knew you loved me
if you didn’t even know
who you are.
WHATIFTHEWORLD is pleased to present Ben Orkin’s latest ceramic series and his first solo presentation with the gallery. Orkin’s series of large-scale vessels centralises love shared, given, and taken between lovers. Importantly, he reflects on this love from his position as a queer artist.
Orkin’s ceramic objects become emblematic of one body formed between two partners who melt and morph into one another. Within queerness, being attracted to or loving a body that is the same or similar to your own further allows for the proximity of “sameness”. Gender becomes relational and interactive rather than isolating. The “oneness” of these two conjoined parts, and the intimacy of this gesture, is a recurring theme in Orkin’s work. Formally, he plays with symmetry to further explore themes of common purpose; shared sacrifice; dependency; balance; and ultimately falling in and out of sync in all of these aspects of a relationship.
He seems to suggest that there are many ways to be a ‘part’: one can simultaneously be the supporter and the one in need of support. When read as a series, the vessels stand as a community, switching between these roles: of needing to be cared for and of caring, of holding and being held. This reading is further demonstrated by Orkin’s experiences of gay love and of queer community. The ceramic vessels are personified to become empathetic body-objects, who compliment and uphold one another.
However, Orkin also points to the complexities within these personal and shared relationships. In acknowledging the need to be loved in order to better love oneself, he also accounts for the need for one to feel needed, the interconnectedness of these positions and their reliance on one another. Read with a cynical resignation, Orkin’s works could be seen to reflect the commensalism of two organisms living within close proximity to one another, with one part benefitting while the other is neither harmed nor helped.
The difficulty of this dependency is revealed on the surface of these objects. Their glazes vary from uncomfortably sleek to disparate and dislocated — “splodgey” comes to mind. Orkin jumps between a lumpy and awkward finish, perhaps a first date or the initial stages of a romance, to the smoothed out consistency of a well-maintained long-term companionship. The colour blue is used for the complexity of its range; it ebbs between being frighteningly expansive and demanding or consuming of intense emotionality, to soothing and cooling these anxieties.
Text by Lindsey Raymond
Previously working under his chosen name, NEBNIKRO, multi-disciplinary artist Ben Orkin (b.1998) has begun to establish his practice as a sculptor in South Africa. Resulting from the inversion of Orkin’s own name, NEBNIKRO allowed for the fluidity of identity, categorisation, concept, and form. His practice is a means of moving away from expectations derived from traditional thinking and is a step towards defining his own identity.
Orkin is currently completing his BA Fine Arts at Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town, South Africa. His array of media includes photography, bead-work, ceramics, and sculpture. His practice is informed by the human form as it evolves through the experience of both spatial and inter-personal relationships.
In 2018, Orkin won best new talent at the 100% Design fair, South Africa.