Immortal Hang-ups

Aviv Benn 

June 25–October 5, 2020
Viewable by appointment
Extase is pleased to present “Immortal Hang-ups,” a solo exhibition of new paintings and works on paper by Chicago-based artist Aviv Benn. A portion of sales proceeds will be donated to Black Lives Matter Chicago and Assata’s Daughters, also based in Chicago. Please find further details regarding these organizations at the conclusion of this exhibition text.

Benn’s paintings and works on paper in “Immortal Hang-ups” depict a recurrent form that has been echoed in past series - an animated, colorful, ghost-like figure. The expressive figures  in the paintings are ghostly in that they float; they are also ephemeral and elusive. Rather than possessing physical bodies, they serve as vessels for viewers to project their emotions. These genderless, dreamlike creatures emanate a range of moods and emotions. In particular, the viewer can experience the differing visages with the installation of 46 works on paper.

Art historian and professor of Art History at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Lisa Wainwright has reflected on Benn’s desire to install her work in a quilted fashion, as is the case with the works on paper. On Benn’s 2019 solo exhibition at RawArt Gallery in Tel Aviv, where paintings were mounted similarly, Wainwright stated: “The stacking here recalls Benn’s common installation practice of hanging individual objects in close adjacency as an extended patchwork of oddly complimentary forms and hues. The synergy of her images in such an arrangement proving darkly entrancing.” The figures appear lonely and isolated,  longing for connection. The repetitive, off-kilter gridded installation with drawings hung closely together could be construed as providing this. In some of these mixed media pieces, the figure is menacingly smiling or is displaying an anxious or shocked countenance; in others its limbs are raised above its head as if surrendering. Each figure is confined to its own space on the paper, and yet when installed together new relationships unfold. They become a crowd, and the detached gestures of each figure transform into narratives between the emotive creatures. 

Other recurring symbols in Benn’s work include cartoon-like flowers, sparkling stars, polka dots, tear and rain drops, and lines blasting out from around the creature as if surrounded by light or electricity. These decorative symbols and colorful ornaments float in painterly limbo and adorn the figures’ bodies as they dissolve into their surroundings. This subsequently challenges the traditional figure-ground relationship and creates a sense of disarray and turmoil. Oftentimes the ghost-like figure’s eyes look widened and fearful, its fingers hovering over its mouth as if about to nibble their nails. The smiling creatures lure the viewers in with their welcoming grin. However, a closer glance reveals the smile to be ironic and contrived, employed to offset the subject’s existential angst.

The three mid-sized wood panel paintings from the series Bad Poetry are distinct from the works on paper. They possess alarmingly bright and saturated colors and feature figures who occupy the entire painterly space. The figures are almost obliged to contort their bodies and overlap their limbs in order to fit their stocky bodies in their compact spaces.

The swirling yellow line that entangles the red hand and creeps up into the background onto the side of the wood panel in Bad Poetry Part 2 (2020) is crisp like the scales of a slithering snake, echoing a sense of potential danger. The wood panel is flecked with colors that connote rainbow confetti and in this sense the painting feels initially celebratory. However, this cheerful observation becomes unsustainable as the viewer delves more deeply into the painting. The ghost-like figure’s levitating body and single hand outstretched as if blocking something make the painting contain some of the same discomfort or uneasiness as the others. Fuzzy spray paint orbs populate Bad Poetry Part 2 as vertical pillars in the background dissect the piece into sections. 

Other paintings in the exhibition, such as For the Loss of Remain Come and Start (2020), evoke Gustav Klimt’s shimmering patchwork style of layering paint. The creature’s form in this piece is less of a body, making the painting more abstracted. Stars and moons pulsate against a fluorescent yellow backdrop as the figure morphs to become one with the universe. 

Hopeless Charmer (2020) is the largest painting in the exhibition, its ghost-form perhaps the most unique, with its limbs outstretched to take up the whole of the canvas. This character dons an almost sinister smile. The background of the painting is reminiscent of a galactic setting, with tiny glimmering particles sprinkled throughout. The dancing swirly forms present in Bad Poetry Part 2 make an appearance again in this piece, also constricting the left arm of the figure. These organic forms that conjure images of a DNA helix can be thought of as a force that bonds the figure. The piece possesses duality, with night being represented on the right side of the canvas with a dark background and fading moon, and day existing on the left side with a rising sun and blue sky. The painting probes the viewer to consider the struggle of balancing opposite forces, and one’s need to control and tame the darkness and lightness within. 

“Immortal Hang-ups” serves as a haven for viewers to process and ruminate on this socially and politically unparalleled moment in history. The restlessness of the works on paper installation and the distressed yet humorous figures of the paintings reflect the viewers’ anxiety through a funhouse mirror-like effect. This allows them to become friendlier with their own demons and fears as they ponder what the future holds.

Aviv Benn (b. 1988 Tel-Aviv) lives and works in Chicago, IL. Benn completed her MFA in Painting and Drawing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018. She holds a BFA from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in  Jerusalem (2013). Benn had solo exhibitions at Art Von Frei Gallery (Berlin), RawArt Gallery (Tel Aviv), and Devening Projects (Chicago).  Her work has been exhibited in group exhibitions in Chicago, New-York, Germany and Tel-Aviv. Benn participated in artist residencies such as Affect in Berlin (2014), PILOTENKUECHE International Artist Residency, Spinnerei, in Leipzig, Germany (2015), and the Vermont Studio Center Artist Residency (2019). She received the Rabinovich Foundation Grant in 2015 and 2019, and the Graduate Dean Professional Development Award from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2017 and 2018. Her work has been written about in New American Paintings, ArtMaze Magazine, Artnet, The Art Newspaper, Ha’aretz Daily Newspaper, among others.

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​Black Lives Matter Chicago, as seen on their website: “Black Lives Matter Chicago is an intersectional vehicle that values Black people and our right to self-determination. We fight for justice with families most impacted, while working to create just and equitable systems. We work to end state violence and criminalization of Black communities by deconstructing white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy. We are 100% volunteer run.”


Assata’s Daughters, as seen on Block Club Chicago: “Based in Washington Park, Assata’s Daughters was founded to address the gap in programming that builds power and influence among young Black women, femmes and gender non-conforming people. A core mission for the group is the abolition of prisons, police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and anti-Blackness. Their organizing is informed by Black feminism, and their programs focus on political education, leadership development. Responding to the COVID-19 crisis and the protests following the murder of George Floyd, Assata’s Daughters has been coordinating supply drives, and check-ins with community members. They’ve been campaigning to keep police officers out of schools and to end the school-to-prison pipeline. They’ve adapted their political education programs to analyze the systems of power that create disparities in the impacts of COVID-19.

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