I first saw Benedict Drew’s work in 2012, in Newcastle, as part of a festival of audiovisual art themed around slowness – a rubric that felt at first apt and then, as his work unfolded, something of a misnomer for the 2011 Slade graduate. Drew’s multiroom installation, The Persuaders (2012), led one from eerily cheery anthropomorphic faces, made from protractors and cut-out stars placed on old-school overhead projectors, past lumpen and queasy sculpted figures, the sound of Clangers-ish whistles and synth blurts (pointing up Drew’s substantial background in experimental music; indeed, few artists currently integrate the two worlds so coherently), towards a fiveminute HD instructional video designed to guide breathing.
Beginning fairly dreamily, the film steadily accelerated – intercut with short text injunctions (eg, ‘quit your job and leave the capitol’ [sic], ‘occupy public space’) and gnarly noise with synchronised blasts of urban imagery – until, if you followed its advice, you were hyperventilating.
In the HD video Phrase III (2012) – part of the artist’s tiered Gliss project for London’s Cell Project Space – Drew constructs a miasma of ominous, Hubble-like abstractions in which clay forms are digitally manipulated, finally settling on a recalcitrant lump of clay, animated and intertitled in ways that express a generalised resistance. It’s comic yet fiercely lucid regarding the liminal zone between physicality and the digital, and the domineering instrumentalisation of technology, reality and illusion. These concerns are hardly Drew’s alone, of course; but when he voices them, you’re unusually compelled to stop and listen. Resistance, ironically, is futile.
This article was originally published in the March 2013 issue