Benjamin A. H. Harpsøe: On technology and spirituality
Benjamin A. H. Harpsøe
b. 1986 Christiania, Copenhagen, Denmark
2006-2010 Graphic technician (screenprinting) degree from Copenhagen Technical Academy
2016 BA Fine Arts, KABK Den Haag
His work focuses on the connections and between spirituality and technology and the roles they play in contemporary society.
Cybil Scott- Tell me about your work for your recent graduation show.
Benjamin Harpsøe – The recent work at graduation was about the relationship between spirituality and technology. They are often considered to be opposite, but I find them similar because they fill a lot of the same spaces as a way to socially educate a populus. If you take shamanism, which is what I wrote my thesis on, when you commit transgressions about the religious rules put forth by the shaman or the shamanistic society, it has a direct effect on your tribe’s health, say whether you can for example, catch any fish. And then if you take the digital space and social media and commit a transgression against the rules there, you’re also penalized and you lose your position in the attention economy. In both instances there’s a subconscious education of the individual that goes on. I feel like they overlap a lot more than people give it credit for.
So the show at the KABK consisted of several different works. ‘Synergy’ was a video of me playing a prayer bowl from Nepal next to an iphone playing the sound of an old modem connecting to the internet. They harmonize really well together!
‘Confluence’ was a shaman’s drum suspended off the wall and I made a motor with an automated drumstick that would tap it every 7.5 seconds so it would have this repetitive monotonous beat. The drumstick was on these two poles on a big hill of clay with some incense stuck in it, so it was like an animist altar, along with a little mask made in plaster. My premise being that the drum was, at some point in our evolution, the pinnacle of technology because we used it both to induce these altered states of consciousness but also because we used it to record our shared history. Medicine men and shamans would use this kind drum to access altered states of consciousness. The drum was something we used to record our history, and during healing ceremonies. Before we were a literary species we used the drum and gathered around in a circle to sing and storytell in a way to record our shared past.
Another work, ‘The Meeting Point of Two Bodies of Water’ was the totemic ram’s head structure on top of an outlet. There were several ‘healing’ massage devices connected to it, and they moved around on the ground when they vibrated. The massage devices were all second-hand so they had already had an intimate healing relationship with someone, which was either successful or not because of course they were discarded at some point. Either they fulfilled their goal and healed a person, or they didn’t work and were gotten rid of. That’s how I feel about them at least. They were all a different make, so they really had their own temperament. They were on timers to go off once an hour, so they would turn on and make a lot of noise in the space and move around on the floor and they vibrated at different strengths so they seemed sentient or like they had their own personalities, which I thought was interesting. I talked before about an animist altar, but I felt like there was a little bit of soulpower in these pieces of technology that would never be considered spiritual in any sense.
I added the ram’s head because it was associated as a symbol of paganism and nature gods, but it was appropriated by the Christian church and used as the opposite; a depiction of the devil as propaganda against the pagans. And now that I’m dealing with technology and spirituality and these things that are typically opposite, you could consider the Christian church and paganism as the same kind of binary opposites, you can only pick one to believe in, they don’t accept both. So I took it as a symbol to unify these things again.
It also had this frame with all these wires coming out it of so for me it also related to the mayflower pole that you dance around in Sweden when “the sky has sex with the earth and creates a good harvest” There’s a lot of these clear symbolisms, but they aren’t hitting you over the head or anything. I’ve taken them from different religious practices. In addition to the rotating crystals I’ve vaccuum sealed there’s also a big crystal next to another outlet that divides out to two massagers and a little fan. At this power point I put a big crystal as well on the ground, where two different kinds of ‘energy or power’ that are potentially meeting in this spot. I might be wrong, but we might not know how to observe these energies yet.
The hand in the installation was my hand that I painstakingly digitally scanned. It’s 3d printed in color because it photographed my hand at the same time, so it has all my details like the hair and the scars and tattoos that were digitalized then printed in life size. It’s so much my hand that it’s crazy and really disassociating. All of a sudden I had this body part that was very obviously mine; it has all the same values and pillows in my hand. It took so long to make it; nine hours to scan it, and then it printed overnight, and then I had to pour glue over the plaster material to get the right color and make it strong, so all in all it took like twenty-four hours to make. I put so much work in it, it became a piece of me and it is me. There’s so much animism in that, I think it’s very magical. Arthur C. Clarke said for one of his three laws that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I believe that.
British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke formulated three prediction-related adages that are known as Clarke’s three laws:
- When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
- The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
CS- What does spirituality mean to you?
BH- That´s very vaguely defined still. It has something to do with the soul and healing and the belief in something higher that isn’t pragmatic for daily life. I’ve always considered myself to be quite a product of my upbringing with technology and perhaps especially the internet. I’m a male from western Europe, I just turned 30, so I’ve never considered myself to be a spiritual person, but I have a lot of respect for it. The place that I come from back home, Christiania, (Denmark) is this hippie village started in ‘71 and there’s always a lot of alternative healing and alternative spirituality going on. It’s also been a way to kind of merge what I feel like I know about the internet with a more anthropologically-based research about the stuff I don’t know that well but find fascinating, and then try to see how these things work together.
CS- What’s next for you?
BH- The plan for the next year is moving back to Copenhagen in Denmark, and revitalizing some connections. I got shortlisted for Best of Europe at Prague Contemporary Museum of Art and invited to Best of Graduates 2016 . I got selected by the curator, who was here for the KABK grad show. I’ll be doing shome shows, as well as organizing some myself, and making new work. It’s been 4 years of school right so it’s time to try something new. I’m going to split my time between Denmark and the Netherlands I think the plan for the next year is to try to produce work independently and see what happens there.It’s going to be nice to go home to my family and girlfriend and to see my friends, but it’s something different to be there and it’s been neglected a little just to focus on the art career, and those two things don’t have to be opposites. I can make some stuff with friends or try to get some movements going, I think it’s going to be interesting,
Also I want to bring some of the ways of doing things here back home, because I have a bit of a bias that the farther away from central Europe you go, (and of course there’s different art markets and environments), it seems the more the commercial side of the art has to be sustained. It was shocking to see in Stockholm that in so many shows there were big clean white spaces filled with black work; it wasn’t just one show, it was nearly all the shows I saw in a year. They all looked great, but that was what they did. Black work in white spaces always looks good, but it was so heavy on the aesthetic and commercial aspect. You didn’t get a lot of thorough investigation or feel anything, because the places have to sustain themselves by selling the work. And there’s not as many artist run spaces, I feel like it’s similar in Copenhagen too, but this is all my opinion. A lot of artists live off of editions or prints, or use that to sponsor their other work. I mean, I also want to sell my work, but I’ve always looked at my work in the context of an open collection that people can go see, because it’s about social issues or it relates to how we as a people interact with the world and it’s important for people to see that. I try to raise some questions with this idea of technology and spirituality and how these two opposites interact. What are the positives of the juxtaposition? I think the discussion produces something of value. Instead of being afraid of change like a lot of commercial things are and selling objects meant for above your couch, and all respect to those people, but it’s a shame to hide away work that is relevant to society.
For more videos and images of Benjamin’s work, visit his website here.