EXTRA SAFE BY BEN ORKIN: A SOLO EXHIBITION

CONTEMPORARY SOUTH AFRICAN ARTIST  |  EXHIBITION  |  CLAY

ben-orkin

WHATIFTHEWORLD GALLERY | CAPE TOWN | 23 OCT-27 NOV 2021

BY NATHALIE VIRULY

Extra Safe is a ceramic presentation by Ben Orkin. It is ambitious, delicate, and emotive. One could read it for both its brutally organic architecture, but also as a tender gesture of fear between people. Orkin’s work looks at the interpersonal but also challenges exclusionary hierarchies, community linkages and intergenerational work. Orkin describes Extra Safe as “a barrier” and goes on to explore the consequence of one’s safety mechanisms on another, noting that “only one side builds the wall and the other just looks up at it. Only one side is being protected while the other side is being hurt. Only one side can really be Extra Safe”.

Orkin titles his works “We are Each Other’s Fears”, “What Already Happened Changes How Things Happen Again” and “Please don’t do that Again” to mention a few. This body of work is substantial– for the quantity produced over the last two years but also the scale and complexity of the forms. The forms vary. Some resemble mechanical cogs, sprockets with rounded teeth, layered disks, and stout fingers. There are chains and a spiral slope. Some are contained by their glazes while others are raw and groggy. Bulges and cavities, suggestive of the shapes of sex, create a porous space for the viewer. And while the forms are impressive alone, it’s what Orkin does with the negative space and the millimeters before contact that makes this work so haunting.

He portrays the anticipation or possibility found in air. A longing in the padding between objects. A hope that clay rejoins clay because otherwise the tension remains fearful, and the feared are othered and the other is rendered unsafe. “how to have sex in an epidemic: one approach”, found in the main gallery, has held my attention for this reason, days after viewing this assemblage.

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Ben Orkin | ‘We Are Each Others fears ‘ | 2021 | clay and glaze | ©Hayden Pipps

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Ben Orkin | Extra Safe Installation View | 2021 | WHATIFTHEWORLD Gallery 

Bulges and cavities, suggestive of the shapes of sex, create a porous space for the viewer.

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Ben Orkin | ‘Love Alone / Not Alone’ | 2021 | clay and glaze | ©Hayden Pipps

And there is something else. I’m struck by the size of the group that come to the opening. A controlled stream heads up into the gallery. It is well attended and Orkin is celebrated. But there is an irony or perhaps a pathos in the closeness of the group – the proximity of one pandemic’s attempts at social distancing and a history of entrenched distancing and stigmatization in the HIV epidemic and towards its subjects. These layers of community and coils of clay tell us more about ourselves than perhaps we would like to know.   

 

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Ben Orkin | ‘The Receiver’ | 2021 | clay and glaze | ©Hayden Pipps

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Ben Orkin | ‘The Giver’ | 2021 | clay and glaze | ©Hayden Pipps

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Ben Orkin | ‘Hide Inside’ | 2021 | clay and glaze | ©Hayden Pipps

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Ben Orkin | ‘Extra Safe’ | 2021 | clay and glaze | ©Hayden Pipps

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