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points from five shade clouds (Ivanhoe, Elysian, Upper Stone Canyon, LA Reservoir, Las Virgenes) (2018)
Marissa Lee Benedict
Site-adapted installation (modified zinc-plated security fencing, carbon black HDPE shade balls, molded PET plastic, water)

Installation view, The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, Unthought Environments, curated by Karsten Lund

Interview with Karsten Lund and Giovanni Aloi.

Drawing from an ongoing body of research into water containment infrastructure under developed in places such as California and Israel, points from five shade clouds (Ivanhoe, Elysian, Upper Stone Canyon, LA Reservoir, Las Virgenes) adapts and transmutes key elements of these systems: water; air; and security architectures, pliable (plastic) and rigid (security fencing).

Specifically referencing the 96 million shade balls poured onto five Los Angeles reservoirs in 2015 by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the work situates the elements of air and water – and the materials used to secure and contain them – in spatial relationships that haunt those of the sites and situations from which they sample. Carbon black "shade balls" (inexpensive blow molded hollow plastic balls that are being employed to prevent water evaporation from open reservoirs) float on the floor as they would on the surface of a reservoir. The thin HDPE plastic membrane of the industrially produced balls keeps separate the gallery air from the Chinese air accidentally entrapped within.

Similarly air shaped forms lie on the floor, however these are not blown in a factory. Shaped by high-pressure air, the bulging forms mimic the process of mass-produced water bottles as they are made from blue 3-gallon water bottle PET "preforms" imported from China. They are however made by hand. Filled with a thin layer of water, the distorted bottles become a set of closed condensation chambers.

The tall security fence that cuts across both bottles and balls asserts itself as an encircling device in it's alignment with the gallery walls. Even in its fragmented and precarious situation it stands as a form of power; yet power with questionable viability.

photo credits: Useful Art Services and Karsten Lund.

The Unthought Environments exhibition catalog published an essay by Benedict about the work titled “Water Pressures.” The catalog can be ordered from the Renaissance Society. 

Augur (2014)
Marissa Lee Benedict
4-channel video installation at Chicago Artists Coalition

Presented by Chicago Artists Coalition’s BOLT Residency, Augur is an immersive installation produced by artist Marissa Lee Benedict. An extension of Benedict’s ongoing work with processes of research, collection, extraction, and cultivation, this solo exhibition features a 4-channel video installation depicting Benedict’s repeated attempts to collect a core sample from the arid, clay-hardened surface of Harper Dry Lake located in Hinkley, CA.
Working to cut into the parched ground, to gain a glimpse of what might lie beneath, Benedict’s attempts to gain traction in the harsh landscape via a series of gardening tools (a sledge hammer, a bucket, a shovel, a drill, and a series of pipes) and amateur soil sampling techniques. Histories of white settlement – gestures of knowing and claiming property – haunt the work, from Nauman to the US Public Land Survey System. In the 4-channel video, the 4 attempts (recorded at 4 times of day from dawn to sunset, installed in the 4 cardinal directions) remain opaque – an opacity that refracts attention onto the artist’s gestures, and their relation to the viewer’s presence. The show’s title, Augur, plays between the words "augur" – to portend a good or bad outcome of an event or circumstance, to foresee or predict– and "auger" – a hand tool often used by soil scientists, geologists and glaciologists to bore holes into the earth.

Ion Exchange (2013)
Marissa Lee Benedict
Photo and video documentation (dimensions variable)

Carrying a portable power inverter and copper pipes to Michael Heizer's Double Negative (1969), Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty (1970) and Nancy Holt's Sun Tunnels (1976), an ion exchange with each site was produced via a process of copper electrolysis (a reaction of copper, salt and water in the presence of electricity).

Special thanks to Meghan Moe Beitiks.

The Ion Exchange series was begun while traveling with artists Meghan Moe Beitiks & Lindsey french. More about our collective research can be found here.

Dark Fiber (2014–19)
Marissa Lee Benedict and David Rueter
Single channel video installation
10:00 min looping (variable) 

Video exerpt (2018 version, Venice, IT).

Full video link available on request.

“DRAW. In A Thousand Plateaus, to draw is an act of creation. What is drawn (the Body without Organs, the plane of consistency, a line of flight) does not preexist the act of drawing. The French word tracer captures this better: It has all the graphic connotations of “to draw” in English, but can also mean to blaze a trail or open a road. “To trace” (decalquer), on the other hand, is to copy something from a model.”

Brian Massumi, “Notes on the Translation and Acknowledgements,” A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

Viewers entering our video installation, Dark Fiber (2015-19), are greeted with a flowing montage of the artists digging, burying, pulling, and cutting a fiber-optic cable in the shadows of large-scale infrastructure. Locations such as the US/ Mexico border wall, Chicago-area refineries, and an Antwerp shipping canal segue into urban, then interior spaces, gradually reducing in scale and increasing in strangeness until a tiny specialized machine cuts a single strand of fiber. The exhibition site eventually appears on camera, inviting viewers to literally and uncannily connect the filmic industrial worlds with the installation space. The video, which inaugurated Benedict and Rueter’s collaboration in 2014, has traveled to six exhibitions around the world, including the U.S. Pavilion Transit Screening Lounge for the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale and Contemporary Art Brussels in 2015, with the final scenes of the piece re-shot and edited for each installation.

At the time of the work’s conception (2014) a quick Google image search for the phrase “internet infrastructure” revealed little about the sites, materials, and labor of internet infrastructure. Searches instead retrieved a procession of tangled, blue-tinted node-link diagrams. The results for “cloud computing” were (and still are) even more optically jejune; one could reasonably think that the internet is simply carried along by a combination of blue icons, arrows, and boring magic.

In telecommunications industry jargon “dark fiber” is a term for unused, or “unlit” fiber optic cable. As of 2014, adding a few latent strands to a fiber rollout cost little compared to leasing land, negotiating rights-of-way, digging trenches, and sawing through city streets. Telecom companies frequently opted to overbuild capacity in anticipation of future demand. The demand for this capacity became, in many instances, superfluous with technologic leaps that paced increasing amounts of information into light wave frequencies. The latent, now surplus, cable became a real estate opportunity for a growing number of private companies to lease this unused fiber to create their own exclusive networks. “Dark fiber” commonly refers to these privately lit strands, which operate alongside, but in the shadows of, the public internet. Drawing (or tracing) from this context, questions of property, white settlement, fronterism, innovation, and vernacular material technologies of "progress" freight the video installation. 

The node-link diagram, a mathematical abstraction that is now shorthand for the complexity of networked society, can obscure more than it reveals. Frame-by-frame, Dark Fiber traces a different approach to network representation, suggesting that one might instead draw a single line: one that hops between systems and scales, through vast landscapes, industrial infrastructure, media apparatuses, walls and conduits, lived space, and imagined worlds. The result is not an understanding delivered whole, but a subjective experience, one afforded by walking a path.

Special thanks to:
Meghan Moe Beitiks, Alex Benedict, Lindsey french, CLUI & Matt Coolidge, Pat Elifritz, Jeremiah Jones, Brian Lee, John & Patricia Lee, Adam Mansour, Juan Luis Olvera, Marc & Anne Rueter, Teresa Silva, Andy Tokarski; Ingrid Burrington & Creative Time Reports; Dieter Roelstraete, Abigail Winograd, and Eleonore de Sadeleer.

Installation shots are from EXPO Chicago (September 2015), Dark Fiber at the Chicago Artists' Coalition (March 2015), and the The Works: Artists In and From Chicago at Contemporary Art Brussels (April 2015).

© Marissa Lee Benedict