Make it a point to stop at Leslie-Lohman Museum Museum for Gay and Lesbian Art in SoHo, for Bushwick artist’s Ben Ross Davis’ solo exhibition, Endosymbiosis, through March 24. The exhibition is a survey of Davis’s internal growth as an artist in relation to the external world.
A culmination of sculpture, painting, performance, and illustration, Davis explores the relationship between natural and fabricated, mind and body, “This work explores how the traditional distinction between human, animal, plant, fungus, and machine is a fiction that denies the material and psychic affinities among all four categories in our lives.”
Davis’ draw to art came when he saw Felix-Gonzalez Torres’ Perfect Lovers at a local museum in his hometown of Austin, Texas. Though he’d always loved art, it was then he realized his connection to the medium. “[It was] never a reality for me to make art until I saw it,” Davis said, “It was the first time I saw a piece of work and realized I could communicate in this way too.”
Endosymbiosis is a powerful exhibition in which Davis communicates his continual growth as an artist, as well as the dualities that exist between the human body, the mind, and the contemporary world. Endosymbiosis is a process where one symbiotic organism grows and lives inside the other.
The show is located in the museum’s front gallery space. The floorboards are ripped up revealing raw, concrete floor. From the outside, the space evokes the mood similar to one of a science lab: stark white walls, orderly arrangement of botanical sketches, and hybrid sculptures of Davis’ limbs and a motorcycle engine. However, once immersed in the artwork, the viewer can almost find comfort in the experience.
A series of 48 drawings hang salon-style are diagrams of body movement fused with intricately illustrated plants—reminders of how natural the human body is. According to Davis, the process of making them was just as grounding as experiencing them complete.
“Drawing these was a meditative experience for me,” Davis said. “When I’m making sculptures, it’s messy and chaotic. My drawing table for me is a clean, peaceful space.”
In conversation with these drawings is a video, Funkhaus Berlin Movement Studies, of Davis dancing in an abandoned warehouse room, “I found this place while in Berlin making music. I broke into the room while I was on a smoke break and just thought ‘I have to film in here.’”
Like the illustrations beside it, the video has a primal feel to it. Juxtaposed with the sleek black monitor it’s played on, the video is raw and intense. Davis seems to be completely aware of his body in an untouched space special to him. Davis noted that the process had a similar meditative quality as making his drawings,“I would leave there and almost feel like I left another world.”
Two electric-purple body-machine hybrid sculptures stand in the middle of the room: “The sculptures represent my relationship with my motorcycle. It’s the most consistent relationship I’ve been in the past few years.”
Endosymbiosis, Purple, (Legs and Arms) consists of casts of the artists limbs as well as the engine of his motorcycle, “With these, I really wanted to focus on thinking outside the box of typical gay theory,” Davis explained. Both eery and erotic, Endosymbiosis, Purple, (Legs and Arms) is a reminder of the dangers that come along with intimate relationships, especially in the context of the Leslie-Lohman Museum.
Stacks of books from the artist and his friend’s collections are lined up against the window, acting as Davis’ personal library of inspiration that has fed his practice throughout his life. “Though my work is personal, it’s not just about me.” From graphic novels to artist monographs, the “library” includes books by LGBTQ+ artists from all around the world, “These are the books that inspired me and my friends in their life. Even though they’re not my books, they’re part of other people’s lives who’ve helped me grow.”
The Leslie-Lohman Museum is located in Soho and is the only museum in the world dedicated to art thats speaks to the LGBTQ+ experience. Started by Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman in their SoHo loft, the museum has been collecting and exhibiting the works by queer artists since the 1970s. They also became a safe space for the AIDs pandemic that broke out in the 1980s, salvaging dying artist’s works that would otherwise be destroyed by their families. According to the website, “the Museum hosts six major exhibitions annually, offers several public programs throughout the year, publishes an arts newsletter, and maintains a research library of over 3,000 volumes.”
A recent Pratt graduate, Davis is now living and working in Bushwick. From going back and forth from his studio near the Jefferson stop and his apartment near the M train, Davis is a returning customer to places like Happy Fun Hideaway, Mood Ring, and Sunrise Sunset.
“I like living here because I feel comfortable in most places,” said Davis. “There are so many different lifestyles, backgrounds and walks of life, that everyone in a way respects each other despite potential differences in perceived appearance, sexual identity or sexual preference.”
Cover photo courtesy of author.
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