THE ROOM OF MARIO BENJAMIN
Editors Jean Loup Pivin, Joël Andrianomearisoa, Pascal Martin Saint Leon
(Extract of the 30 first pages of the book / 192 pages)
Monography of the artist Mario Benjamin (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
Texts by Jean Loup Pivin, Pascal Martin Saint Leon, Simon Njami, bilingual English/French
Hardcover book 27x21 cm, 192 color pages
115 color photographs of his studio (36 photos) and works (79 photos) by Roberto Stephenson, Victor Pétion, David Damoison, Marc Steed
ISBN EAN 978-2-84105-297-4 paper version only 39 €
THE MARIO'S ROOMS
While metaphors may give an image to a way of thinking, an approach, they are not an end in themselves and have their own limitations. "Mario Benjamin’s room" is a metaphor allowing us to get as close as possible to his work. Yet here, in the unfolding world of his room photographed by Roberto Stephenson, we see that that it is no metaphor. At the core of his work, at the core of his desire as he likes to say, is this single bed of his childhood, which can be occupied only by bodies lying one on top of the other; here is the core of his life, sometimes sleepless now, empty when he is absent, hospitalized or rushing around the world.
We can see Haiti as a larger version of Mario Benjamin’s room; yet there is no dichotomy with his country as it exists – its people, expressions and talents, in all likelihood very different from those noted by Malraux, Breton and many other admirers of the vitality of popular art, who often reduce Haitian work to its "naïve" aspect.
Mario Benjamin is an artist of his time who also makes installations. Or rather, painting and installations. For it is his painting that attracts attention today in a context where the artist’s hand has become a rarity in the western art world.
Opening the doors to Mario Benjamin’s rooms sometimes means standing on the threshold and looking in through the half open door, it often means stepping inside, sometime losing oneself. A metaphor exists only to avoid words without space, words without their poetry. Such is the room of imprisonment that is never locked, the room of love that is always open.
Mario Benjamin confronted by himself.
Night is not so dark between two rays of sunlight
by Jean Loup Pivin
Night is not so dark between two rays of sunlight that dazzle your retinas. Screams not of pain but of power — probably those of an ogre traced on childhood pages.
I’m not afraid, despite the monstrous terror of the mirror’s reflection.
Then tiredness, into which you can only sink, powerless.
Far into the night — deepest night, they say. Night has depth, unlike day, whose depths would be night. I pause at the image words, whose lines adopt shapes. The colours obey different volcanoes — extinct, glacial or fiery — that sear your veins.
Why painting ? The canvas twists on a poor stretcher of rough wood. The painting, its subject, seems to defy the tension of the canvas, or perhaps the canvas itself. Usually a painted canvas is destined to relax, crumple, then slide into a heap at the foot of its stretcher turned to sawdust and destroy itself. Not here. Mario Benjamin’s canvas stays taut, probably to the point of tearing, or destroying the stretcher in a combat in which the painted figure plays an active part.
It’s not so simple being an image painted by human hand in the early 21st century, even if contemporaries such as Lucian Freud, Anselm Kiefer, Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter and Georg Baselitz are there, aging but determined, as counter-examples.
Do we have to justify the artist’s hand that creates the line and the thickness of the paint, crushes the colours, casts and caresses them — sterile, impotent, fertile, a spoonful of sperm, warm or dried, thrown out into the universe ?
Contemporary painting has become difficult, when it is not that of a madman who understands nothing of the times and society. It has become so amusing to take a simple idea, sometimes the technical outline of an installation, and impress viewers with the disproportionate size, multiplication, misuse or juxtaposition of an everyday object, these days made by some mechanical, virtual or human assistant. The art of today seeks to question our societies with installations that "question" the present rather than eternity, immobility.
When Mario Benjamin makes installations, he presents them as a recreation of creation, less disturbing than the act of painting, particularly when he brings the popular artists of Grand Rue with him. This is not so much a challenge to social reality as a staging of a different relationship to reality, whether magical — not necessarily inspired by vodou — or poetic, as in the Botanique in Brussels, even if he combines it with terrifying city noise to evoke the brutality of life.
But painting… the painting that so consumes him, that so devours Mario Benjamin, this grimacing painting that he describes as pain — where is its real place ? Particularly if we do not try to compare it to others, even others that he loves and have played a role in his life. The blood that flows on blank canvases has nourished centuries of images the world over, and still today seems inexhaustible, irreplaceable. The painting that alone gives masks their life and meaning in that Africa so foreign to Mario, that has generated so much fervour and understanding of society and the existence of each individual down the millennia in caves, shrines and palaces, this painting still exists. It is precisely this timeless inscription of the figure and its abstraction that Mario Benjamin expresses.
Yes, words say nothing but themselves and, when they create figures, it is always through reference to other figures. To say that Mario Benjamin’s work relates to that of both Francis Bacon and Hans Hartung adds absolutely nothing to his work, which entirely escapes such description, despite the "nobility" of its references. Except that the physical act is quick and present. And the hand, the hand that haunts me with its presence and saddens me when it isn’t there.
The "real" images of photos, reproductions of reality, symbols impossible to understand, already exist in their numberless billions, so why make more, no doubt invisible to posterity ? The first reason is that novelty is not the point. This is not about making a break, or the social fabrication of genius, but a different kind of process that has prevailed in the fabrication of forms at all times and in all civilizations : the sharing of a grasp, an apprehension, a notation to be understood in a glance, and participation in a ritual. Whether it is or is not sacred, magical or spiritual, in every case it has meaning. The images, figures, symbols, signs, words, songs, poses, dances and whatever else are there to say the unsayable of those meanings, to figure the unfigurable, to awaken reason or put it to sleep, to deepen, invoke or counter meanings, to address the belly, the genitals, the head, with its brain, eyes and ears and also its mouth, which takes in both hell and paradise.
Directly linked to the Magdalenian hand that drew images, artfully, or clumsily, in the depths of caves, probably in a moment shared with others. Like a mass said prostrate or standing, or a dance in a hypnotic night club where the talented and gawky rub shoulders. A bit like Mario Benjamin describing his meeting with Haitian vodou, which was not part of his upbringing and into which he has not been initiated, when he says that for a while he was Baron-Samedi.
We have all had and have an idea of what binds or unbinds people or a society, an idea of life and death, whether seen as individual, utopianly stripped of all that is received or, on the contrary, clearly integrated into a system of thought or religion. When you make a child destined to remain always unique, it is not a revolutionary act or a break with the past, it is an act of participation in a society, an act vital to your own survival, the reach of your own individuality. It seems likely that painting today is not a way of trying to enter the history of western art, which is now undoubtedly receptive to contemporary art from the whole world, but bases its selection criteria on the methods of the moment leaving little room for the work of the hand, the body, unaccompanied by an explicit thought.
Yes, going on asking the same questions, whatever the threshold of life. I love. I’m in love. Violently, tenderly.
These images are not manufactured. They are full of breath and emotion — a thrilling ride on a merry-go-round, a dive into cold, violent waves, into a warm, calm sea, into the rush of a constant wind. And close your eyes.
Extract of 30 first pages of the bbok / 192 pages