by Anna Stahn
by John Bensons
Exhibition text by Nanna Friis
[The morning is yellow but colder than summer. A lump in my armpit of sensational soreness and magnitude is redder than actual danger. Clay faces are less revealing than drawn faces and a stove is a more theatrical sculpture display than a shelf is. Anna and John sit on a chair each, and one chair between them is falling apart, it’s probably not a chair anymore since you can’t sit on it]
I saw a Germaine Richier exhibition in Paris once, she was a student of Rodin who died very young, and who made all these big bronzes and sculptures. There was one room with all her little sketches displayed as a kind of information room, it was my favourite part of the exhibition. Mini works in clay and plaster of Paris and bronze, they were lit on red shelves, it looked like a doll theatre.
[A place of fiction. Smaller dramas but not necessarily less dramatic]
Metropolina, I’ve had this word in the back of my head until now. It was the title of a short story I once wrote about being on the metro in another country and meeting two people who are exactly like your parents, falling in love with them, and realising that they're really unstable and scary people.
[Some/no fictions are shorter than others, some hotels are better than others. Rose Hotel sounds too good to be true]
I looked up Rose Hotel and there are a million, but I never went to any of them. I just thought it sounds evocative. It could be a perfume.
[An amplifier of romance: scented liquid for alluring]
I think painting is very romantic, even a little nostalgic. I think it's nostalgic to be a painter. That's why I asked John if he wanted to do a show, because I wanted some of that romanticism.
[Which is more romantic. A painting or a perfume. Which is more artificial]
Being a painter is a bit of a fantasy. I don't think I would ever call myself a painter because I'm not a craftsman, so it's all a bit ersatz, like a set design. The paintings are props. Maybe it's just another way of describing nostalgia. I read a line in Jane Bowles the other day that says
“a story about happiness must not be about what actually happens”
[But are there such a thing as a false memory]
We talked about seeing things in a rose-coloured light, and we laughed a lot about it. John was talking about having fake flowers and paintings that were like wallpaper in a fancy hotel. But some of the roses you draw, they come from cheap napkins. They’re just scenery.
[It should be possible to glimpse a line, or plenty, between a certain amount of downfall and the nauseatingly adorable flower-thickness that is postcard Britain. Fake roses don’t wither]
I'm really into death and decay, and this sort of image of Britain is a dead image. So, there’s something melancholic about all these pictures of country houses and flowers, it’s like the shimmer on a dead fish. At the same time, I have a love-hate relationship with that stuff because it does make me feel desire and so on. I do love looking at expensive wallpapers, just like anybody else. It's a kind of escapism, a little world you would like to live in, but it's not real.
[Could oozing romance be its own fraud. Could eternity-pink roses and glazed clay]
I make a lot of sculptures and I like ceramics, it's a material that fits nicely with my tempo and it relates to how I draw, but I also have a big aversion to it. If you glaze it, it becomes too much like a commodity, like a dessert. I don't know what it means that I enjoy making ceramics and at the same time I despise it. It has to be done, and I care deeply for it.
It's another kind of romanticism.
[Two people having known each other for almost two decades. Talking to each other, seeing each other. Listening, zooming in]
I met Anna when she was 14. I wanted to make a magazine where I would interview young people. Like Interview magazine, but basically everyone's under 16. Anna’s was the first interview, and it was really great. I love reading Q&A’s, but I’m going to have a heart attack at the idea of answering one.
[Every answer is an exposure. Unless you’re lying, then an answer is probably closer to fiction]
Even though my works here are very personal, they’re made as a kind of response to the conversations we’ve had together. There’s sometimes a bit of a lie about how artworks are made, that they come from this divine inner sphere, totally isolated and personal. Knowing we were going to make this show together, I wasn’t only making the works for myself. I was thinking about how our two voices might respond to each other.
I was definitely making work with Anna in mind. Anna was my audience for this show, in a way.
[Approaching spectators with the quite unambiguous desire to show them something lovely]
I'm obsessed with works that are beautiful or interesting visually, but for this show I wanted to make works that feel more like sketches. Present them as a tableau. These figures have no faces, they're just walking past each other. More anonymous and less precious, more like a crowd. This one here is a nun and this is a woman with a cat, this is a gallerist, this is someone humiliated. Maybe it looks more chaotic because it comes from a more chaotic and sadder place. People being alone in the field. There are also some scary drawings..
[Sometimes tears are scarier than honesty]
People crying in the bakery.
A But maybe it's visible, maybe not.
[Traces of tristesse and of death and of decay but as any true costume it looks like something else]
J It looks like a wedding cake.
[Anna and John wanted to make things that could live in the same fictional universe or in the same city