Critics’ Picks

Benedict Drew, Heads May Roll, 2014, color video, TK minutes.

Benedict Drew, Heads May Roll, 2014, color video, TK minutes.


Benedict Drew

Matt's Gallery
92 Webster Road
February 19–April 20, 2014

One could write an entire art history on hands. Machinic hands, articulating hands, hands that give life, hands that bring death. From El Lissitzky to Mary Kelly, Artemisia Gentileschi to John Baldessari, the hand mediates the intensive relation between gesture and speech, life and death. Benedict Drew’s latest film, the centerpiece of his current solo show at Matt’s Gallery, is titled Heads May Roll, 2014, and it arrests the hand as a convulsive undead appendage. Severed and digitally rendered, Drew’s hand emanates a mercurial affliction. Tuned to the feedback of decay and malfunction, this writhing object quivers and flits in the digital blips, skips, and echoes of historical calamity.

Drew’s film is propelled by a fictional conceit. A pure present is spelled out on the screen: LET’S IMAGINE / FOR A MOMENT / OUT THERE IS GONE / AND THERE IS ONLY HERE. Jump-cuts contrast crystalline structures with hairy joints and Pepto-Bismol ooze with rough mineral surfaces. Sporadically, Drew jumbles the commands of bureaucratic speech to an accelerated and indistinguishable sound: a sped-up blah, blah, blah. Elsewhere, minerals are steered to a siren’s song. Here and there, nature transits between the infirmary and the morgue, all composed in digitally exacting and ebullient detail.

For Drew, history saturates materials. History pulses through the cracks, pores, and fissures of our fallen world. In Esther Leslie’s Synthetic Worlds: Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry (2005), the London-based theorist meticulously weaves a portrait of our world forged in the furnace of profit and destruction, and underlines a historical relation with materials bred on catastrophe and dispossession. Drew’s Heads May Roll magnifies Leslie’s thesis. His film intuits a future condition of fungible slime, undead objects, and scrambled noise.