Chicago

Ben Pranger

Perimeter Gallery

Ben Pranger wistfully transforms found objects with an eye toward making them reveal poetic resonances. He changes contexts, proposes absurd usages, descends to puns, and creates curious conglomerations, all while discovering the frailties of literal meanings and systems. His intervention can at times be both slight and pointedly direct; Traveling Bag, 1992, is just that—a battered and much used small suitcase inside which Pranger secreted a motor and wheels. The flick of a switch sets this suitcase ambling across the floor in a slow and leisurely circle. It just goes and goes and goes. Ladder, 1992, is structured totally out of shoelaces that are tied together, their new function as the component parts of a ladder absurd despite the implied earnestness of the effort. Pranger set this piece on the wall, its sagging verticality making the shoelaces seem even more tendrillike and fragile.

A gentle recycler, Pranger usually provides his raw materials with the conceptual touch that will expand their strata of ideation, which often results in coy applications of some Duchampian strategies. This work is filled with lots of tiny perceptual explosions that can be extremely witty and wise. An old chestnut getting a kinetic update is Fountain, 1993, wherein Pranger conjoins Duchamp’s meditations on another piece of utilitarian ceramicware with Meret Oppenheim’s 1936 Object. Where her teacup was encased in fur, Pranger’s perpetually runneth over with water, connected as it is to a hidden bit of plumbing that keeps this unassuming font ever overflowing, drained through a masked aperture in the saucer.

Several large installations rounded out this exhibition, and further revealed Pranger as a prankster with intimations of method in his madness. Ivory Tower, 1992, is made of wire fencing rising in a slow but tight coil to more than 13 feet, its patient and sinuous passage upward marked by his placement of 80 separate bars of soap. A utopian reading of this serpentine tower is undercut—but then again, perhaps actually extended—by its simultaneous function as an advertisement for a particular brand of very pure soap.

Breaking Even, 1993, is a stupendously inefficient Rube Goldbergian system, designed to transport pennies back and forth in a low-tech circuit of more than 20 feet. Motorized chains and pulleys leisurely send tin cans holding a few coins to and fro in a flawed treadmill, regularly spilling part of their cargo into what becomes a copper cascade onto the floor, all engaged in such a low-tech system that this piece becomes a poetic microcosm of modern financial practice. Pranger’s somewhat askew mode of seeing and thinking continually evokes and provides alternative readings, permitting things to be seen afresh through his system of keen structural dislocations and relocations.

James Yood_