Meet Erik Benjamins - Choreographer of Language
Last month Erik Benjamins interviewed me as we launch into our new work here at SBC. It’s only fair game to now turn the tables and have you meet Erik. He has those entrepreneurial genes and we are excited to see him create this expanding endeavor to work with companies and owners that seek help in communicating their brand, their company story and more. He has supported our team over the years with the newsletter, announcements and most recently our new website design. He has inspired me to be bold. Enjoy reading about Erik’s perspective on work and life.
SB: Tell us about the “bummerness” thing?
EB: “Avoiding the seductiveness of perpetual bummerness” was first a mantra that emerged during graduate art school. Many of us fell into a commonplace acceptance of unhealthy levels of self-criticality and all-around over-seriousness. I began to carve a space out for myself in which invoking an unapologetic optimism could imbue good questions and better work, ever mindful of the frictions and privileges inherent to an artist’s work. Avoiding the bummerness became a linguistic compass bearing, dipped in Southern Californian slang. It has propelled my work ever since, manifesting as artworks, email signatures, visiting lecture titles, and now a business.
SB: I have heard you say you are a Choreographer of Language – tell me more?
EB: It’s a self-defined term that I’ve been recently exploring to best describe my parallel careers as an artist (who writes) and a writer (who makes art). I was first introduced to choreography during my freshman year of college. Many of my dorm mates were dance majors and during the first performance of the season, I experienced modern dance for the first time. I'll never forget those performances! A decade later, I’ve been thinking a lot about a practice of choreography as a model for other kinds of making. As a choreographer of dance writes for the body in motion, a choreographer of language writes to put text in motion, as it dances on, and breezes off the page. It’s a work-in-progress, but it feels like I’ve arrived at an strong compass bearing.
SB: Where did you learn to write?
EB: I’m self-taught! In college, I double majored in Communication Studies and Studio Art, where long nights in the darkroom were balanced by muscling through thirty-page rhetorical criticisms. When I arrived at grad school, I was thankful to have had the foundation of academic writing and its work ethic, but I was always bothered by the genre's total disinterest in any kind of accessible readability. Contemporary art discourse had its own hifalutin linguistic insularity so I headed in the exact opposite direction, finding inspiration from writing found in pop culture, travel and food narrative, memoir, and poetry. It's been a slow process of borrowing, adapting, and creating to be as weird as possible, while still retaining clarity. It hasn't been the cleanest of journeys, but I wouldn't trade it for anything else.
SB: What did you study in art school?
I arrived as a classically trained, analogue photographer and immediately fell for performance art. The qualities of liveness became—and still remain—foundational to my work. Things like working with a sensitivity to duration, valuing body-to-body empathy, and provoking a sensory spectatorship.
SB: Are you still making art?
EB: Yes! I'm a full-time artist and it's a total marathon. Many of the self-initiated projects featured on my new site come directly from artworks. I've been fortunate to have participated in residencies and exhibitions around the world and am also thankful for my community of artists, here in Los Angeles, that provide some of the strongest inspiration. If you're interested in learning more about my artwork, there's a whole website for that!
SB: Where do you look for inspiration?
EB: As a proud generalist, I've found that my best work comes from disciplinary curveballs and surprise collaborations. I can’t deny that one of the larger, longest-running influences has been at the intersection of food and place. Cooking and eating are as cerebral as they are bodily, and I love this tenuous balance between something so controlled and unexpected. In this spirit, my heroes are Jonathan Gold, Anthony Bourdain, and Gabrielle Hamilton.
Doesn't it get confusing jumping around subjects and genres?
Mexican contemporary artist, Gabriel Orozco once said that he'd rather be a beginner in many things than an expert it one. I love working in this spirit. It forces me to go slow and invoke the enthusiasm and curiosity of beginner-ness. To welcome collaboration and make space to learn from others.
SB: Do you have a dream project?
EB: A cookbook! To work with a chef to help tell their story by way of recipes, histories, anecdotes, and images, all packaged into a gorgeous object that longs to live a long, well-used life. The cookbook-as-model is something sacred. I turn to it in my own work all the time, but that’s another story.
SB: What gives you the greatest satisfaction in working as a copywriter?
EB: Helping people find the words they want to use to communicate their work into the world. I approach each project as a collaborating visitor to provide a fresh perspective on someone’s work and their struggles and joys of communicating what they do.
SB: Do you have any closing thoughts? What should one do if they’re interested in reaching out?
EB: I hear over and over how people are fearful of writing. Or that they lack the confidence to find the words to tell their story. I’m not saying it’s easy (it’s one of the most difficult things for me!), but I think people shouldn’t underestimate their relationship to finding and celebrating their own language. That being said, I’m feel honored to have the ability to help others with this endeavor, to be their guide along an important, and often personal journey.
If you are interested, please don’t hesitate to send me an email! You can learn more about my work at my new website. Each project brings with it entirely new variables and goals, so we can set up a time to talk and figure out how we can get it done together. I’m based in Los Angeles, but am happy to connect, and work, remotely. I look forward to hearing from you!