A Tableau Vivant
The Antipodes Project
Ben Tolman’s Exquisite Corpse Project
July 29 – August 29, 2016
The Fridge Gallery DC (http://www.thefridgedc.com/)
Opening: Friday, August 29, 6-10 pm
By DAVID MOLESKY, JUL. 2016
The Antipodes Project (2006-2016) is a visionary assemblage of thirty artists from a dozen countries, spanning nearly every continent, curated together by Washington D.C. based artist Ben Tolman. The project includes four large-scale exquisite corpse multi-panel tableaus packed with dense psychedelic ink drawings.
The first drawing was initiated casually in 2006 during a shared mushroom experience between Tolman and artist Lars Peterson. The artists found inspiration in the process of interacting on paper and integrating their penmanship. Tolman and Peterson agreed to reconvene often to collaborate on a large-scale drawing. The result was nine 11x14 inch panels, assembled into one massive drawing called Novus Natura. That same year, Tolman had an idea to initiate similar, even larger drawings (12, 18 and 20 panels), with new artists whose pen and ink work he admired. For the most part, these weren’t artists Tolman knew personally, but whose work he had discovered online.
After accepting Tolman’s invitation to participate, a package would arrive from Tolman containing several panels and a couple of .005 black Micron pens. Also included were simple instructions: “work on it as much or as little as you want and blend your work into the existing work as seamlessly as possible.” The catalyzing content of the package was a text from Aldous Huxley’s Heaven and Hell. This manifesto inducted the receiving artist into the visionary experience required of the project and encouraged them to seek out those “exceedingly improbable” creatures, in the “remoter regions of the mind.” Huxley’s geographical and zoological metaphors “express forcibly the essential otherness” of antipodes, things that inhabit the “mind’s far continents [in] complete autonomy and self-sufficiency.” Through Huxley’s words, Tolman inspired each artist to create “the naked intensity of experiences which have never been verbalized.”
Tolman became the go between, the railway station for panels as they went here or there. He became their consultant, their shrink, he listened to each stroke and called for other makers of marks who could answer in his own visual language. Tolman began to serve also as a gentle editor, who, without being too heavy handed, subtly added edits to smooth out the borders from one set of penmanship to the next. The seamless transitions feel as smooth as if made by the one hand that shifts through various personalities on a psychedelic schizophrenic journey.
Tolman closely studied and documented the various styles of ink drawing, delicately working over the drawings and learning to mimic and gradually morph each style into another. The transitionary drawing ended up being the lion’s share of work for each multi-paneled tableau. And it became an important training ground for Tolman, who reflects, “at times some were really good and I couldn’t do it. This one artist did this stippling, and I tried to do it and couldn’t match it, the dots were so small and close.”
The process in which multiple people work on a single image dates back to the earliest known painting. In the Chauvet caves in France, the images of animals on the cavern walls are the product of thousands of years of accumulated marks. Cave painters from many successive generations preserved the imagery by following the marks of those before them.
While the Chauvet cave paintings relied on the dedication of many hands over many generations, The Antipode Project relies on Tolman’s personal selection of an artistic line-up. For example, for the drawing A Transitional Moment, which has a cartoony Neo-Bosch quality, Tolman assigned specific artists whose work matched the tone and direction of the piece. Similarly, for all the drawings, he visualized how varied artistic approaches could merge into a unified experience. Each artist contribution left a tendril end that reaches out into the void.
As the project gained momentum, Tolman created a website to post updates as the panels became more densely rendered. New artists discovered this site and contacted Tolman eager to be involved. Noticing that a community was beginning to grow, Tolman also set up a Facebook group page where collaborating artists could post their own before-and-after shots as well as share other inspiring information, including images of personal projects.
The project meandered like this for 5 years as Tolman’s side hobby. And at one point, he got frustrated. He felt the project was taking up too much time and he nearly gave up, placing all of the panels into his flat-files. There were about four artists who refused to send back panels in the prepaid postage envelops provided by Tolman. In addition to that, a few of the panels were lost in the mail, which were started anew, rather than recreated. While the project teetered on permanent hibernation, one of the collaborating artists, Joe MacGown, refused to let Tolman give up. He sent MacGown the largest of the drawings, The Antipodes, which was at the time about 75% finished. MacGown’s incredible contribution completely reinvigorate the project. Tolman said, “he finished it cool as shit, so I got the rest out.”
Tolman concludes it was a “fun as shit project. Ten years! It was rare that I had someone send me back something stupid, everyone really put effort into their drawings. And having to figure out how to link them all up together was a really fun thing to do, like a puzzle.” WM
Huxley, Aldous. Heaven and Hell. New York: Harper, 1956. Print.
"Conversation with Ben Tolman." Personal interview. 25 May 2016.
"Phone Conversation with Ben Tolman." Telephone interview. 26 June 2016.
David Molesky (b.1977) is a Manhattan based painter, writer and curator. Molesky received his BA from UC Berkeley in 1999. His representational paintings of humans and environments have been featured in many museum exhibitions including: the Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland; Pasinger Fabrik, Germany; Casa Dell’Architettura, Italy; and Telemarksgaleriet, Norway. Molesky’s paintings are in the permanent collection of the Long Beach Museum of Art among other museum collections on both coasts and in Europe and Asia. He is the recipient of artist residencies through the Morris Graves Foundation, California; Fine Art Base, California; and the Fundacja Nakielska, Poland. Many publications have featured Molesky and his work including, to name a few: LA Times,The Washington Post, OC Weekly, New American Painting, and Hi- Fructose. Molesky contributes regularly as a writer to Juxtapoz magazine, and has written for other art publications in Europe.view all articles from this author