Jane Benson: The Splits

The Splits is a new collaborative performance project by Jane Benson. The world premiere of The Splits will gather together ten musicians, composer Matt Schickele, and an ensemble cast of rigorously altered instruments for a multi-media event centered on acts of cutting and splicing, regeneration and proliferation.

Benson’s current project begins with the bisecting of various string instruments into two halves, cutting them along their length, creating two separate instruments. The two halves must then be played together to complete a tune and are, thus, for duets (or quartets, octets or dectets) only — pieces which she creates in collaboration with musicians and composers. The act of splitting at once destroys the integrity of the instrument as an object, and disrupts the conventional process of aesthetic creation that the instrument traditionally permits. Splitting is not merely an act of destruction; the newly formed instrument permits the creation not only of new music, but new communities (visual artist, composer, musicians, and audience).

Through a delicate process using precision hand saws Benson has “split” two violins, a viola, cello and double bass: all, cheap, mass-produced string instruments made in China. This choice was made after various discussions with musicians revealed that such objects were not considered to be “real” instruments at all. Cutting into such a “fake” violin, Benson realized, would not only spare the destruction of a beautiful, handcrafted instrument, but would also position the work more firmly within her ongoing conceptual framework, which explores the ambiguous and mutually constitutive intersections between the real and artificial.

In addition to splitting the string instruments she is also making a series of Split Scores(sheet music deconstructed specifically for The Splits). Because each half of the split instruments has only two strings, and therefore plays a limited range of high notes or low notes, the scores for the performances will be deconstructed for each player. For example, the musician playing the half of the instrument with the high strings plays from sheet music with the low notes scored away and vice-versa.

Preceding the opening of The Splits exhibition a free concert using the cleaved instruments is scheduled on February 27. Various duets, octets and dectets will perform an original score by New York composer Matt Schickele. Written specifically for these unique instruments, Schickele’s compositions intertwine rural and metropolitan traditions into a surprisingly accessible wash of strings and a range of unexpected tones best described as “alien folk music.” Relics of the performance, the split instruments, their cases, and bisected sheet music will be exhibited in the Abrons galleries.

Sometimes enraged, sometimes contemplative, Benson’s latest project embraces the impulses and repercussions of fracture with elegance and humor.

Jane Benson is a sculptor and installation artist whose work explores the transition and transformation of both physical materials and aesthetic identity. She was born in England and now lives and works in Brooklyn. She received her BFA from Edinburgh College of Art (1994) and her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1997). She had exhibited in national and international venues including PS1 MoMA; Sculpture Center; Socrates Sculpture Park; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh; and the San Jose Museum of Art. Solo shows include The Mews, at Thierry Goldberg Projects, New York; Chronicles of Narcissism, Black & White Gallery, New York; and Underbush, Roebling Hall, New York. She has been the recipient of numerous awards and residencies including the Pollack-Krasner, the Fulbright Scholarship and the New Views: World Financial Center, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council residency. Her work has been reviewed in The New York Times, Artforum, Art in America, ARTnews, and The New Yorker, among others.

Matt Schickele is a Queens-based composer and songwriter. Matt’s concert music has been performed by the Da Capo Chamber Players, the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, the Woodstock Chamber Orchestra, and the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, among many others. Schickele’s chamber opera, Marymere, had its concert premiere in Jackson, Wyoming, and has since been performed at Flushing Town Hall and the Mannes School of Music. The opera, which juxtaposes classical and folk music, tells the true story of two upper class Easterners who homesteaded in Wyoming at the turn of the last century. He has had residencies at Flushing Town Hall, Swing Space, and recently a concert of his chamber music was presented by the 5ive Boroughs Music Festival. As a songwriter, his numerous releases include The Badger Game, April/November, and Cities Filled With Lights. He also writes for and plays with the M Shanghai String Band, an acoustic old-time-music outfit. He is a graduate of Bard College, where he studied composition with Joan Tower.

The Splits is a sponsored project of Artspire, a Program of New York Foundation for the Arts, and Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. The Splits is made possible by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Swing Space program through a real estate donation from Capstone Equities.