Ben Britton
Category - Interview
Written by Mary Reilly
Editor: Kellie A. Hanna

Electronic artist Benjamin Britton uses technology as the principle tool in his work, which has received international media attention from The Los Angeles Times, NPR, CNN and BBC Television.

One of his projects, a virtual reality Cave of Lascaux (the site in southern France where prehistoric humans carvedand painted depictions of their world), allowed audiences around the world to "spelunk" these now off-limits caverns. His most recent project is Moon, a Web-based, virtual reality work that recreates and reinterprets the first lunar landing. With a keystroke, Moon users are able to play the roles of Neil Armstrong or fellow astronaut Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin during their capsule landing or during their first moon walk.

Mary: Who/What inspires you?
Ben: My mother's creative drive and my belief that if we work to make good things happen, good things will happen. My mother is a textile artist. I saw how she increased understanding among people. People would engaged her in conversation about her work, asking what it meant, raising issues and ideas. She and her work connected people.

Mary: What's the most rewarding aspect of your work?
Ben: Like I always saw happen with my mom -- just people talking to me about it, experiencing interpersonal relationships, having the time and space to talk about how people are in the real world, in the ideal world, and how we will be in the future. My greatest joy is insightful criticism. It's gratifying after all these years to still be making art and to know that some people think it matters.

Mary: What has your work taught you?
Ben: It's like tennis for me, it teaches me discipline. It teaches me about my relationship to others amidst cooperation and competition. All my work is interactive so I learn how to give and take with an audience.

Mary: What emotions/thoughts do you hope to elicit from others via your work?
Ben: That they think, 'I'm happy. I belong to the family of humanity. There's little difference between me and others. We all feel the same pain.' Also, we're overwhelmingly joyful. I want to capture the value of those moments, the disappearing and blurring of the lines of difference between self and others.

Mary: What aspect of your personality is best reflected in your work?
Ben: Quiet humor. I always include nonsense of some sort in my projects. I don't take myself too seriously, and I often feel I don't know what I'm talking about. So, I don't mind if participants think, 'He's crazy. He's silly.' For example, in Lascaux, I incorporated a photo of the modern-day discoverers from the 1940s. It's ghostly as it emerges from a wall. It tilts and spins and then sinks into the floor. You trigger this by going into a certain place in the virtual cave. When I first did it, I was just fooling around. We laughed so hard we had to leave it in.

Mary: What need within yourself does your work feed?
Ben: I like feeling I'm doing all I can to earn my place in the world,to earn my bread.

Mary: Why did you choose to become an electronic artist?
Ben: I used to try to make a living writing creative essays and poetry. I would try to sell them door-to-door. Then, I read the book "Understanding Media," which talked about how most people were learning and communicating via electronic media. So, I learned film, photography and video as a way to reach audiences. I don't love technology. I use technology to love humankind better.

Mary: Why Moon?
Ben: We communicate the possibilities and impossibilities of life using metaphors. The moon is a metaphor for the impossible dreams we all share. We've looked up to the moon while claiming, 'I'll give you the moon...,' or we want to jump over the moon. It's a metaphor for translating the impossible into the possible by way of the human community collectively achieving.

Mary: Why Lascaux?
Ben: Lascaux was about sharing stories. We tell stories to share ideas. This is a story from the generations of 300 grandmothers ago. It's an ancient story, a once-sacred story that's still in us. The people of Lascaux had their whole lives, their patterns, their art changed by an ending Ice Age. How did we get from there to here?

Mary: If you weren't an artist, what profession would you have pursued?
Ben: I would play tennis, go to the beach, sail and be a business adviser, a counselor to somebody rich.

Mary: What does the future hold?
Ben: I don't know. I'm interested in issues of cultural heritage. I have to listen quietly to the world before deciding my next project.

Britton, Ben
Image from Moon
Image adapted from the Moon site.
Used with permission.

Editor's Note:
Thanks to Ben Britton for interview.

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