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
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.