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Artist-curator Benjamin Sebastian launches FACET at VSSL Studio

Image credit: Photograph of Benjamin Sebastian by Marco Berardi.


At a time of cuts to arts funding led by an out-of-touch government preaching dysfunctional policies, one might be surprised that there are pockets of hope and creative resistance thriving all over the capitol. Hidden away somewhere in Deptford is the aptly named Resolution Way. At number 50 you'll find the artist-run gallery and studio space VSSL Studio and Enclave. It's a hotbed of activity, an incubator for emerging talent and 'a site of gathering and creation' established in 2020 by Benjamin Sebastian and Joseph Morgan Schofield.


Here, we catch up with Benjamin, a trans-disciplinary artist-curator. Their practice might be imagined as a constellation of mirrors,; reflecting aspects of the body, time and space they inhabit - or - as world-making experiments; manifested through processes of bricolage, assemblage and ritual. Sounds kind of magical, right?


Launching on Friday 2 June is FACET, the next big project for VSSL, including works by curator Benjamin. Expect a programme of visual art dedicated to the exploration and celebration of contemporary queer art and culture. Through a series of five exhibitions (until Jan 2024), FACET establishes a platform for invited artists to centre their unique perspectives while fostering greater understanding of various queer experience, through a diverse range of artistic mediums. "I want people to be moved... I want to hear from audiences what they think and feel" says Benjamin. We ask Benjamin about FACET, VSSL, the other artists involved, neurodiverse artists, the London art scene, and what about the next 5-years? Roll up! Roll up! Read all about it!


Run Riot: Can you start off by telling us about the concept behind FACET?

Benjamin Sebastian: VSSL Studio contextualises its presence within the UK’s cultural fabric as “a site of gathering and creation”, I think the same can be said of FACET as well as the springs of queerness that the programme centres. I wanted to create an opportunity to further develop some artistic relationships that VSSL had initiated previously in the last couple of years. In particular, with queer practitioners who have a ‘body’ or ‘live’ referential practice that extends far beyond the body-as-medium and/or live & performance art practices. I also wanted, on a personal level, to enact a convergence of my artistic and curatorial practices by positioning myself as a joint-lead artist with Alicia Radage within one of the curated exhibitions. 


Run Riot: Can you also tell Run Riot readers about the launch event and what you and Alicia Radage will be presenting?

Benjamin: On the 2nd of June from 6-9pm (you can RSVP for the launch event through the VSSL website) Alicia Radage and I will launch the FACET programme with the opening of our joint exhibition. I am very excited about this. Alicia Radage and I first collaborated in 2016 for 'Becoming Constellation'; an ongoing, multimedia project mapping queer narrative production through esoteric methodologies (...we collaboratively set intentions through magical acts and made art out of it). Elements of this work (sewn photo tapestries and printed flags), along with other videos, sculptures and new media from both Alicia and I (that explore human to other-or-more-than-human relationships) will be exhibited in dialogue with each other. I really don't want to give much more than this away – it will be an excellent opportunity for both audiences and ourselves, to reflect on the through-lines connecting our artistic practices and queer experiences.


Image credit: Photograph of Alicia Radage by Marco Berardi.


Run Riot: Being neurodiverse is a superpower for an artist. Is this sweeping statement nonsense, or is there some truth in it?

Benjamin: I think many to most traits could be spun as a (super)power. For me it's about (re)framing and positionality. If you tell me that I am neurodiverse, what that means and therefore how & who I am, I would experience that as entirely restrictive and diminishing. However, if I tell you that I am neurodiverse, deciding for myself what that means, who & how I am and will operate within that frame... Then I am creating my own narratives and potentials as to how I exist in this world. In this way I can see neurodiversity as a potential world-(re)making (super)power, absolutely – I experience such autonomy as ultimately creative. I'd say that is an exceptionally powerful position from which to launch artistic enquiry. 


Run Riot: The FACET programme involves yourself and Alicia Radage, June Lam, Rocío Boliver, and Marcin Gawin - what curatorial threads connect them all?

Benjamin: Each artist within the FACET programme has an embodied artistic practice. They are making work explicitly through and of The Body and its' constellations. Yet the collective works emit far beyond the proximate reaches of their individual selves. There is a dreaming present in all of the works, speculative world-making activities through collage, video, photography, sculpture and new media. There is of course a constant queer current running through all of the works as well, at times explicit while at other moments quite nuanced. 


Image credit: work by June Lam (image courtesy of artist).


Run Riot: Which societal norms would you like to see art and queerness challenge? How do you hope that the FACET programme will explore this?

Benjamin: All of them! If not challenge, at least questions and consider if such norms still serve a greater human experience and forward evolution. I experience both art and queerness as processes of manifesting. Both bring into the world that which was previously not present; new objects (of desire), new ways of thinking, feeling and relating to oneself, each other, our environments and objects. I believe the innate creative impetus of both art and queerness cannot help but challenge societal norms. 


Run Riot: Tell us why Facet’s home at VSSL Studio and Enclave, the artist-run infrastructure in Deptford is the ideal home for this programme.

Benjamin: VSSL Studio is not a commercial gallery (but can flex to this when it serves a purpose). It is in the first instance an artist-led studio, which means that the studio's activities more often than not have a primary focus on process and creation rather than final product. Enclave holds a similar position itself as an incubator of artistic and cultural projects. I think both sentiments mirror the manifesting potentials of queerness present in the FACET programme and works to be exhibited. 


Image credit: Still of Benjamin Sebastian by Marco Berardi and Baiba Sprance.


Run Riot: Looking at the next 5-years, what are your hopes for London’s art scene?

Benjamin: Systemic change through an exponential increase in the (socio-cultural AND economic) valuation of artists labour. The median hourly pay calculated from 'industria's 'Structurally F-ucked Artist Leaks' data was £2.60... £2.60, artists are operating in a broken, unfair system where millions are made off their backs while many struggle to afford the basic means of survival. Art & Culture is an economic industry, that industry has workers, we deserve (and demand) appropriate pay for our labour. Could you imagine any other worker in the U.K. being paid £2.60p/h? Art is work, undertaking that work is a job. PAY US APPROPRIATELY. I would like to see cultural body's such as Arts Council England advocate more strongly for social reform on this matter. 


Run Riot: What would you hope the audience take away from the FACET programme?

Benjamin: My only desire from any audience interaction with art in general is that no one remains indifferent to what they experience. I want people to be moved. I hold no expectation as to what emotions and thoughts may unfold in audiences, but I do want that unfolding to take place. Art is so subjective, an individual will read in a work what they want to or need to read in a work (although surprise may also often be encountered in sophisticated works). I believe the collective works of the FACET programme to be very compelling portals into an expanded queer experience. I want to hear from audiences what they think and feel. 


Benjamin Sebastian 


VSSL Studio Presents

FACET: A Series Of Exhibitions Showcasing Contemporary Queer Art & Culture.

Enclave, 50 Resolution Way


London SE8 4AL

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