Mind you, “easy” means from a distance. Watching someone who is naturally engulfed in observing his world and is not particularly concerned with how the world is observing him will leave one with an impression revealing more about one’s own peccadillos than the reality of who Beiner is and what actually motivates his studio practice.
So what is really going on beneath the haphazardly rumpled shirt, the gently disconnected demeanor, and the intentional gaze?
Every maker is dancing under several category umbrellas and Beiner is no different in that regard. The largest umbrella shelters the art world proper under it. The second umbrella houses the world of design and craft. Let’s say the next umbrella is where material exists. The final umbrella is where it starts to get personal and sets of parameters specific to Beiner’s inquiry reside. Here he is busy observing and stacking up abstracted objects in search of compositions, constantly moving back and forth between things visible and invisible, micro and macro, reactions and responses, recording and reflecting, explicit and tacit, inside and outside, and questioning the boundaries defining what is complete and what is unfinished. All this mounts to answer the question, “What’s going on?” and we find what’s going on is an attempt to throw a cloak of visibility over tacit knowledge in this world through the development a visual language.
Tacit knowledge was an idea introduced to philosophy by Michael Polanyi in 1958. In a nutshell, tacit knowledge zeroes in on our ability to know more than we can tell. We could also call this knowledge our intuition or our gut feeling. Beiner enters the conversation as an individual concerned with contemporary culture’s indifference to the decline of tacit knowledge. He sees it slipping away as culture becomes more and more removed from the creation of the objects we utilize in our day-to-day lives.
While walking down the aisles of Wal-Mart, Beiner cannot accept the existence of the mass-produced objects without questioning them. He is mesmerized and asks himself where were these objects made; how did they get here; who made them? While it will unnerve anyone who is just trying to make a quick run to the store, Beiner is methodically curious about what the objects on the shelves of Wal-Mart have to say about the culture we’re living in now. Beyond the specifics of industrial, consumer objects, his fieldtrips to box stores provide additional fodder as they reveal, “strange compositional overlaps.” A pile of books lain on a pallet that’s propped up with some strange little coins. What could be seen as evidence of a basic restocking task, are to Beiner the residue of human existence.
Beiner acknowledges there is much to criticize about the culture of box stores, a point that may have been glossed over in his presentation at NCECA. It must be maddening to attempt a summation of the multi-layered baklava that is a studio-practice in ten minutes. His professed ardor for Wal-Mart lies in the specifics of the objects and the found compositions among the aisles. During our conversation he had the opportunity to clarify, “I have no desire to challenge or defend them specifically, or the way they treat their workers, or level of environmental consciousness. I’m simply curious about the box store as representing our reality.
“While I scour through books looking for obscure sources, I’m also in awe of the things right in front of me.” He takes a note from the Designer Hella Jongerius who asserts the only way to make an impact through criticism of an entity is to be inside of it and admire it. In the same way anyone with siblings knows the terror we are able to exact on each other within a family dynamic, but woe to an outsider who dares to point a finger. “If I’m going to make sculpture that’s about the mundane and the everyday, I need to know what that is, and I need to admire it as much as I’m skeptical of it. It’s my job to go to Wal-Mart and look up to it and then to unpack it and criticize it at the same time.”
For now, Beiner’s main focus is to secure a stable relationship with a gallery, utilizing the time and resources academia provides for his research. He feels that such a relationship is the next step toward becoming a known quantity as a maker interested in navigating the space between fine art and industrial design. Keep an eye out for him at the Ohio Craft Museum’s upcoming “Best of Ohio 2014” exhibition, Toronto’s Gardiner Museum’s “RBC Emerging Artist People’s Choice Award” scheduled for this fall, and Beiner will be in residence at the Center for Ceramics in Berlin this summer. Of course, you can always see his latest works online at ZimraBeiner.com.