Congratulations to Liam Benson who has unveiled his installation for the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia’s 2019 Bella Room! Liam has taken the reins for this annual commission, and created a multi-sensory artwork for people with disability. Expect an interactive installation inspired by horses who, for Liam, represent strength, fortitude, loyalty and protection.
Liam Benson’s 2019 Jackson Bella Room Commission titled hello, good to meet you, is borne out of a multi-year collaboration with Riding for the Disabled Association NSW’s Tall Timbers Centre in Box Hill. Riding for the Disabled provides horse riding and related activities for people living with disability, utilising physical activity and the profound connection between horse and rider to enrich the lives of many. Benson has participated in horse riding classes at Tall Timbers since late 2017, attending weekly sessions in the development of the commission.
The title, hello, good to meet you, refers to the language of horses, bringing to mind the deep and gentle throaty sound horses make when they recognise a friend. The commission builds on Benson’s interest in horses from an early age, which have featured throughout his photographic and textile practice as powerful symbols of strength, fortitude, loyalty and protection. For these reasons, Benson has identified horses as uniquely capable of empowering and fostering new and warm connections between Bella Program participants. Benson’s interactive installation evokes
the experience of meeting and engaging with horses,and celebrates the compassionate and intimate relationships between horses and their humans. A large, colourful ‘mane’ sculpture is suspended around the space, encouraging visitors to move, touch and engage in play. When discussing the installation, Benson states that “the work is camp, it’s playful. I want people to express themselves in the most gregarious and outlandish way.” A new video work features the horses of Tall Timbers in their stables and paddocks, taking a slow-paced and intimate look at the textures,
sound, movements and language of horses and they converse, rest and play together. Visitors are also invited to don a series of wearable sculptures, evoking traditional clothing associated with horse riding. These wearables are fringed with tassels, suggesting manes or forelocks, and inspire creative action through movement. Visitors can create their own choreographies or respond to one another through dance, finding new ways to communicate through their bodies and encouraging agility, balance, coordination and strength.
In an interview with MCA Assistant Curator Peter Johnson, Benson discusses his personal experience with horses, and why this has informed his work:
“My history with horses goes right back to my childhood. My sister had two horses – the first was Prince, who was a very spirited gelding, tricky and naughty; he used to escape from the paddock by rolling under the fence. Then came Vodka, who was this lovely old chestnut mare. I never rode them, except for a few times in my sister’s lap, but they became very important figures in my life. I was obsessed with Prince and Vodka. There weren’t many horse toys for boys in the 1980s, but my mum and dad found a My Little Pony called Applejack for me. I cherished Applejack along with my plush toy Starlight, who was Rainbow Bright’s trusty steed. I was also obsessed with The Man from Snowy River, which I watched every chance I had.
Horses were my escape and the first theme that ever sparked my imagination. I remember clearly the first time my sister showed me how to draw a horse, which is something I did over and over again. Horses have followed me throughout my life as something that makes me feel really happy, safe and strong. I connect all those things to my sister as well”.
The MCA Bella program was established in 1993 through the generosity of MCA patrons, Dr Edward Jackson AM and Mrs Cynthia Jackson AM, and the Jackson family, in memory of their late daughter and sister Belinda.