September 8, 2016 - The Renaissance Society at The University of Chicago - Ben Rivers: Urth
September 8, 2016

The Renaissance Society at The University of Chicago

Ben Rivers, Urth, 2016. Production still. Courtesy of the artist and Kate MacGarry, London.

Ben Rivers
September 10–November 6, 2016

Opening: September 10, 5–8pm, with artist talk at 6pm

The Renaissance Society at The University of Chicago
Cobb Hall, 4th Floor
5811 S. Ellis Ave
Chicago, Illinois 60637
Hours: Tuesday–Friday 10am–5pm,
Thursday 10am–8pm,
Saturday–Sunday 12–5pm

The Renaissance Society presents the first US solo exhibition by London-based artist Ben Rivers. Urth features a newly commissioned film presented alongside two recent works. 

Explorations of community, landscape, freedom, and flux are at the center of Rivers's practice. Working in both feature-length and short formats, the artist draws on elements of documentary and fiction, experimental film and mainstream cinema.

Urth takes its title from the Old Norse word suggesting the twisted threads of fate, as cited by philosopher Timothy Morton in his recent book, Dark Ecology. The films in the exhibition share an interest in utopias—in particular, the tension between a yearning for an idealized world and the impossibility of such a place. For Rivers, utopias are necessarily hermetic and subjective spaces, conditions that are reflected in the settings of these works.

For this exhibition, the Renaissance Society commissioned Rivers to produce a new film, also titled Urth, which he filmed on location at Arizona’s Biosphere 2. A cinematic meditation on ambitious experiments, artificial environments, and visions of the future, this new work imagines a scientist living alone inside an experimental ecosystem. In a voice-over written by author Mark von Schlegell, the anonymous scientist records her final days and hours in the sealed environment.

Two previous films by Rivers similarly explore the relationship between humans and the natural and constructed world. Slow Action (2010) offers an imagined study of island biogeography across four locations, considering how these self-contained sites have and might continue to evolve. Its quasi-ethnographic narrative, also written by von Schlegell, imagines future societies grappling with rising seas and soon-to-be-lost ecologies. Things (2014) is a film collage divided into four “seasons,” juxtaposing found imagery, objects, and sounds with domestic and nature scenes that are at once intimate and unsettling. It is presented alongside a series of drawings and photographs.

Ways of Worldmaking, the first monograph on Rivers’s work, will be published in autumn 2016 by Kunstverein in Hamburg, Camden Arts Centre, Triennale di Milano, and the Renaissance Society. The publication includes new essays by Melissa Gronlund, Ed Halter, and Andrea Picard alongside extensive images from Rivers’s films and texts by Robert Pinget, Renee Gladman, and Henri Michaux, among others.

Curated by Solveig Øvstebø.

Related events
All events are free and open to the public; no booking is required.

Screening: A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness
Friday, September 30, 7pm
Logan Center for the Arts, Screening Room, 2nd floor, 915 E. 60th St. Chicago, IL 60637

This feature-length film by Ben Rivers and Ben Russell follows an unnamed character played by musician Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. Marked by solitude, ecstatic beauty, and an optimism of the darkest sort, this hypnotic film is at once a document of experience and an experience itself. 

Screening: The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers
Friday, October 7, 7pm
Logan Center for the Arts, Screening Room, 2nd floor, 915 E. 60th St. Chicago, IL 60637

Taking Paul Bowles's 1947 short story “A Distant Episode” as its starting point, The Sky Trembles… combines elements of the unsettling tale with observational footage to create a surreal fable on the illusions and ethics of cinema. 

Lecture: Timothy Morton
Sunday, October 23, 2pm
Kent Hall, Room 120, 1020 E. 58th St., Chicago, IL 60637

Philosopher Timothy Morton presents a new lecture, following his recent book Dark Ecology (2016), which offers vivid perspectives on ecological thinking, our uncanny interconnectedness with the nonhuman, and the future to come.

Concert: Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe
Friday, November 4, 8pm
Bond Chapel, 1025 E. 58th St., Chicago, IL 60637

Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, who collaborated with Ben Rivers on the film A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, uses his voice and modular synthesizers to create immersive listening experiences. In his mesmerizing performances, layered vocals join other sounds to form a reverberating drone.

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