Ben Sota Stands—And Spins—For Art

THE DAILY PIC: At the Mattress Factory, a circus performer stands for all artists.


This is a frame from a video in which circus artist Ben Sota performs a few of his tricks for a mask-clad chorus of regular folks. It is being screened in—and was filmed inside, and depicts—Sota’s installation called “Damn Everything but the Circus”, at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh. Watching it in that venerable art space, the video struck me as a powerful allegory for the glories, and also disappointments, of all artmaking. (Click here to watch the clip.)

The role of artist is played by Sota, both performer and master of ceremonies, out to entrance and entertain others. His audience is generous enough, but also generic and interchangeable with all previous audiences; the audience “costume” can pass from viewer to viewer without making too much difference. The artist’s prestidigitatious labors, and their results, are entrancing, but also slight and passing. There are moments of notable competition—Sota plays teeter-totter with a masked figure in a matelot shirt who is a cross between Picasso and Warhol­—but the stakes don’t seem all that high.

Art—at the circus, or in a museum—is a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But still better than the alternatives.

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