We’re living in a time where any momentary break in the day might cause a person to whip out their mobile device and mindlessly swipe up on Instagram, pausing for a millisecond to double tap in affirmation of “Yes, I glanced into your life, and it looked as cool as you wanted me to think it is.”
“We have this really unique experience now of being on a phone or interacting with a screen where we shut off our view of everything around us, and we’re just absorbed by this little rectangle, and it takes over,” said artist Nathaniel Benjamin. “It’s like we’re shutting off our body and going into the internet and exploring it with our consciousness.”
Benjamin is a printmaker and a painter. Some of his work, which is hanging in the Icecycle Creamery in West Street Market, juxtaposes human anatomy and digital symbolism, connected by inevitable decay.
“Computers and phones, they last a couple years max before you’re trying to find a new one or before it’s obsolete. Software is even faster,” he said. Phones die; humans die. Memento mori, or the remembrance of death, permeates many of his pieces. Benjamin asks how our identities develop amongst our newfound relationships between our digital and physical worlds.
Benjamin created most of the pieces in his show using antiquated printmaking techniques developed in the 15th and 16th centuries, at the very dawn of mass media.
He uses a specialized piece of equipment involving two heavy rollers pressing pieces of etched or grooved linoleum, wood, copper plates or other media to distribute ink onto material. According to Benjamin, these presses aren’t cheap, nor are they easy to come by.
“Everybody knows about printers, but they don’t know the history of how that even happened,” he said. Benjamin is a founding member of Laika Press, a new printmaking cooperative on Wells Avenue. “We’re at the point where there are images everywhere and being reproduced all the time without us even considering the mechanisms or the mindset that requires,” he said.
Laika Press is a member-driven community press offering workshops to learn techniques like etching, relief or silk-screening. Benjamin is leading a linoleum block workshop on June 10.
“To me, the point of making stuff is to get people to think, but also to inspire more people to make stuff,” he said.
“The background of printmaking comes from communication and publication,” said Eunkang Koh, an associate professor of art and the area head of printmaking at the University of Nevada, Reno. “I’ve always thought it would be really great if we had something like this in Reno.” Koh helped facilitate the acquisition of Laika’s equipment. She said she’s excited to see the artists there creating a community around the art form.
Benjamin’s influences include printmaking greats like MC Escher and Albrecht Dürer. But Benjamin is 30 years old. He owns and operates a mobile device like many of his millennial peers—including swiping through Instagram. He follows contemporary printmakers like Aaron Horkey @aaronhorkey and Mazatl @_Mazatli_. And he uses the app himself to showcase his work. To see it, follow @nathaniel.benjamin.