by Admir Skodo
Benjamin Fedosky’s portraits reveal the historical permanence of human beings. They do not detail any particular historical person, event, or period, even though they are ultimately modelled on such particularities. The portraits only allude to the pains, hopes, joys, doubts, and questionings of specific human beings, and this is what renders their sense of historical permanence: since being historical signifies not only particularity, but also the radical change of potentially every particular quality and process defining a historical being, that which is ambiguous, undefined, and indeterminate in a historical being can serve as a material reminder of permanence through change. Fedosky’s works explore and emphasize this aspect of our lives as historical beings. In doing so, they show that a fundamental aspect of human nature is not only to possess fixed and particular traits which change into other fixed and particular traits through time, space, and experience; but also to embody traits that never allow themselves to be fixed, and so must be expressed in a manner that does not attempt to fix them.
The mouth of every head portrait is closed; this is one (but not the only) detail that evinces the historical permanence imbuing the portraits. The closed mouth does not suggest reticence on some determinate person’s part, nor does it gesture withheld speech, nor does it evoke the idea that the innermost quality of a particular person remains ineffable (by symbolizing that ineffability with shut lips). What the closed mouth does, inseparably from the face as a whole, is to extend an invitation to view, feel, and think about a human face without regard for specific contextual or situational traits. This invitation may be extended to social life, so that we can come to see something undeniably human, and unwaveringly permanent, in a face regardless of racial, ethnic, cultural, gendered, or social markers, all of which have an expiry date.
A significant dimension to Fedosky’s portraits is how the opaque reference to people we find in them reveals something of the world of humans that direct reference cannot. This is one of the great paradoxes of good art (in the Latin or Italian sense of the word art): in obfuscating vision of others it actually clarifies it. Why? Because understanding ourselves (and our world) is not, or not only, a matter of matching our representations with people as they ‘actually’ are. We have only begun to draw out the implications of this crucial fact.
Fedosky’s works are social, as distinct from transcendental and ego-centered art. Transcendental art seeks to make the viewer think about the ‘real’ world, defined by perfection and truth, and which purportedly lies beyond materiality, corporeality, and society. Ego-centred art fondles images of the self-elevated and self-centered self, which is as distant from society as is the object of transcendental art—only from the other end. These are idealizations. Fedosky’s works are grounded in the social and historical world (in the sense described above), and that makes them distinctive.
In the Qu’ran Allah states that Islam is for those who ‘believe in the Unseen’ (Sûrah al-Baqarat, 2-3), and so the belief in the unseen harbors the certainty of the faithful. We find the perfectly logical conclusion of Allah’s statement in the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad: you would only steer away from true reality, and all the eternal goods that it entails, if your worshipped the seen, and by extension, anything that has a physical surface. Plato had a comparable view of art. And in Christianity, the true body, the Kingdom of God, is unseen from the perspective of the concrete human being. By contrast, Fedosky offers us a way to view reality that might help us recognize that the sources of our well-being, miseries, wonder, puzzlement, are to be sought, in the first place, in the world of live surfaces.
Though Fedosky’s works are about specific people, they are fundamentally impersonal, since they are not concerned with the actual inner life of a particular person, or the particular qualities that person might possess, and which are supposedly the true content of artistic expression. In other words, his works are about individual humans, but not from an individualist point of view, but rather from the point of view of sculpting portraits in such a way as to, by the very actions and skills required to create them, evoke in each and everyone of us some specific human qualities which our own experiences makes salient when we encounter them.
Fedosky’s works firmly reject the pervasive idea that art—both on the creating and the receiving end—is an introspective attempt to externalize an authenticity residing either in the recesses of the soul or in the world of perfect ideas, expressable in its fullness only by the artist.
Fedosky does not invite us to search for hidden meanings. The structure of the surface does all the work, for that surface relates aspects of human life without imposing criteria on how they ought to be interpreted. This structure, which is the outcome of the process of construction, allows a variety of individual experiences to imbue the works with meaning by encountering them with our vision. Fedosky essentially deals with surfaces: of human bodies, heads and faces, of our physical environment. He does not attempt to reach an inner dimension. So he stays on the surface, the visible, the touchable. But the surface is not a dead surface, it is a live surface.
Admir Skodo, PhD, is a Swedish historian, and is currently a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. His primary area of research is modern European history of ideas, and his work has been published in refereed journals. In his spare time, Skodo writes poetry, fiction, and has an interest in collaborating with visual artists.
Benjamin Fedosky is an American artist residing in Oakland, CA. He studied at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee from 1997-99, and has since developed a self-directed approach to his art and studio practice. Fedosky has exhibited in solo and group shows throughout the U.S. and Canada, and his works are held in selected private collections.