Santa Monica Museum of Art exhibit co-creator leads a writing and illustration workshop at Bergamot Station
By Michael Aushenker
Half of the creative duo behind the Santa Monica Museum of Art exhibition “What Every Snowflake Knows in Its Heart” is taking up a teaching role on Wednesday during a “Collaboration is Utopia” workshop at the Bergamot Station art complex.
Benjamin Weissman, who teamed with Japan-born artist Yutaka Sone to create the paintings and installations comprising “Snowflake,” will guide participants in writing and illustrating spontaneous texts drawn from language, memories and ideas they relate to the great outdoors
A large exhibit in the museum’s main gallery that includes a monumental winter landscape replete with animatronic ski mountain, rising chair lifts and whimsical characters, “Snowflake” is among the fruits of a long-running collaboration between the L.A. artist and Sone.
Since striking up a friendship during a Mammoth Mountain ski trip, this unlikely pair began creating a shared mythology based on their mutual interest in snow sports and its attendant environs. The partnership has birthed such wintery imagery as 2007’s “Grandma’s Closet” (a title not borrowed from the venerable Flagstaff, Ariz., restaurant but a ski-circle reference to tree-nestled pot-smoking).
“Big mountains and old forests with snow is very sexy, inspiring, romantic, intimidating, fetching,” said Weissman, who prefers creating frost-laden visuals over depicting sunshine and palm trees.
“Southern California and Los Angeles are good places to read, write, make art and play tennis, but not ski,” said Weissman, who covered skiing as features editor for Freeze magazine. “Skiing out of state, out of country, adds a huge expense to the experience, and the weather timing has to be perfect to have big snow. … Mammoth is the inspiration zone; a backyard I have memorized but am constantly learning new little nooks and crannies.”
Organized by museum Executive Director Elsa Longhauser, the exhibit began to take shape after Weissman approached her with ideas while still planning out sketches.
“Snowflake” opened Nov. 21 and continues through April 5 and “has been incredibly well-received,” Longhauser said.
Weissman studied at California Institute of the Arts and has lectured and written extensively about art, music, skiing and literature for various institutions and periodicals. His short fiction books include 1994’s “Dear Dead Person” and 2004’s “Headless.”
Shizuoka-born Sone studied fine arts and architecture at Tokyo Geijutsu University and has produced solo exhibitions for the Venice Biennale and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
What Longhauser loves best about the Weissman/Sone collaboration is that “it has an alternative reason for being [other than monetary gain]. It’s really an experiment by two people, who normally would not be working together, joining forces to work on a singular project.”
She deems the installation’s ski lift “a wonderful bold statement” and calls this exact replica of Mammoth’s Ski Lift 23 “one of the great do-it-yourself sculptures of all time! It does work and it’s made completely by hand.”
It’s only fitting that Weissman’s workshop relies on recollections of the past: When it comes to those majestic Mammoth mountainscapes, he’s lately had to draw from memory.
“This winter’s snowfall has been the skimpiest in decades,” said Weissman, who plans to teach “like I make art: mindfully unconscious, playful and strange.”
“Collaboration is Utopia: A Writing + Drawing Workshop with Benjamin Weissman” runs from 8 to 10 p.m. Wednesday at Santa Monica Museum of Art, Bergamot Station – G1, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. $10. Call (310) 586-6488 or visit smmoa.org.