(United States 1934 – Germany 2016)
Pioneer artist of the avant-garde Fluxus, Ben Patterson began studying botany, zoology, rocks and minerals during his childhood, and later devoted himself entirely to music.
In 1952 he began his musical studies at the University of Michigan, graduating in 1956. As a virtuoso double bass player, because of his skin color, he could not join an American symphony orchestra. From 1956 to 1957 he joined the Halifax Symphony Orchestra in Canada, then from 1958 to 1959 he joined the U.S. 7th Army Symphony Orchestra based in Germany, and returned to Canada with the Ottawa Philharmonic Orchestra until 1960.
His keen interest in research in electronic music led him to travel to Cologne, Germany, where he was able to follow Karlheinz Stockhausen’s work in the WDR studios. Nevertheless, during concerts in Mary Bauermeister’s studio, he was fascinated by John Cage, whose Cartridge Music he performed in its world premiere.
He met Nam June Paik and Wolf Vostell, and presented his first musical works, Paper Piece, Solo for Double Bass, Variations for Double Bass (in which objects such as clamps, clamps, etc. are xed to the double bass), which were to become indispensable pieces for the Fluxus concerts.
He publishes on his own account a collection of his compositions and artistic experiments, Me- thods and Process, with the help of Daniel Spoerri. In 1962, in Paris, he exhibited his Puzzle Poems with Robert Filliou, collaborated in his “Legitimate Gallery” (which fits in his hat), and participated, invited by George Maciunas, in the Fluxus concerts in Wiesbaden and Copenhagen (1963), then returned to New York where he held a position as librarian at the New York Public Library.
In 1964, George Maciunas published Poems in Box and Instruction No. 2, and Ben Patterson created the performance Lick Piece (naked woman covered with whipped cream to lick).
He gradually abandoned his artistic activity which he resumed by taking part in the Fluxus Festival in Wiesbaden in 1982, celebrating the twenty years of the movement, and then in the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1983. A solo exhibition was organized in 1988 at the Emily Harvey Gallery in New York. In 2012, he organizes the 50th anniversary of Fluxus, a major retrospective in the city of Wiesba- den in Germany.
Since then, he has been the subject of numerous exhibitions in Europe, Asia, Russia and America, with concerts, readings and performances.
“Ben Fluxus”: a subversive incarnation of “Ben Natural”?
Is “Ben Fluxus” (here Ben Patterson) actually a subversive incarnation of “Ben Natural”? A careful observer might find interesting connections between my private life and my work as an artist. Suggesting this possibility, in my opinion, what reveals these relationships is my long involvement with “nature”.
Faced with the impossibility of distancing myself sufficiently from myself to give an objective judgment, I will present in the following text only documented facts and I authorize you, dear reader, to draw your own conclusions. In this text, I am thinking of “nature” according to the definition given by the American Dictionary of the English Language: “The physical world, generally in the open air, which includes all living beings”.
Let me begin with a romanticized (but true) family story.
My ancestors came to the “New World” as slaves. The paternal lineage fled to Pennsylvania in the early 1840s. The maternal line, from the Bahamas Islands, fled to western Pennsylvania between 1780 and 1790. These ancestors became pioneer farmers, occupying virgin lands.
When I was born, only my maternal grandparents still lived on the original farm… It was while visiting them that I first encountered nature, virgin (in the forties many of these lands were still surrounded by virgin forest). My great-uncle Peter (half American Indian) taught me to recognize birds, to follow deer tracks, to catch fish with their hands and to recognize edible wild plants. However, my school education began in 1941 when my parents bought a piece of land in the rural suburbs of Pittsburgh and began building a house (work that would last for 10 years). The pond that was on our land, the creek that flowed through it and the abandoned farms on a thousand acres of land and woods all around, became my laboratory for the study of a wonderful world of ore and wildlife.
At the age of 12, when I joined the Boy Scouts of America, I furthered my studies for nature. As a teenager I won medals of merit for astronomy, bee care, bird study, botany, camping, canoeing, conservation, dog care, forestry, gardening, hiking, insects, archery, orienteering, poultry farming, reptile, rock and mineral study, skiing contests, research, swimming, climate and zoology… Finally, I was promoted to Eagle Scout.
At that time, I spent every summer at Camp Twin Echo, a scout camp in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania and was Director of Nature Studies from 1950 to 1952. In those same years, I volunteered weekly in the Autecology Department of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and in the Herpetology Division of the Pittsburgh Zoo. (In my spare time, I was captain of the high school cross-country race team, conductor of the high school band, president of the debate club, bass player in two local semi-professional orchestras, having taken a week of double bass, piano and music composition classes).
For the past four years at the University of Michigan, I have been detaching my interest in “nature” to devote myself entirely to music. From 1957 to 1959, while serving in the United States in the 7th Symphonic Army serving in Europe, I had the opportunity to ski in Garmish, St. Anton and Cortina, to climb the Zugspitze, the Gross Glockner and Monte Rosa (the highest mountains in Germany, Austria and Italy).
Since the 1960’s, my career has limited my relationship with “Mother Nature” to occasional adventures around the world: winter camps and cross-country skiing in the Adirondack Mountains in New York State, rowing in St. Anton and Cortina, to climb the Zugspitze, the Gross Glockner and Monte Rosa (the highest mountains in Germany, Austria and Italy), to climb the Zugspitze, the Gross Glockner and the Monte Rosa. St. Leuve Lawrence in Quebec, Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland, long hiking and climbing in Patagonia, diving in the reefs of the Bahamas and Hawaii, hiking in the rainforest of the Amazonia National Park in Brazil, an animal observation on a ranch in Namibia (where I also founded the Sub-Counscious Museum), an animal observation during a tourist stay in Argentina (where I also founded a department of the Sub-Counscious Museum), ice fishing on the shores of Lake Baikal in Russia. In n, I celebrated my seventieth birthday on Mount Fuji in Japan.
Nature is part of the equation.