UT grad creates performance art, sculpture on campus

Zac Benson, a former Union University student and a graduate of the University of Tennessee with a bachelor of fine arts degree, will be using his skills as a sculptor to present new works on Union’s campus.

The son of art department chairman Lee Benson, Zac Benson is a 25-year-old former art major who has been headed toward one point for most of his life: He wants to become a successful, full-time sculpting artist.

However, he has encountered a minor setback. After applying to graduate school, Benson was denied acceptance to all five programs to which he applied.

After much soul searching, he decided to use the emotionally and psychologically draining event as a means to expand his portfolio and broaden his horizons.

What originally began as a personal project based around the loss of Benson’s grandparents started to meld into a new string of expressive methods, he said.

In the first piece, Benson was photographed wearing a suit while tied to a large tree with yarn that was left to him by his grandmother.

There was a distance of 14 feet from the top of Benson’s head to the ground. The piece depicted the overwhelming feeling of helplessness Benson felt after finding out he had not been accepted into graduate school.

“I was all dressed up but had no place to go,” Benson said. “For six years and potentially 25 years I was going down this road, and then within a split second, my plan deviated. That’s where this new work comes up.”

Benson has completed three performance pieces he temporarily dubbed the “All Dressed Up, But No Place To Go” series.

The second performance piece, also a photograph, depicted Benson wearing formal clothing while suspended by nails to the side of an old barn. He had purchased clothing much too large so that he could drive nails through the fabric and be suspended comfortably for a long period of time.

Benson required at least two assistants to help suspend him for each performance piece.

The final performance piece was similar to the tree and barn pieces but was somewhat more challenging due to the location, he said. Benson dressed, once more, in a black, formal suit and was tied parallel to a horizontal beam that rests 12 feet above his personal studio space.

Benson was secured on the underside of the beam facing the ground.

These pieces were a challenge to Benson since he had never created performance art before, he said. He adapted these
concepts into a series and planned to construct exhibits out of paper. These pieces will be seen on Union’s campus.

The first piece is based on the arrival of three letters that informed Benson he had not been accepted into graduate school.

“You will make work about what you’re going through,” Benson said. “To me these three papers involved me emotion- ally, psychologically and spiritually as well. It consumed me. These three pieces of paper are like a wall in the middle of my path.”

After collecting more than 3,000 sheets of paper from the recycling bins around campus, Benson will create a large scale piece to cover a hill measuring no smaller than 200 feet by 200 feet.

He plans to attach the large amount of paper to the ground using toothpicks. This project entered production May 6-10.

“Symbolically it will represent those three letters,” Benson said. “What you’re going to see is how I felt when I got those rejection letters. It was this overwhelming sense of something being in the way. I want it to appear unusual to the surrounding landscape.”

The second piece will also be created from the collected sheets of paper. Benson will stack sheets of paper up to a height of 12 feet.

The paper will be held in place by a thin structure in the center, a single, large column that will stand out to viewers. This piece also is supposed to impose the same feeling as the landscape.

“I want it to seem kind of overbearing, as if it’s taking over you,” Benson said. “You’ll feel small compared to this structure.”

Benson wants these pieces to communicate what he was feeling, but he also wants the pieces to relate to the struggles of all.

“It’s universal because anyone can fill in their own meaning of the pieces,” Benson said. “For me it’s about rejection from graduate school, but the titles of the pieces are open to transitional periods that we go through, whether they are positive or negative.”

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.