I am fascinated by complex phenomena that emerge from very simple processes. This is the underlying behavior of the natural world, and vivid examples can be found at every scale. . . Unbounded, my installation at Rice Gallery, is essentially a distillation of this idea. Simple and predictable units are accumulated until an unexpectedly rich range of physical and visual phenomena result.


In the case of Unbounded, I began with poplar sticks. I was drawn to poplar because of its abundance, low cost, and its exceptional malleability. All of these factors allow for freedom of process, as I could easily generate a seemingly endless supply of materials. The hand-pegged, three-dimensional cubic grid is something that evolved in my studio over years of contemplating and playing with these sticks.

Ben Butler

This installation began with roughly 10,000 sticks, hand-cut on a table saw from a small truckload of boards. These sticks were assembled into grids in my studio in Memphis on a large jig that ensured precise registration. While the grid is standardized, the silhouette of each two-dimensional layer is not. The grids were made by hand with matchsticks tapped into drilled holes to join the sticks together. These randomly shaped flat sheets, about 300 of them, were then brought to the gallery where we began configuring them, adding more sticks horizontally to complete the three-dimensional grid. Diagonals were added only as needed for structural integrity.

Ben Butler received an MFA in sculpture from the School of Art Institute of Chicago and a BA in visual arts with high honors from Bowdoin College. Butler has also studied at the School of Visual Arts, New York and has completed residencies at ACRE (Artists’ Cooperative Residency and Exhibitions) (2014), the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art (2008), The MacDowell Colony (2004), and the Ucross Foundation (2000), among others.

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