The Ouborg Prize is awarded in alternate years to a Hague artist producing work of both national and local importance. Named after Hague artist Pieter Ouborg (1893-1956), the City of The Hague’s prize for the visual arts comprises a sum of € 10,000, an exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag and a publication issued by Stroom Den Haag. The jury has awarded the Ouborg Prize 2009 to Justin Bennett (b. 1964), an off-beat sound artist who thrills the public time and again by producing fascinating compositions constructed of the everyday sounds of urban life.
Originally from the UK, Justin Bennett studied sculpture in Sheffield and Sonology at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. In the early ’90s, he concluded his training with a period of postgraduate study at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. Ever since then, he has lived and worked in The Hague. An important aspect of his work is his use of urban sounds in all their diversity. He creates ‘noise maps’ of cities like Beirut and The Hague, drawing the attention of the ‘listener/viewer’ to phenomena which are not immediately apparent. He consistently does this in an original and experimental way, without resorting to tricks or ‘formats’.
Sundial, for example, is a series of brief compositions consisting of compressed soundscapes from various cities. In each case, Bennett spends a day making two-minute hourly recordings of the sound of passing traffic and pedestrians, music from cafés or scraps of conversation. The resulting miscellany of sounds is edited down to produce a coherent composition which presents life in that city. City of Progress, on the other hand, is an animated film on show for the first time in this exhibition. It presents the physical development of a city. The built-up area spreads out further and further, slowly but surely taking possession of the surrounding countryside. The piece is a shocking reflection on the inexorable expansion of our urban areas.
In 1989, Justin Bennett joined forces with Roelf Toxopeus and Wikke ‘t Hooft to set up BMB con., an artists’ collective for multimedia projects. Their performances and installations involve the use of electronic and acoustic music, film, video and theatre. Because this year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of BMB con. and because the collective constitutes a major part of Justin Bennett’s oeuvre, three of the six rooms occupied by the exhibition will include examples of its projects.
In December, the Gending Ensemble of Utrecht will perform a gamelan composition specially devised for them by BMB con. The piece will be performed in the Gemeentemuseum on an original gamelan from the museum’s own collection.
In the Ouborg Prize jury report, chairman Arno van Roosmalen commends the artist for his experimental attitude towards his medium and subject. The intensity of his approach and, still more importantly, the quality and eloquence of his oeuvre have brought him great international recognition.
The major publication which is part of the prize gives a good impression of Justin Bennett’s wide-ranging oeuvre. The City Amplified is published by Stroom and designed by Atelier Carvalho Bernau (price € 20).