Wrestling […] offers excessive gestures, exploited to the limit of their meaning…a man who is down is exaggeratedly so, and completely fills the eyes of the spectators with the intolerable spectacle of powerlessness.
– Roland Barthes
Ben Leslie’s The House of Vulture transforms Fontanelle gallery into an arena. Each untitled work is large in scale, powerful in stance and desperate in struggle. Situated inside the startlingly white gallery, these raised and bolted sculptures are made from jagged wood and heavy black steel; each ringed with a dark halo of footprints left by previous viewers who, like us, stared like masochistic voyeurs; cheering crowds in the Colosseum. Leslie captures and suspends the moment of ancient theatre; the spectacle of wrestling through the Barthesian eye.
The House of Vulture highlights the nature of machismo and failed heroism through beastly sculptural forms. The brutish objects are raised above the ground and, with every threat they have, beg to be released. They shamelessly grapple, denying they are dependent on each other for support. Oddly shaped like torture devices or exercise equipment from a dystopian future, these works are heavy, angry and composed of cold, geometric and powerful black steel. Paired white painted, sawtooth wood that has been fighting with Leslie in the studio, still struggling to be set free in the gallery.
A self-proclaimed ‘sculpture vulture’, Leslie gathers and picks at raw materials that refuse to be circled without putting up a fight. Wedged, welded, bolted, tightened, fused – each material has its own struggle on display. Although each piece is raw in material and devoid of human form, you can’t help but to personify them – you’re left either pitying them for their plight or questioning the ways in which they want to hurt you.
Ben Leslie has eloquently frozen a moment of struggle and highlighted the power dynamics within these sculptures. You are forced to gaze up in fear or crouch down in pity at his sneering hunks of wood. No object is whole, constantly rebel-ling against itself to the point of being two entities within one, a portrait of a fallen hero.