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    Published in September 2021

    Swallow the Lightning Rod


    Through kinetic prose, surreal drawings, and photographic documentation, multidisciplinary artist Ben Gould explores the relationships between body, movement, and environment. This digital piece, which juxtaposes hyperlinked phrases with imagery, grapples with the ways humans attempt to make sense of the body’s inner and outer workings even while its slippery energies manage to defy description. 


    You have been training, going to the gym, reading, not reading, watching movies, intentionally resting, stretching too much. Get ready to share something, spill your guts, talk out loud, be in public. Sit sweaty in front of the computer. The perfect cup of coffee does nothing. Go to the studio. Take the train, try to be still, try to be silent, research, don’t touch anything, make faces at babies.

    Inhale, store breath, generate heat. Restrain, keep inside, contain. Release as little air as possible. Be like the slow deflating balloon.

    Get ready for the next trip to the doctor, for the follow-up appointment in another city far away that you have put off for a year and a half ‘because of covid.’ Get your body ready, snacks ready, music ready, oil changed and car ready. Get x-rayed, remember your anatomy, 3-d scanning, classical music, elevators and medical bills.

    I have Tourette Syndrome. My brain produces excess dopamine (or I have supersensitive dopamine receptors), which leads to many strange urges, ticks, sounds, twitches, and behaviors. The way this neurological condition manifests often changes, and is more complicated than I understand or feel comfortable writing much more about with any sense of authority. I have undergone a series of treatments that are based on a probable link between jaw deterioration and Tourette’s symptoms. My specific condition and way of living with it is not necessarily typical or particularly special, it is just my own and not emblematic of the disorder in any way. I am, however, deeply intrigued by it, thankful for it, in awe of and in service to it. It has proven to be one of my primary engines, and I felt it necessary to give Tourette’s this dedication.

    Follow the pinpoint of stinging sensation from full expansion through constrained release. A wrecking ball searching for weak points, structural damage, escape routes. A planet of ice and its gravitational pull. Trap everything for the very first time. Stillness, heat, friction in place. Swallow everything into your belly and close the lid. Reroute, trap, store.

    They say you are doing well but might need stem cell treatments or more surgery. They don’t like that you are still very twitchy but hey if it doesn’t bother you. Leave through the lowest level ten stories underground, mirrors and muzak, stalagmites and echoes. Tunnel deeper under the parking garages, fallout shelters, and evacuation routes, through what used to be gold mines and flooded passages for hundreds of miles. Pass the families of mules that have been raised in the dark, hear the hiss of air fed through hoses pumped above ground by compressors larger than an apartment. Inhale, forcing the air and tension up and in through the nose. Water drains from a reservoir atop a mountain, passing through turbines embedded in rock. Exhale and release as little air as possible, be like a deflating balloon with the end pinched between your fingers. Electricity from the generators power the compressor and air rushes past, extinguishing candles in wrought iron holders hammered into cracks in the rock. Inhale, inflate, reroute, trap, store. Follow an ant carrying a seed pod in its jaws through burrowed tunnels, past steel track, arsenic pools, slag, glistening crystal and pitch black, and up the root system of a young plant blooming through fissures in the freshly painted concrete lot. Parking lines like a splayed ribcage, exploded views, assembly instructions. Lightning strikes spires topping vacant office buildings.

    Breath escapes, contact pierces the body and protrudes out the other side like a sword. The wound man, pierced straight through to the ground, pinned by extension. Reroute, trap, store. A meteor drives through your skull. Each arrow of entrapment anchors your body to the ground, providing leverage for the next passage.

    I try to find clarity through organizational drawings, schemata, instructions, diagrammatic writing structures and language maps. I can push aside frustration, doubt, rules, or ability. It is preparation for contending with expectation and actuality — caught in the confluence of desire and the concrete. The desire for unbound fantasy (meaning literally overflowing through every material and action, associations ripe and yet somehow literal with manifested form and narrative) and the concreteness of reality (wonderful laws of physics, the generation of meaning through actual embodied materials and actions, exemplification overcoming symbolism, meaning born of what is felt in undeniable ways). 

    Unload the trunk. Oxidized pig iron and milled timber still warm to the touch, smelted and smoldering, charred and dry. Bring out the caged granite boulder found at the old quarry, whose stone was mined to construct the still unfinished cathedral near where you live. Unpack pulleys and rope, assembly for mechanical advantage and wonderful laws of physics. Boulder is struck by lightning bolt bouncing off glass building, pummeled by water, clung to by ants, burst through by flowers, pierced by pic axes, lifted by your mouth biting down on rope with ease, relaxed and feeling perfect tension.

    Superheat your body and leave its remains behind. Hold all that has been stored. Hold onto flames, fireworks, screams, shakes and song. Release bursts of steam, your throat muscles controlling the gauges how to breathe, what happens next.

    Stuff everything, along with the stone and steel, into the box of emergency surgical tools: braces, medical tape, titanium cutting and drilling instruments, silent corkscrew pickets and anchors, copper, zinc, and electrolytes. Sanitation and ventilation supplies, rations of water, elaiosomes, protein biscuits, dehydrated meals from the last best restaurants on earth. Drive until the dirt-battery dies and unfold the car into an expansive arena with an operating table, frozen pool, and alchemical stove. Windshield, windows, and mirrors turned lenses and magnifiers. Eternal golden hour smoky haze with an audience of sleeping cows — confused circadian clocks. Ashen pages of someone’s far-away library floating like leaves. Lay on your back to take a close look at your incredible digestive system, your muscle spasm, incisive sweat, decisive hands, exquisite corpse.

    I found an old dictionary on the street with the lexical entry for “energy” underlined in its pages, the only annotation. In desperation, between videos of teenagers acting as disability role models and the blogs of concerned parents with violently twitchy children, I came across a transcription noting that before Tourette’s was termed in Western medicine, one of its many names was The Pulse, and another was Disease of the Ant. I learned that some ants’ jaws can accelerate at 100,000 times the force of gravity and exert a force 500 times greater than their body weight. My jaw alignment was measured by biting down on blue dental “articulating paper.” I watched films set in various futures and wondered if blue is the color found least often in nature. Blood vessels seen through human tissue appear blue because the skin scatters and absorbs red wavelengths of light. The skin turns blue when silver is ingested and enters the bloodstream. Ants have no bloodstream, only open circulatory-like-systems, allowing their blood-like fluid to flow freely throughout their entire body. Silver’s atomic structure has the most free flowing electrons among all metals, making it the most electrically conductive element. One large thundercloud contains enough electrical energy to power even the largest of American cities for a half hour.

    Lightning strikes, exit wounds, clothes blown off, burnt palms and feet, more steam. Nerves and veins visible. Impact. Jumpstart. Pull it apart, peel back layers, open and splayed. Catch your body and cradle yourself before you hit the ground. Death pose. Recharge. Resistors. Fragility and stability. Use all of your weight to isolate your arm and make a numb puppet. Generator and exit wounds and lightning strikes. Here is abandon. Impact, sinus node, heartbeat. Swallow the lightning rod.

    Ben Gould photo
    Photo courtesy of the artist.

    [ID: Ben, a short-haired man with a unibrow looks at the camera with a friendly, neutral expression.]


    Ben Gould
    He // Him // His
    New York, NY

    Ben Gould is a multidisciplinary artist currently living in New York City. After a sudden Tourette Syndrome diagnosis, Gould’s studio practice transformed to harbor an investment in the body, exploring limits, resistance, and the loss of control. Grounded in performance, his practice is built upon intimacy and urgency – cultivated by a deep interest in how energy is directed, rerouted, transformed and transferred. His condition has become a motor for movement-based performance, and draws from the history of sculpture, the built and natural world, ancient symbology, and the principles of craft. With the body as a source – and often in collaboration – each endeavor is powered by a search for deeper understanding and empathy. Born in Grass Valley, California in 1993, Gould was raised in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in a Gold Rush era town, between decommissioned mines and the Yuba River – the geography of which has greatly informed his commitment to site specific projects and reinforced the importance of place. Most recently, he has been presented by and shown new works at KANAL Centre Pompidou, Liberal Arts Roxbury, Bozar, and The Center for Craft.

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