“Within” sculpture by Peter Arnoud Bensen encompasses both form and motion
A lot of people would blame reality TV when it comes to our obsession with perfection, but I blame the Ancient Greeks. Shaking off the gods, those clever Greco classicists believed in things they could see, touch and feel. Through nature they understood how things fit together in perfect synchronicity and they turned this into a mathematical equation that gave us the Parthenon and other man-made feats of symmetry. Understanding life became one giant jigsaw puzzle where, if everything had its place, harmony could be reached. But humans are not just the sum of their parts and our outsides don’t necessarily match our insides. Just ask Kaitlyn Jenner.
Certainly, the right postcode, partner, bank balance and social media acumen could land you a TV show. You might even land one about your struggle to reconcile your looks and gender but whether it leads to true joy is arbitrary. That doesn’t mean that Plato, Pythagoras and their mates wouldn’t applaud an effort like this to pursue perfection. They probably just wouldn’t understand the connection with flawlessness and public approval. Our modern obsession with achieving an exterior ideal and material possessions as a way to achieve happiness was never part of the equation. So what is the goal in pursuing perfection and is it still relevant?
Lofty questions indeed. And not the sort that can be answered by Wikipedia or any amount of Googling (I tried). Resisting a bottle of wine and armchair philosophising, I decided to defer to someone who spends their life dedicated to plumbing these depths. And it’s no coincidence that he’s a former deep sea diver. Peter Arnoud Bensen, one half of art and science collective, PABensen, is fascinated with unravelling perfect forms and explores this idea through his sculptural work.
“Diving as a profession gave me the opportunity to see nature up close, to see its patterns. There is perfection in the biological world based on its own inherent number sequences. You can see it in shells, leaves, the family tree of bees, even binary stars." Peter applies this idea to create beautiful optical illusions in his metal sculptures. “My sculptures are essentially an extrapolation of Fibonacci and other number systems. By borrowing from nature I can make structures that would otherwise be impossible to support."
“Golden Heart” sculpture by Peter Arnoud Bensen plays on the concept of the Fibonacci sequence
Peter is not the only artist to use golden ratios and divine proportions. From Da Vinci to Dali, painters, sculptors and architects have used mathematics and geometry to achieve symmetry in their work. There’s no denying the results are pleasing to the eye, much like a well-executed Botox treatment. Unlike facial enhancements, though, the work of Da Vinci and Dali does more than just calculate beauty - it employs devices to command attention so that it might provoke and question. While art might achieve perfection, it needs to be more than aesthetically pleasing.
“I’m not interested in replicating the perfection I see in nature. It provides a starting point. It allows me to explore frontiers. I push and play with perfection to get to the edge of possibility. It’s exciting because just on the other side is chaos," Peter explains. “Although I use mathematics in my sculpture, I work by hand. This naturally means that there must be imperfections in my work." That’s not to say that Peter isn’t prone to chasing an ideal. “I have a bowling ball of wood in my studio. I was obsessed with shaping it to create the perfect sphere. I kept sanding and working it until I could see the piece was going to whittle down to nothing. No matter how hard I tried, I could not create something that was flawless. Until I realised that it is the human element that adds to the completeness of a piece. Only nature is supposed to be perfect. They have developed systems to survive."
“Sphere” (aka the bowling ball) by Peter Arnoud Bensen
So it might follow, that we are already perfect because we exist, we have survived against the odds. We don’t need fillers, Facebook and Ferraris to reach some ultimate flawlessness. We already are everything we need to be. The pursuit of perfection is really just a misguided quest for wholeness that, somewhere along the way, we’ve confused with a need to meet some idealised notion of physical beauty. If we believe that need to be more than what we are to achieve happiness, there will always be someone there to take our money, to pass judgement and to disregard us when any adornment gets stripped away.
Perhaps we should take a perfectly created leaf out of Peter’s book instead. By accepting that we are complete yet malleable works of art in and of ourselves, we can be free to find that perfection lies in the very process of living, in integrating all our parts, in expanding and contracting them, in the harmony that exists when we know that our total being is greater than the sum of our parts. After all, the origins of the Greek word for perfection translates as wholeness. And if you think that’s a whole lotta rubbish, just go watch a reality TV show!
To chat more about art and design get in touch with the clever people at Addicted Art Gallery who live for this stuff!
Written by Skye Wellington