Clever and talented Danish artist Jeppe Hein has been custom-making his “Modified Social Benches” for museums, arts festivals, and plazas since the mid-2000s. Most recently, he created a unique set of art you can sit on for Beaufort04, the fourth Triennial of Contemporary Art by the Sea this summer in Belgium. Kids, cool kids, and adults all seem to love playing with these.
Hein says his powder-coated aluminium “social benches” borrow their basic form from the standard park bench, but are altered to make the “act of sitting on them a conscious physical endeavor.” As they mutate, the benches become spaces to “inhabit,” rather than just places to park it and relax for a moment.
The benches become an “exchange between the users and the passers-by, thus lending the work a social quality.” Both functional and dysfunctional, Hein says they occupy some middle place between art and public amenity.
On the Beaufort04 web site, the curators of the outdoor contemporary art write: “Jeppe Hein’s work speaks to all of us, even if we haven’t asked it to. Hein excels in setting up apparently accidental happenings, that play with the laws of cause and effect and evoke an unexpected inventive behavior from the viewer.”
The pieces may seem like fun one-offs, but something then happens between the work and the community: “As is the case with much of Hein’s work, the Modified Social Benches on the dyke in De Haan seem to hide behind a disguise of fun and entertainment. But what they actually evoke is a process of interaction and communication that works on different levels.”
For other installations, Hein has gone way beyond the standard bench, creating a set of undulating, curvy forms that loop. They are part bench, part jungle gym, and adults and kids seem to enjoy them in equal measure.
Hein writes on his piece for a museum in Auckland, New Zealand: “A series of different bench designs is connected to an imaginary line of benches running along the building, on the terrace at the rooftop, the facade and inside the galleries. In some places the bench sinks into the ground, gently ascending elsewhere, sometimes providing an opportunity to take a seat and relax, sometimes only offering a sculptural impression.”
Image credits: Jeppe Hein