In What Century Will the Earth’s North and South Poles Change Polarities?

– On, Of, For, With Ben Patterson


From: Ben Patterson. 1986. "If Time Begins And Ends With Zero", A Selection of Ben Patterson's Works. Estate of Benjamin Patterson

Amidst the uncertainties, clamancies and nebulosity of our times, we must still find space to intro- and retrospect. Or is it to intro-audite and retro-audite? Indeed, we must find space and time to listen in and listen back. This project is a deliberation on and celebration of the seminal work of African-American artist Benjamin Patterson (1934–2016). It is an attempt to unsilence, re-enact and re-interpret the extensive body of work of one of the founding members of the Fluxus movement. It is a possibility to listen at ear level.

Six years after he transitioned to the greater beyond, it is time to take stock and time to commemorate Benjamin Patterson with a first comprehensive solo exhibition in Berlin. This exhibition will bring together original scores, texts, artworks, objects, videos, compositions and other archival material by Benjamin Patterson.

For the public INVOCATIONS programme, SAVVY Contemporary together with the Patterson Estate and MaerzMusik invites artists, curators, scholars and co-travellers to reflect and revive Patterson’s work of five decades. While being based on a multi-disciplinary curatorial approach that stems from Patterson’s worlds, this project wants to move beyond Fluxus, historically and artistically – a play on and with time, an archive in action.

This is a long term research by SAVVY Contemporary, which brings together works from five decades by Benjamin Patterson, including “When Elephants Fight, It Is the Frogs That Suffer (2016–17)”, commissioned for documenta14 (Athens and Kassel, 2017).

Benjamin Patterson
(1934 in Pittsburgh/USA –  2016 in Wiesbaden/Germany)

was a musician, artist, and composer as well as a classical double bassist and early co-founder of the Fluxus movement: a trailblazer of performance and action art. With irony, humour, and a full understanding of his own method of notations, Benjamin Patterson crosses the borders between varied art forms and opens spaces of collective possibilities, questioning the canon while opening the limits of what we call music. 

Patterson received his Bachelor of Music degree in 1956, and his first professional stint in classical music performance began under the auspices of the Halifax Symphony Orchestra in Canada. In 1958, the United States Army conscripted him into its only symphonic orchestra based in Stuttgart, Germany. During the early 1960s, he collaborated with comrades creatives. When news media cemented “Fluxus” within a broader public in and around September 1962, exhibitions and events quickly manifested. Alongside Dorothy Rudd Moore, Steve Chambers, and Carmen Moore, Patterson co-founded the Society of Black Composers in 1968. 

Much of Patterson’s artistic career was worldwide in scope, taking him to places such as Japan, Israel, the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Namibia, Brazil, and Los Angeles. To mention some, in 2010, Patterson’s first and major career retrospective opened at the Museum for Contemporary Arts Houston in Texas, which travelled to the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Nassauischer Kunstverein in Wiesbaden. In 2012, Patterson assisted with devising and planning the 50th anniversary of Fluxus in Wiesbaden. Since 2012, Patterson accepted numerous invitations for re-performance of works, for participation in exhibitions and events.  His last work before he passed on to the beyond was When Elephants Fight, It Is the Frogs That Suffer (2016–17) presented at documenta 14.