Art & Art History Alumni Conversations
Master of Fine Arts alumna Abby Bennett has launched a successful career in the arts after graduation and now builds monumental public artworks around the world. Professor Yumi Janairo Roth sat down with Abby and talked with her about her time at CU Boulder and her career trajectory.
What was your experience in the MFA program?
"I went right into the sculpture and post-studio program. I have always just worked with my hands and with a wide variety of mediums. So, no matter what area I would have been in, I would have still been making sculptural things.
"It was nice to have the time and the freedom to learn creative problem-solving, I had lots of time to experiment. The time in the MFA program enabled me to explore new materials and learn valuable skills because I understood that it would be hard to do this later when I didn’t have a studio and an entire wood shop full of tools available.
"I felt a real bond and closeness with the other sculpture grads, we all hung out outside of school as much as we did at school. Even though everybody's at different places in their personal lives, you're bonded because you are in this collected shared experience. And you go through the ups and downs of that journey at the same time. I'm still good friends with all of them."
How did you shape your career in the arts at CU Boulder?
"The first week or two before I started classes at CU I was on campus and saw a sculpture being installed between the museum and the Art & Art History building. That was the first time I had interfaced with Demiurge, a large-scale fabrication studio based in Denver, who was doing the installation. I was asked to help with the installation, and it really made a big impression on me.
"Once I finished school, I was encouraged to apply to Demiurge. I sent in my resume, followed up, and finally got an interview over lunch. It went well and they called me as I was driving away from the restaurant, thinking I got the job, but they had locked their keys in the car and asked, “Can you give us a ride back to the shop?” I was like, yeah of course, but I had to move a ton of tools in the backseat to fit four people. I think that's probably why I got the job because I had an insane number of tools in my car.
"When I started at Demiurge, my desk was in a hallway, between the designer's office and the owner's office and so I was a part of every conversation from beginning to end. I listened and learned things out of the necessity to formalize and realize projects—from administration to installation."
How has your work in the MFA program informed your career?
"It comes naturally for me to conquer complex logistical issues and working in the Art & Art History wood shop with Bill Rumley (the AAH Woodshop Supervisor) was one of the things I really enjoyed when I was at CU Boulder. I loved helping students figure out how to do their work and encouraging them to use what resources we had available to solve their problems. Having the curiosity, mindset, and tenacity to look for answers through hands-on problem-solving has always served me well."
"At Demiurge, we've done so many cool things, one was a pavilion dome structure made from 900 aluminum panels. Our team had never completely assembled it and it took four people, 14,000 rivets, and four days to install it. Your arts vocabulary and materials library gets bigger and bigger, especially working with so many diverse and creative people. It's incredible when brilliant minds from all sorts of different backgrounds, collaborate to solve the same problem.
"When clients come to Demiurge everybody comes at a different stage. Some people show up with a fully fleshed-out design and stamped engineer drawings, others come with essentially a sketch on a napkin or just a wild idea. Our team listens and collaborates however they feel most comfortable and typically it’s in those beginning conversations you learn whose skill sets will be best used when and where. That’s the joy of making public work with a team as flexible as ours is, we can make any part or the entire project, or we can fully collaborate, whatever suits the client best.
"The challenges at Demiurge don't stop, I learn new things every day. Sometimes I'm grinding metal and sometimes I'm doing payroll. In the future, I want to continue working, designing, and building monumental artworks and work with artists I have admired forever. There's still a lot to look forward to at Demiurge, it's still exciting to fantasize about future projects."
How has your art practice grown for you personally?
"The thing that I'm doing for myself that I still consider art or just uses that same part of my brain is renovating a 100-year-old house. There's a lot to do, and it's super satisfying. It’s incredibly creative and I find I’m solving many of the same problems an artist does when building a public artwork. Additionally, I've always loved good design and nice things, especially domestic touches, so the house feels like a cool freaking art project."