"Transcending the Material", knit wool & silk, digital photographs, screen prints, cans

Ben Cuevas' work "spans a wide range of mediums including installation, sculpture, fiber, photography, video, performance, and sound, often incorporating several of these elements into any given piece." Based on LA, Cuevas is part of a thriving community of sex positive artists, writers and organizers. Most recently his work was on view at "Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community", curated by John Chaich at the Leslie+Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. In the interview below, Cuevas discusses intimacy, the benefits of variety and his positive attitude.

Visual AIDS: Julia Bryan Wilson recently remarked that the exhibition of your work Genitosexual, in the Queer Threads exhibition invited the notion of laying in bed with the work. This picks up on this theme of intimacy in your practice, for example Jock Strap. Are you thinking of being intimate with your audience when you create work?
Ben Cuevas: Certainly. I think that’s one of the great assets of working with fiber, and knitting specifically. It’s a material we’re intimately acquainted with in our everyday lives. It caresses our bodies, envelopes ourselves, gives us warmth, and I think all of those associations carry into my work.

Visual AIDS: From music, to fiber arts, to installation, your work covers a lot of ground. Do these diverse mediums come out of a need to communicate different things through different means, or is it something else?
BC: I’ve always said, the right idea needs the right medium. I’ve immersed myself in a variety of creative disciplines over the course of my life, and it’s allowed me to gravitate toward the most effective medium for any given concept. It’s not always a conscious process though. It’s not like I have an idea and think, okay now is this going to be a performance or a knit sculpture? The ideas usually bubble up out of my subconscious, fully formed. I see it, or hear it in my mind, and then I make it real.

Visual AIDS: What has been peoples' reaction to the refreshingly frank way to talk about your sexuality, desires, body, and HIV status?
BC: For the most part, it’s been overwhelmingly positive. Maybe my candor has a way of weeding out folks who would respond negatively to being out there about all that stuff. I think people are grateful when things that our sex-negative culture says belong in the dark are brought into the light.

The response to being out about my HIV status has been the most interesting to me. I didn’t expect to find so much love and support in being openly HIV Positive. I even had an old friend from high school come out of the woodwork and say how much it meant to them to see me thriving and making work influenced by my experience as a poz queer person. Ignorance around the reality of living with HIV today, and the strong emotional reactions that stem from that, are the hardest to deal with. But I’ve been able to have some great teaching moments, and open people’s minds because of it.

Visual AIDS: As an artist, and someone with a social media presence, you have a focus on the positive and the corporeal (Duality #1: Masculine/Feminine, Knit Veins: Fiber of our being). I wonder if you see a connection between the body and positivity?
BC: Well, I think I’m largely a positive person by nature. It’s just how I was raised (my mother often compares herself to Leslie Knope, if that gives you an idea of the kind of upbeat attitude I grew up around). That mindset just sort of naturally spills over into the way I view the body. Bodies are wonderful things we should enjoy as long as we have them.

Visual AIDS: Thinking about both the Anatomical Knit Hood and Charkha series, you have a hand driven, detail orientated, soft approach to the body that makes space for materiality and spirituality. I wonder if this comes out of a practice outside of your art, and/or if you see it all as related?
BC: I started really finding my way in my art practice around the same time I first started getting serious about yoga. So, I’d say that the sort of mind/body/spirit focus bled into the foundations of my work. And it also came from knitting. When I first started knitting, before I even thought of using it to make art, I quickly became aware of how meditative it is. It’s a kind of meditation that’s very much connected to materiality: while the practice creates space for the mind and spirit, you’re using your body to put something new into the material world.

Ben Cuevas