Wills pushes new perspective in art

Sculpture in motion: The aeronautical visual arts program is creating sculptures that fly and document the landscape. Benjamin Will (right) launched his aeronautic project “Pissarro” balloon in Topeka Dec. 20, 2018. Isaac Bird (left) assisted him.

Yue Li

“I like teaching sculpture because of how open-ended sculpture is. There are limitless possibilities in sculpture. All objects, performances, sound, video, it all falls under the umbrella of sculpture. So it gives me the freedom to bounce between lots of different mediums and lots of different projects,” said Benjamin Wills.

Wills is a Catron visiting Professor of Art at Washburn University. He is teaching sculpture and digital fabrication courses this semester. Wills attended the University of Georgia to obtain his bachelor’s degree and received his master’s degree at the University of Iowa.

Wills’ background impacts the way he makes art. Before he went to college, he was touring in different bands, traveling around the country playing guitar and doing live shows, which is why he is interested in performance art.

The latest project that Wills is working on is the Aeronautical Visual Arts Program, creating sculptures that fly and sculptures that document the landscape. He attaches weather balloons to cameras and launches them. The balloons will fly about 95,000 feet in the air, photographing and taking videos of the curvature of the earth in the thermosphere. The balloons contain a bouncy ball covered in oil paint, which creates paintings when they are flying around.

Wills is inspired by the things around him. The environment in Kansas makes it possible for him to launch the project. “When I moved out here, it was all of a sudden, and the sky was so huge. It made me start thinking about wanting to use the sky to my advantage,” said Wills. “Also, the low population within the farming community makes it a lot safer to launch the balloons.”

Wills is planning to launch a fourth balloon on Oct. 19 in Theis Park in Kansas City. He plans to launch a fifth one on Washburn’s campus in November. Wills wants to show more contemporary art to his students. In his class, students get to know more contemporary artists and learn new perspectives to see and make art.

“As a professor, I hope that I am able to show more contemporary practices that people are unaware of… to try to expose people to as much new practice and new media art as possible, so that people have more tools to be able to express themselves however they think is best.” said Wills. 

Isaac Bird, a senior art education major, has taken classes with Wills before.

“I love Ben’s classes. He is really enthusiastic. He shows us a lot of important art that is being made in our community and in the world right now, and is very supportive of what we want to do and responsive to what we think. He keeps us grounded in what we can actually accomplish,” said Bird.

As an artist, Wills wants to find a way to transfer the physical art into digital life.

“On a professional level, I’m really interested in figuring out how to transfer the materiality of physical sculpture and art into some kind of digital life. More and more of our lives and experiences are happening on our phones and computers, so I am really interested in making physical artwork that you can see and touch, but that somehow also has a digital component that is unique to just the experience of online,” said Wills.

Edited by Jada Johnson, Jessica Galvin, Adam White