Mindless Pleasures (2021, Los Angeles Contemporary Archive, 156 pp. softcover) examines Los Angeles artist Scott Benzel’s multifaceted project from its origins in a Spring 2019 course at California Institute of the Arts to a Fall 2020 exhibition and subsequent “addendum” works and texts. Mindless Pleasures (named for the abandoned working title of Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow) is Benzel’s examination of the forces of leisure, chaos, and compulsion from the mid-20th Century to the present. The course examined a wide range of phenomena surrounding the evolution and social impact of cybernetics, chaos or complexity theory, chance, and gambling while the exhibition explored iconographic and performative aspects of Las Vegas’s (the artist’s hometown) casino culture, inviting audiences to interact with pieces such as Hybrid Monte Carlo (2020), a multimedia installation that prominently featured an operational data-gathering roulette wheel.
From Jan Tumlir’s essay for the book: “If the highly ambiguous figure of the gambler remains perhaps the preeminent archetype of modernity, it is for good reason: freely renouncing command of the situation, he nevertheless aims to break the bank. For Benzel, the figure is also the key to unlocking our present. The mutating abstractions produced by his oscilloscopes conform to formulae devised by the mathematicians Henri Poincaré and Edward Lorenz, forefathers of what has come to be known as chaos theory. That this term, which once might have been understood as an oxymoron, barely raises an eyebrow today is worth bearing in mind. Although the world wars are now behind us, we still live in a state routinely defined in terms of “precarity”, a word that points to the existential upshot of chaos, the sense that everything one should be able to count on—particularly as this relates to money—is always spinning out of control.”
Edited by Hailey Loman and designed by Sita Valrun, the book features incisive essays by Jan Tumlir, Lee Foley, and Hande Sever, an expanded course syllabus with handwritten marginalia by Sever, notes by Benzel and Alan S. Tofighi, and schematics for the analog electronics featured in the works by Alan S. Tofighi/AST. Printed by Colpa Press and published by Los Angeles Contemporary Archive in Fall 2021.