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Glitch art gone wild: Ben K. Foley and Allison Tanenhaus embrace error at Boston Cyberarts Gallery

The artist-illusionists, who go by bent/haus, manipulate a different kind of matrix in their new self-titled show

Ben K. Foley and Allison Tanenhaus, who go by bent/haus, pose in front of "Phantasmagoria," an installation in their self-titled exhibition at Boston Cyberarts Gallery in Jamaica Plain.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

At first blush, Ben K. Foley and Allison Tanenhaus, the artistic duo bent/haus, don’t appear to have much in common.

She works on her phone, sometimes late into the night, pulling apart photo and video files, finding kinks, and manipulating it all into glitch art, turning digital mistakes into art.

“I’m intentionally leaning into error, embracing the imperfections, and seeing how we can make something beautiful out of them,” she said.

Foley can’t spend more than five minutes on his phone, he said. He engineers sculptures from materials he finds at Home Depot.

“I think the only thing that we share is we’re both nocturnal creatures,” Foley said.


Artists Allison Tanenhaus and Ben K. Foley, known as bent/haus, look over their piece "Glitchfield" at Boston Cyberarts Gallery in Jamaica Plain. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Mix Tanenhaus’s neon-colored video abstractions with Foley’s DIY sculptures and optical devices, and you’ve got a kaleidoscopic cocktail. In their self-titled show at Boston Cyberarts Gallery, Foley uses lenses, mirrors, and forms to bend and thrust Tanenhaus’s virtual designs into three dimensions.

“I’ll look at my own stuff in his contraptions,” said Tanenhaus, “and I’m like, ‘Wait. I didn’t even know that about my own work.’”

“Glitchfield” is a mirrored structure in the spirit of Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirror Rooms,” 4 feet square and open at the top. The mirrors make Tanenhaus’s pulsating patterns appear to spin out across the gallery floor. Look through a peephole, and the effect is even more dizzying. Foley can alter the angles of the walls to create a tilt effect.

“I’m an illusionist. My goal as an artist is for people to leave their standard tools of perception at the door and enter a space where they can learn a new way of seeing things,” he said.

Tanenhaus works with her own videos and photos, or Foley’s, or public domain files she finds on the Internet, and plays with them using artificial intelligence and apps such as Glitché.


“I think of it as like clay, where I’m ripping into it and I’m folding it over and then accentuating or zooming in on one thing,” she said. “It might have started off with this tiny little pink circle, and it ends up being this pink color field with jaggy lines.”

She posts her psychedelic artworks on Instagram. They’re bright and buzzy, but also hallucinogenic.

"The Alchemist v13," by bent/haus, at Boston Cyberarts Gallery. bent/haus

“One of my college roommates saw my glitch art when I was just starting out and said, ‘I want to support you, but I can’t buy it because so much of your art reminds me of recurring nightmares I had as a child,’” said, Tanenhaus, who is 38. “And I was like, I’m on the right track.”

“It isn’t all sweet candy,” said Foley, 34. “It’s more like Sour Patch Kids.”

Foley’s on Instagram, too, and that’s where he found her in 2019 and reached out to collaborate on art projects.

“She had no idea what we have in common or what we would do together, because a lot of the stuff that I was doing was charcoal drawings and wooden sculptures at the time,” said Foley. But Tanenhaus had seen his show at Dorchester Art Project in 2018 and been amazed by his work with light. Foley has used laser diodes — single points of light — refracted through sheets of glass.

“But I had nothing at all when it came to animating and making things that are moving images,” he said, “and it came so naturally to her.”


Foley’s optical devices and sculptural forms multiply the Sour Patch Kids effect.

George Fifield, executive director of Boston Cyberarts, said that bent/haus strikes a perfect balance.

“In terms of the big zeitgeist of art and technology, they’re doing both,” said Fifield. “It’s very strong art. It’s very strong technology.”

Allison Tanenhaus and Ben Foley, who go by bent/haus, in front of "Phantasmagoria" at Boston Cyberarts Gallery. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Their strength is bringing flat-screen imagery into three dimensions. In “Paradigm v15,” seven sheets of glass fan out to refract Tanenhaus’s projections. And last summer at Groundwork Somerville and Chuckie Harris Park in Somerville, bent/haus installed “Mistery Machine,” playing cascades of glitch art through a field of mist, as part of a citywide heat mitigation program.

Their collaboration has the energy of an improv riff.

“There’s a ton of trust that we’re on the same page, even though we have no idea where the other one’s coming from,” Tanenhaus said.

In the end, they have this in common: His art manipulates hers, and hers manipulates his.

The wall sculpture “Phantasmagoria” is “one of the best examples of the simple marriage of our work,” said Foley.

"Phantasmagoria" at Boston Cyberarts Gallery. bent/haus

It features mostly videos from his camera, of crystals spinning on a turntable. As Tanenhaus glitched those, Foley went dumpster diving for Styrofoam packing blocks to build into a kind of cityscape. The dashing, melting lights of Tanenhaus’s glitch art swim over them.

In a darkened gallery, the effect is chimeric. You won’t know you’re looking at packing blocks until you get up close. Some of them are missing chunks. That aesthetic of recycling damaged goods is another passion the two share.


“Take an error to the nth degree,” Foley said. “How wonderful it becomes, you know?”

BENT/HAUS: Ben K. Foley + Allison Tanenhaus

At Boston Cyberarts Gallery, 141 Green St., Jamaica Plain, through Feb. 20. www.bostoncyberarts.org

Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.