Helen Carmel Benigson, Stressful, Anxious, Insomnia, Fat, 2015, 6’12”
Helen Carmel Benigson’s performance Stressful, Anxious, Insomnia, Fat was filmed on the opening night of her exhibition Anxious, Stressful, Insomnia Fat at Carroll / Fletcher.
INTERVIEW: HELEN CARMEL BENIGSON
Interview by Philomena Epps. This Q&A originally appeared on Riposte.
Helen Carmel Benigson’s current exhibition Anxious, Stressful, Insomnia, Fat at Carroll/Fletcher is a lurid and dizzying experience. The room is saturated in a hypnotic, almost pixelated, light. The installation and video work explores how technology, when gendered, can cause a dematerialisation of the body. This particular show was inspired by the artist’s download of a ‘period and ovulation’ tracker, and the impact of monitoring one’s body through digital means. The animated environment emphasises a negotiation between identity, sexuality and cyberspace. As the show enters its final week, Philomena Epps spoke to Benigson to find out a little more.
PE: Could you talk in more detail about the title of your current exhibition: anxious, stressful, insomnia, fat – and how these words feed into the work?
HCB: I am interested in the presentation of the visceral tensions between performance, body and brain in online and offline spaces. The title comes from my own incessant anxiety and also inspired by the app ‘Glow’, a daily body-monitoring device which I downloaded and used while preparing for the exhibition.
PE: How do you make use of the conflict between issues of reality and emotions, and new developments in technology, like coding and bodymapping.
HCB: I find the overlapping of virtual and real space really exciting and this excitement becomes a material I play with within the work. Bodymapping, profiling, hyper technology and imagined territories are all constantly reworked, remodelled and then broken down.
PE: There seems to be a fascination with the removal or dematerialisation of the body through this technology? What is it about fantasy avatars, online identities or digitised gaming characters that appeals to you?
HCB: It’s about charting a time / space momentum and disrupting it as much as I can. I am interested in negative space or rather what happens around, underneath or on top of our computer screens as much as inside them. I flirt with the idea of multiple avatars or identities and think that my work often encourages multiples, repeating and procreating as much as possible.
PE: Is this replicated by the use of actors and dancers in performance pieces, or your creation of an alter ego – Princess Belsize Dollar? Are you deliberately trying to erase your status as an author?
HCB: Yes – the avatars or multiples appear as versions of myself in performances, and in the videos, and in Princess Belsize Dollar. However, I am not interested in erasing the status of the author, but rather extending an idea of profile or identity by presenting it in compounding versions.
PE: How do these types of performances, often site specific or taking place during one-off occasions, explore issues of temporality?
HCB: I explore ideas around the “instant” – I have a very short attention span and would never want other people to be bored when watching my work – I like the idea of moving quickly – get in, get out, move on.
PE: Your live performance at Carroll/Fletcher includes the presence of fake tan beauticians and female body builders – what interested you about these women?
HCB: These women are all experts in their field and this is inspirational and powerful. I include producers more than I include consumers and I ask them to collaborate with me in order to highlight contemporary strength in different forms. I think of these women as being versions of myself – so they become characters within a narrative. They have to perform a certain role when they become part of work – it is a scripted process although collaborative.
PE: The installation seemed to exemplify a commoditisation or stereotype of women. Alongside the video, there were more visceral displays of the female body: gynaecological ephemera, a paddling pool and a baby pink running machine. Where do you feel that digital and the physical can meet?
HCB: I think they meet in real life at every juncture. I am constantly on my phone, documenting the real – sending pictures of my body across the world, looking up medical symptoms online, inputting personal data into an app – this crudeness is problematic as well as seductive.
PE: Do you think we can ever craft a truly feminist online space?
HCB: I think it already exists in Instagram.
• The recording of the performance can still be viewed on our main website here