with Emily Butler
‘The work explores a traumatised maternal subject in an extended state of metaphorical tongue-tie, complicating ideas around maternal embodiment, voice and silencing’.
My name is Helen Benigson. My practice as an artist is multi-faceted, consisting of videos and installation, live performance, interventions into existing spaces, as well as text, spoken word, script and print-making. My work is concerned with the presentation and construction of the body within online and libidinal space and the metaphorics of space and place associated with the Internet’s interface hardware and software. My practice provokes carnivalesque, pulsating spaces, referencing contemporary game playing, performance and what it means to ‘share’.
In March 2020, I completed my practice-led doctoral research at the University of Oxford, which took the form of a website, containing a series of moving image, audio and text works, reflecting on how maternality is performed online and offline: researched, imaged, networked, fantasised, interrupted. By timing the conception, gestation and birth of two babies to form my doctoral research, I used the project to stage my (m)othering body as an unstable working site at the intersection of institution, online/offline communities and artwork.
What are you showing in The London Open 2022?
I am showing, Jude (2020), which was one of the moving image works made as part of my doctoral project. Jude addresses the transformation of an Orthodox Jewish Rebbetzin (Rabbi’s wife) in a British Synagogue to a single, non-binary person coming to terms with their parenthood, religious identity, sexuality and gender, using the Internet as a way of forging new possibilities for their existence and self-expression.
Jude is a moving work as it offers a space of reflection about belonging and normative discourses. Would you describe Jude as a portrait? How important is self-constructed identity to the work?
The work explores a traumatised maternal subject in an extended state of metaphorical tongue-tie, complicating ideas around maternal embodiment, voice and silencing. It layers the exploration of a persona with a rupturing of body, sound and voice, weaving archival and online footage, linear narrative and abstracted images together. Jude Rose adds their drumming as a soundtrack to the story. The work is a portrait of Jude but also my self-portrait.
You are also showing a work on our website called Third Trimester, which looks at shifting notions of selfhood during your last pregnancy. You described this as a sister piece to Jude, can you tell us why?
In Third Trimester (2016) I use the camera and a mirror to cut, distort and contort my pregnant body, provoking a sense of anxiety and unrest. My entire body and head is present and I capture the video on my iPhone, as I sit on a workout mat at the gym. My body is manipulated so that it appears as both flattened and fattened on the screen. The audio, made from a computerised female voice, is frenetic and stressful. The moving image works that were made for my PhD exist as a single body of work that documented my pregnancies, births and post-birth periods. All of these works are interdependent, linked, related family members, immature, overlaid, blood-sucking, pulsating, fighting, licking one another, scared of being alone.
View Third Trimester
Work in the exhibition:
Helen Benigson (b. 1985, London, UK)
2020 PhD Fine Art, Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford
2011 MA Fine Art, Slade School of Fine Art, University College London
2009 BA (Hons) Fine Art, Slade School of Fine Art, University College London
Selected exhibitions and performances: Maternality, Richard Saltoun, London (2020); Procreate Mother Art Prize, Cromwell Place, London (2020); Tongue-Tie, Iniva, London (solo performance) (2019); Here is Information. Mobilise. An Afternoon for Ian White, The Showroom, London (2016); Objects Make Me, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (2015); Transformation Marathon, Serpentine Gallery, London (2015); Anxious, Stressful, Insomnia, Fat, Carroll/Fletcher, London (solo) (2015); Weightless Utopias, Site Gallery, Sheffield (solo) (2014)
What makes London’s art scene so vibrant? What are the concerns of the next generation of artists? What insight does their work offer in challenging times?
This triennial exhibition showcases a cross-section of the most dynamic artistic talent from across the capital. Established in 1932, this much-celebrated open submission show features 46 London-based artists working across painting, sculpture, moving image, installation and performance.
Since the last London Open in 2018, the city has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, demonstrations demanding racial and climate justice, and widespread questioning of institutions and their structures.
The London Open 2022 traces the ways in which artists have witnessed and responded to these events with resilience and heart. In times of hardship and crisis, and when exhibitions were cancelled and moved online, these artists experimented with new sites of production and means of dissemination, from the kitchen table to the back garden.
The exhibition is loosely structured as a journey from the personal to the social, moving from individual to collective concerns, the cathartic to the poetic, the political and the environmental.
The artists were selected from over 2,600 entries by a panel of experts including collector Maria Bukhtoyarova, artist Shezad Dawood, curator and art historian Christine Eyene, gallerist Stephan Tanbin Sastrawidjaja, with Whitechapel Gallery curators Emily Butler, lnês Costa and Wells Fray-Smith.
Gallery 1, Downstairs
The relationship between our bodies and the material world kickstarts the exhibition. Rafał Zajko’s wall-based reliefs appear like hybrid beings, processing the gluten found in wheat and barley flour, leaving us unsure if this is for machine or human consumption.Likewise, Madeleine Pledge’s stretched fabrics and ceramic boots imply absent bodies and their physical role in manufacturing.
Materiality and belief systems intersect in Candida Powell-Williams’ handmade objects. A unicorn and swing inspired by medieval tapestries are fenced off by a trellis, prompting questions about the divisions between what is mythical and real. Alicia Reyes McNamara’s paintings feature non-binary, shapeshifting figures drawn from various mythologies, from Meso-America to Ancient Egypt, to consider alternative notions of time and embodiment.
Gallery 9, Upstairs
This gallery features works that delve into the impact of technology, algorithms and quantification on our lives. In his series The Spectre of a World Which Could Be Free 2019, Ben Yau looks at the parallel rise of Neoliberalism and the CIA’s role in sabotaging the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973, bringing together both economic data and declassified documents.
Set in a parallel present reminiscent of sci-fi films such as Blade Runner, The Underlying by Ami Clarke considers the implicit role of capitalism in environmental disaster.
Meanwhile, Rory Cahill and George Mackness offer a walk through a dystopian, corrupted digital landscape of the future, with an immersive soundtrack. They consider: what does a digital wasteland look like, what happens there and what is its afterlife?
Gallery 8, Upstairs
The artworks in this gallery reflect on family, identity and community. Seema Khalique travelled to Bangladesh to photograph two communities of transgender people called hijras. In this behind-the-scenes series, she questions the prejudices they face, revealing the economic hardships they endure alongside the strong network of mentorship and care they create.
Pioneering photographer, curator and writer Sunil Gupta took photographs of his neighbourhood on Walworth Road during lockdown. This work celebrates the increased relevance of our localities during the pandemic, as well as reflecting on the processes involved in created photographic images.
On three vintage TV monitors, Hussina Raja’s short narrative films look at the subject of migration to the UK from post-Partition India, tracing the continued experiences of displacement and exploring nuanced notions of identity.
The works in the last part of the show focus on our relationship to and impact on the environment. In Agrilogistics (2022), Gerard Ortin Castellvi films in an automated greenhouse, in which the growth of tomatoes, tulips and chrysanthemums is controlled by cameras and sensors, in order to question the future of food production.
Having spent lockdown excavating her back garden, Maria Roy Deulofeu meticulously records each layer of soil like an archaeologist, collecting artefacts and ecofacts, before assembling a kiln to fire hand-thrown urns with the different layers of clay. The process is recorded in a video shown alongside the objects. Finally, a flock of parakeets cast in lead are scattered on the ground in Patrick Goddard’s Blue Sky Thinking (2019).The parakeet exemplifies a non-native species increasingly common in London parks and hints at a mass extinction event, highlighting mankind’s role in the impending climate disaster.
See the full list of works here.
An illustrated catalogue is available to purchase from the bookshop.
Artists have generously made limited editions to coincide with the exhibition to support the Gallery’s education programme.