Benigson uses the terms “Fattening” and “flattening” are words that we can physically feel on our fingertips.  As something expands and contracts, our mind is drawn to matters of the flesh; the fullness of pregnancy contrasted with the thin density of the anxiety that accompanies it.

Isabella Helms  |  Ed Francesca Gransden | 17 July 2020

Helen Benigson, CASHINO DESERT performance with three musicians @zabludowicz_collection.© Courtesy of the artist.

The tangible sensations that present themselves within Helen Benigson’s work seem corporeal, but are in fact, translated through our computer screens. Benigson captures our maternal relationship with the internet in a world that is increasingly reliant upon it as a source of knowledge, communication and entertainment. There is an acceptance of the internet’s usefulness contrasted with the acknowledgement of it as a vessel for the natural anxieties of (m)otherhood. With pregnancy apps, Instagram and Google presenting a minefield of contradicting information on how to parent, Benigson’s work portrays the pressure that is put on (m)others when it comes to separating their physical selves from the influence of their phones. 

Video installations, live performance, text and spoken word are amongst a few of the mediums Benigson uses to create her work. With a focus on (m)otherhood, Benigson’s doctoral research at Oxford University takes us on a journey that is personal and relatable to (m)others, but also offers an experience for others outside of this category to understand this unsolicited perspective of maternity. Through the meticulous study of her own body through (m)otherhood Benigson has created a body of research that presents itself as an intricate study of the realities of having children. It steps away from the filtered narrative of the miracle of childbirth and introduces the viewer to a world in which trauma, pain and loneliness accompany the life-changing experience. 

Helen Benigson, Jude (2020) Winner of the Mother Art Prize © Courtesy of the artist.

Benigson uses (M)otherhood with the ‘m’ in parentheses plays a critical part in the inclusivity of Benigson’s work. The ‘(m)’ embraces all maternal subjects and consequently creates work that includes the diverse range of families that we find in our society. It depicts a sense of (m)otherhood being a universal term that transcends stereotypes and creates a space in which all maternal figures can relate to the anxieties of parenting. 

Benigson’s doctoral research is the first of its kind to be published as a website. https://www.fattened.net/suck is a space in which the viewer can navigate the complexities of (m)otherhood and explore how maternity is performed online and offline. A combination of her video and text work, the research encompasses the dichotomy of how (m)others can define themselves on the internet and away from it. Three of the digital works that are featured as part of the research are Hangry (2016),  Pump (2017) and Jude (2020). Each work takes the viewer on an immersive experience of (m)otherhood, and the realities of experiencing trauma and pain.

Jude (2020) has since won the Procreate Mother Art Prize Award 2020. 

The Procreate Project is an organisation that supports artists who are also mothers. They provide a platform that engages with art and motherhood, breaking the stereotype that both cannot coexist. For our  (M)otherhood, Online, Offline and in Lockdown talk, we are pleased to announce that co-director and curator Paola Lucente from Procreate Project will be joining Helen Benigson to discuss the convolution of (m)otherhood and art. Paola Lucente has been the co-director and curator of the Procreate Project for two years, previously working at galleries such as the Guggenheim and the Zabludowicz Collection. To have her representing the Procreate Project is a great opportunity to showcase the work that the organisation is doing to support the creative work of (m)others.  The Procreate Mother Art Prize awards a £500 cash prize and a two-week solo exhibition, providing a wonderful opportunity for exposure and support for the prize winners. 

 As two people whose work centres around (m)others and their support systems, it will be interesting to hear Helen Benigson and Paola Lucete’s ideas on our changing relationship with technology. In a talk with The COVID Times, Benigson discusses her own increased reliance on technology as one of her only means of communication and receiving news, but she contrasts this with the way that the pandemic has slowed life down and allowed her to spend more time with her children. In many ways, we witness “the push and pull of online and offline relationships” throughout  Benigson’s work, brought increasingly to the surface in the face of COVID-19. As we navigate our way through an unprecedented landscape, it’s astonishing to explore our changing relationship with technology. Always interested in analysing the relationship between art and technology, we are delighted to host such an important discussion between Helen and Paola about what (m)otherhood means in light of the unexpected.

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