Helen Benigson

Helen Benigson’s most recent works “Hangry” (2016), “Pump” (2017), and “Jude” (2020) are the culmination of five years of embodied artistic research in the context of her doctoral project which “reconfigures maternality as inextricably linked to an overwhelming online experience”.

The research can be accessed at fattened.net and it is the first time a website-based thesis has been submitted to the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.

Alexandra Busila  |  Ed YoungMi Lamine  |  22 October 2020

Born in 1985, Helen Benigson is a multi-media British artist who creates moving-image and performance work concerned with the body, (m)otherhood and online identities.

She co-founded the Ruskin Centre for performance at Oxford University. In 2020, she completed a practice-led PhD in Fine Art at the Ruskin School of Art, supervised by Eve Ess, Corin Sworn and John Cussans.

What’s next?

2020 Nov: “Jude” will be premiered Ireland

2021: Solo Exhibition at The Showroom, London

Did you know?

Discovering Helen Benigson’s works can be a pleasant shock therapy and a reminder that the maternal is more than ever a vital site of critical interrogation. As we are reassured by the free-flowing scrollable prose Helen Benigson wrote: “There is still work to be done, in our skins and in our screens.”

But also, there has ever been a more appropriate time than today to ask ourselves the question she poses: “How do we live online, while at the same time producing, protesting, articulating, annunciating, creating, (m)othering, working, earning and transforming?”

Her written project helps us face the maternal technological labouring body and “how intimate digital data is appropriated and reproduced for other forms of mined value such as advertising, statistics, or research”. I also find the parallel between maternal labour and digital labour quite thought-provoking. When you think about it, both are invisible, both are done freely and for the pleasure of connection and massive value is culled from both.

Even more unsettling to realise that if (m)otherhood as radical performance offers a unique, under-theorised source of power, then the Internet might just work against that political potential by “flattening out, silencing or excluding (m)others and transforming them in “fun specimens of digital data assemblage”. In the interrupted temporality of caring for an infant, (m)others often find community in the digital plenitude but are also constantly distracted by “searching, scrolling, checking, and saving on multiple screens.” Yet we may want to believe that the “pregnant and lactating bodies can still refuse to obey the predisposed systems and structures that dominate online platforms. They can still be messy, unruly, unpredictable, leaky, permeable, liminal and, therefore, risky” to the social and the moral order. That is why art concerning the maternal holds infinite potential to disrupt the social norms governed by capitalist patriarchal culture.

Discover Helen Benigson’s “Jude” (2020), a work that refuses sentimentality and allows for the articulation of maternal ambivalence. Its ambiguity could help us think about (m)otherhood outside of the failure/achievement binary and without separating it from sexuality. I feel that holds true for most of Benigson’s works. They manage to reunite the maternal body and the erotic body and in that, they give me the same brand-new feeling I had while reading Maggie Nelson’s “The Argonauts” when she writes about the pregnant body as radiating in public a kind of “smug autoeroticism”.

Benigson, H., 2020. Scroll — FATTENED / FLATTENED TONGUE TIES: Performing Maternality Online And Offline. [online] FATTENED / FLATTENED TONGUE TIES: Performing Maternality Online and Offline. Available at: <https://www.fattened.net/scroll> [Accessed 12 July 2020].
Nelon, M., 2016. The Argonauts. La Vergne: Melville House UK, p.90.

Featured Projects

Helen Benigson, Jude (202) excerpt © Courtesy of the artist.

“Jude” (2020) is the portrait of a former Rebbetzin, (m)other and drummer and their exclusion from an Orthodox Jewish community as they come out as non-binary and acknowledge their sexuality, using technology, social media and the Internet as tools for exploring their performance of self and the construction of an alternative network of friends around their new identity. As one of those friends, and an active member of the Jewish community that Jude is excluded from, this work has a particular bearing on my own activity as a (m)other researching what it means to “speak” through tongue-tied maternality.

Helen Benigson, Coshino Desert (2015) Performance 19 November 2015 at Zabludowicz Collection © Courtesy of the artist.

Helen Benigson creates moving-image and performance work concerned with the body and online identities. Her highly saturated video collages are filled with images of stereotypical femininity; lollipops, flowers and glitter. Along with the soundtracks she produces for her videos, the layering of these symbols reinforces the works’ chaotic nature, where fantasy and reality intertwine. The distinction between the self and others is also blurred through her use of online personas and her alter-ego, rapper Princess Belsize Dollar.

Helen Benigson, Pump ( ) © Courtesy of the artist.

The video Pump explores economies of (m)others, bodies and pain, with particular reference to breastfeeding trauma, the technology of breast pumping and mastitis. The video traverses a medical, maternal body and that of the sexualised or desired body. The character of the stripper becomes a metaphor for a labouring woman as both a breastfeeding (m)other with mastitis but also as an objectified version of a performing, working body.

Agora Talk

Through Dr Helen Benigson latest PhD research, we learned more about how maternality is performed online, offline and in Lockdown but mostly interrupted through our devices and the Internet. Also, Helen Benigson and Paola Lucente unveiled (M)otherhood in the Digital Age. They discussed the impact of the Internet and COVID-19 on parents and carers.

Key achievements

Helen Benigson is the winner of the Procreate Mother Art Prize 2020 and part of the Zabludowicz Collection. Her work was shown at the Serpentine Galleries, London, Tate Modern, London, Kunst Museum, Bonn and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Helen Benigson has performed at Frieze Art Fair, London and Performa in New York.

She co-founded the Ruskin Centre for performance at Oxford University and she has just completed a practice-led PhD in Fine Art at the Ruskin School of Art, supervised by Eve Ess, Corin Sworn and John Cussans.

Solo shows and Performances

2021: Solo Exhibition at The Showroom, London

2019: Tongue-Tie, performative lecture, as part of the Stuart Hall Library Research Network: Duties of Self Care, INIVA, London

2018: Final PhD Exhibition, Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford

2015: Cashino Desert at Zabludowicz Collection, London

2015: Anxious, Stressful, Insomnia Fat Carroll / Fletcher, London

Group shows

2020 Mother Art Prize at Cromwell Place

2020 MATERNALITY at Richard Saltoun Gallery

2018 A Minute Ago, Zabludowicz Collection, London

2016 The Big Picture Show: Parents Evening Tramway, Glasgow

2015 Transformation Marathon Serpentine Gallery, London

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