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.