Woman Crush Wednesday: Evelyn Bencicova
Interview by Federica Belli.
At first glance, your series transports the observer in a world of meticulous geometry and theatrical colors. Would you say any of these pictures are inspired by dreams or nightmares you have had?
Your question makes me to think- what is dream or if you will a nightmare? I suppose it is a function of brain to process all our impulses, the act of creating order, selecting and reframing what we saw, heard and experienced. Dream is a byproduct, a glitch in a perfect system of thinking and remembering, which appears to us in the form of images, often strangely connected. It is a subconscious reinterpretation of past experience and future vision which suddenly meet in one purely imaginary world. If dream is that, than Asymptote is as well.
Asymptote uses architectonic sites that are authentic to the era of socialism. Buildings, former symbols of power and greatness, elevated in order to make the person feel small. Today they stand still, stripped of essential purpose, abandon or forgotten like a gravestones of their former glory. First we saw their geometrical order and pattern-like structures and theatrical colour palate but trying to understand what is beyond this aesthetics, which is at the end always just the surface layer, made us realize that even architecture carries in all its aspects the symbol of regime itself. In a similar manner the title Asymptote describes geometrical function but not only that. Asymptote of a curve is a line such, that coming ever closer they tend towards infinity but will never touch. It is endless desire and longing, belief in and fight for future which is not approachable in reality. Or is it simply a lie?
Asymptote merges past and present, by reflecting on one at the time of the other. The time never lived, known only through images, through words and stories collected from various, often contradictory sources. At the basis of the project lies a historical foundation that collaborates with a fictional scenario to blur the lines between reality and memory. Asymptote does not document, it imagines. It is a fiction based on truth.
Many human subjects in your pictures appear almost like mannequins. What is your intention behind that approach? Do you feel like there is a link with your personality?
I could only say that the body is controlled - not as a mannequin but a human body made to fit, to shape a coherent geometrical composition, a symbol of regime itself. Dolls and machines are simplification, but person acting in absolute, conscious submission is an incomparable form of control - a mechanically acting human.
In Asymptote people create a pattern. Each one is stripped off their own individuality to become a unified form, creating a society where every difference is an anomaly in the system. What defines perfect mass is homogeneity, strong resistance to anything that may differ from the norm.
On pictures as well as in reality this is an impossible condition - you can call it utopia or dystopia, depending on whom you asked. Part of our research was done as interviews, informal meetings with people who lived through this time, always from different positions of social structure. Quite early in the process we realized that opinions change as often as people do - each perceived the regime, the reality they lived in, from their own standpoint, many time proving radical different experiences: almost like if one exact thing can be good and bad, beautiful, ugly, right or unjust - depending on which side you stand. We felt not in power to present the universal truth, as we could not find it ourselves and for that reason we did not take one or another of these opposing sides. Wide range of opinions left us stand in-between, in position of observers not the judges.
But back to your question, if there is link to my personality than I guess it is the concept of anomaly, a wrong particle which in fact might be also right. The position I wish to take is questioning normality and stereotype, maybe even through using its own language in order to expose, to observe and hopefully, to understand. All of this is for me the origin of change.
I am curious about the way you pair concepts with the visual aspect. Would you define it as a really methodic process of laying out every picture beforehand or more as a creative flow that takes place while you shoot?
I have no exact way of working - the only way to describe it is: always changing. All depends on the story, the idea which always determines the approach. Let me give you an example: we came into primary school initially to interview the teacher about her experience from socialist era. During our conversation she pointed out, that they have one room full of old gas masks in the cellar storage. The fact itself did not surprise us, as we experienced ourselves obligatory exercises , which were part of education as protection against atomic attack. Born after fall of socialism, there was never real nuclear danger, but the fear of it somehow persisted in the educational structure not only during my childhood but what made us wonder, till this day. The room was locked, but still present, like a secret chamber of the past. This chamber (not only with gas-masks but rather the ideological one) still exist is Slovakia as well as in other former “almost communist” countries. Politically, regimes can fall from one days to another but it does not, in reality. It takes years, generation to change the structures, behaviors, opinions.
This photograph was unplanned, it followed the flow of unexpected events and sudden realization, why the scene is important. Until we shot it, we never knew it was going to exist.
I usually prefer this approach, which leaves place for accident or external impulse to enter the development of the story. Sometimes you create the stage but do not control the action. Or you know where you are going but the way there surprises you, sometimes even takes you to different, more exciting places.
In contrary the scene of men on the stairs was created in a very different, carefully preplanned way.
I remember seeing my mothers old school pictures and being amused by the difficulty to identify her as everyone had same hairstyle and type of clothing. Big part of our research was history of fashion, which was mostly defined by uniformity of prescribed cut and patterns with the focus on practicality but also equality. Once again going through old family albums I found an old photograph of my friend’s father, who represented the typical socialist office man to the point that I became obsessed to find someone like him. So again a search for the past in the present moment has begun, until we found his modern day double, who got photographed and multiplied in the form of mask. We wanted to reach uniformity which becomes grotesque in its desire to produced photo-copied people in their appearance, opinions and desires. The “perfect citizen” topic is relevant in any regime, creating the norms of society. On this as well as through all of the images (and videos) the goal of Asymptote is not only to reflect on the past, but most importantly to address the state of oppressively controlled society in general.
Describe your creative process in one word.
If you could teach a one-hour class on anything, what would it be?
A class on persistence, endurance, on how to not give up despite internal difficulties, a struggle I face every day.
What is the last book you read or film you saw that inspired you?
Film: “Death of the Working Man” by Michael Glawogger.
Book: “The Psychology of Genocide…” by Donald Dutton.
What is the most played song in your music library?
I listen to spoken words, audiobooks and podcast much more than music, but probably Ben Frost-Stomp.
How do you take your coffee?
I prefer to drink matcha green tea instead of coffee- in any form, preferably with ice and lemon.