What do you think about bodies, diet culture and our relationship to fat?
I am interested in using my body as a point of research: a space, a site, a performing mechanism. Clean living references a contemporary idea of care and nourishment, within a very specific community of privilege. Dieting is a broader concern and has to do with a performed control of the body. I am constantly defining and redefining what fat is. Is fat only the extra thick coating of sugared layers on the body just before the layer of skin? Or is it something more? Fat adds heaviness to bodies and creates anxiety.
What do you think about exercise and working out?
I love working out and getting strong, even if it is just to listen to good music with no interruptions. I am interested in the sweat, the smell, the work out paraphernalia, the gym, the territory associated with this.
Why do you use these words "fat" "stressful" and "anxious" in your work?
I enjoy fatness and ideas around fat, but at the same time, explore flatness in my work. Fatness and flatness is something I employ in my practice, like anxiety, as a material substance. I add more to my work and try and fatten it, but at the same time flatten it out, printing and thinning. During my PhD I became pregnant as a way of researching a transformation of my own body through a biological thickening. After I gave birth, I flattened out again. Fat can be a dirty word but it can also be rich and expressive. With weight, comes heaviness, knowingness, knowledge and time.
Could you explain what your work aims to explore?
I am researching the performance and structuring of embodiment, intimacy and the maternal within online and virtual spaces. The Internet frames, resituates and tries to claim notions and rituals around the body, the maternal, the family, sex, exchange and I am deeply fascinated by this.
Your exhibition "Anxious, Stressful, Insomnia Fat" explores weight, the online and emotional experiences. What inspired you to use the medium of the body and weight to explore such anxieties?
My exhibition A S I F (!) (such good initials I didn’t realise before!!) was Inspired by a recent health app purchase called “Glow” that monitors women’s bodies. The exhibition set out to interrogate the flatness prescribed by the Internet onto the body, confronting the strange continuum existing between our dematerialised, virtual lives and our ‘real-life’ selves. The exhibition at Carroll / Fletcher followed on from my exhibition and residency Weightloss Utopias at Site Gallery, Sheffield which centred on issues of weightlessness and the perception of physical mass within online space. During the residency, I staged a series of real and scripted weight-loss support groups that took place within a multi-screen video installation. These weight-loss support group members then became avatars – digitalized versions of themselves within my videos, questioning the dematerialisation of the body through coding and information.
Your work deals intimately with the body and you feature in your work. But, how do you feel about your body since having a child for example?
Its really weird - my body did completely transform after birth and obviously during pregnancy and its hard not to put a value judgement on it. I had mastitis after having a baby which was traumatic. I have been working with this trauma in my most recent video “Blockage”.
What interests you about how the online/ digital world affects our relationships to bodies?
The Internet has become so normal and our technology has bled into our bodies at a rapid and frightening rate. For example, looking at your phone more than at your partner or speaking to your phone more than listening to your child. By deciphering my own body, a corporeal holding of brain, flesh, organs; secreting, smelling, beating, bleating, uploading, bleeding, as distinct to a political, cultured or technologised embodiment, I can begin to decipher what happens to my body when it is simulated on screen through coding and information presented as text, images and sound. The commercialised space it inhabits online necessitates exchange and transaction, without the visceral jelly-like smell of real life.
See more of Helen's work on her website here