Interview with Pauline Bendsen for Jyllands-Posten (Denmark) Jan 21, 2019

by Pauline Bendsen and Patricia Piccinini ( 2019 )

PB: What are the main themes for your exhibition at Arken?

PP: My practice is focused on bodies and relationships; the relationships between people and other creatures, between people and our bodies, between creatures and the environment, between the artificial and the natural. I am particularly interested in the way that the everyday realities of the world around us change these relations. Perhaps because of this, many have looked at my practice in terms of science and technology, however, for me it is just as informed by Surrealism and mythology. My work aims to shift the way that people look at the world around them, and question their assumptions about the relationships they have with the world.

What kind of questions and reflections do you wish to inspire the spectator to dive in to?

I do hope that the work provokes the audience to think about the world. I hope they can go on a journey of some sort, or see the world around them differently perhaps. Compassion and care are a vital part of my practice. The journey I love to hear about - and that I hear about often - is when a viewer will go from being disturbed by the "strangeness" of "grotesqueness" of the creatures (which I don't see myself...) to love and acceptance. I think there is a lot in the work about acceptance.

What is it that fascinates you about hybrids?

My practice is rooted in the idea that the boundaries we create between things are often both artificial and arbitrary. So many of the world's problems come from the process of separating things into the 'pure' and excluding anything that is deemed other than that. That's pretty much the definition of racism. Hybridity is an acknowledgement that there is no 'pure' and that we all exist on a continuum. When you do that it is much more difficult to exclude or malign. It is much easier to destroy an environment that we feel separate from. My interest in hybrid forms comes from a belief that there is no 'pure', just a complex and diverse world that we are part of. Everything is actually connected to everything else.

I’ve read that you’ve said you’re interested in the mutability of life. What do you mean by that?

I think the contemporary understanding of bodies - both our own and those of other creatures - is very different from how we saw them in past. Today we see the body as something essential mutable, something that we can change to fit our desires. Everything from genetic engineering and plastic surgery to physical training and selfie-enhancing software tells us that the body we have is not fixed but can be changed. I don't see this as either a good thing or a bad thing, but it is very different from the past when our physicality was very much predefined by birth. Genetic engineering now extends that idea to the bodies of other creatures and organisms as well, so that we start to see all life as something that can be controlled by people. I am interested in the responsibilities that come with such control.

How have technology in your view changed us as humans?

I think that technology, which I guess you can understand as the ability to shape the world around us, is so much a natural part of being human that it is impossible to separate us. You could actually argue that technology is exactly what makes us human, what separates us from other animals. However, if you look closely at that you will see that all primates use technology - tools - and in fact so to a an enormous number of other organisms - from ants who farm aphids to glue leaves together to make their nests to crows who use sticks to hunt insects. I am very interested in this sort of commonality actually.

What kind of tale of the future does this exhibition tell?

I don't see my work as talking about the future as much as about the present. These creatures might be considered transgenic, hybrids bred or engineered for some purpose. They seem like the product of fantasy or fiction, yet they allude to research that is very much part of the contemporary world. We already live in a world where genetically modified crops are so common that we need to be told when something isn't GM, rather than when it is. Patent battles are being fought over CRSPR technology which promises to make animal or even human modification just as normal. We live in a world where science fiction struggles to keep pace with actual research. I can't tell what the future will bring, but I do think that we need to start a conversation about the world we want to live now, before everything is already decided for us.