in conversation with Vincent Honoré
Since her first recognition in the late ’60s, Benglis has focused her artistic research on the exploration of biomorphic, geological, bodily shapes, the physicality of form and the active element of matter. Poured latex, wax, metal and foam are just some of the materials through which she developed her investigations on the unprecedented possibilities of art. Her works often keep a pictorial nature but digress from the wall in order to occupy three dimensions, recording the behavior and motion of a fluid substance and directly affecting the viewer’s space.
“I wasn’t breaking away from painting but trying to redefine what it was,” recently declared the artist. Inspired by the gestural style of Abstract Expressionism and the concurrent movements of Process Art and Minimalism, Benglis decided to spatially and temporally extend the aesthetic and political limitations of these previous artistic movements, by highlighting the importance of the performative process and by pushing the conventions of both painting and sculpture towards new territories. From her interest in the corporeal, her unaltered voice found new directions in unconventional photography and video works, stressing and stretching the physicality and possibilities of the mediums, and exploring the ambiguities and irony of gender politics of the ‘70s. In this intimate interview, she talks about the future perspectives of her practice, her experimental relation with materials and colors, and the tactile, sensual feeling which her joyous, extravagant works convey.
Vincent Honoré: Lynda, what are you working on at the moment?
Lynda Benglis: Right now I am starting a new series of paper works out in the desert in my New Mexico studio. I am making everything from scratch; the paper itself, from pulp, and then sculptures from it. I have no idea yet where it will take me.
VH: You experimented with many materials. How do you start experimenting with a material? How do you encounter it?
LB: I would say it is like eating new food or experimenting with new recipes. Always with great enthusiasm.
VH: Do you have a material with which you haven’t worked yet and with which you would like to experiment?
LB: Yes, but until I find it I don’t know what it is. There is always something out there.
VH: Every work of yours echoes your career: they embody a clear need and idea of freedom, outside any categories and canons.
LB: I would agree. I just like to constantly see myself in new environments, like Alice in Wonderland. That feels very natural to me—I can lose myself in my fancy worlds.
VH: You declared “I like to work in a way that the image flows.” Could you elaborate on this?
LB: Well, I was already very aware of materials and their possibilities when I was a little girl in Louisiana. I vividly remember my father scrapping some moth from the side of the house—he cut a piece of it and attached a stick and a leaf to it. And he said it was a boat! He showed me a ‘fantasy,’ and I believed him.
VH: I feel the raw energy of your work has something eminently sexual. Is your work sexualized?
LB: ‘Sensual’ is the word—tactile. It is a primordial feeling. Early on we are very tactile. Animals are, also, very sensual.
VH: Liquidity and fluidity are crucial for you. The works and their material (latex, glass, ceramics, paper) cannot be fixed physically and conceptually. They need to be in movement, they need to dance. How do you achieve to resolve the paradox of movement in sculpture? And how do you know a work is completed?
LB: I like things that change and can be changed. A gesture can indeed ‘freeze.’ Forms freeze under conditions of ‘Art’ and illusion. You can immediately and freely associate it with fabric for example, with the way flags or clothing are still and yet move constantly…
VH: I am curious to know more about your relationship to colors. Do you use colors like a painter?
LB: Oh yes! The first time I must have been three or four years old. I found a stack of color paper sheets. I put them all over on the floor. I was so excited. It is the sense of discovery and possibilities that colors offer...
VH: What relationship does your work need to have with its surrounding architecture?
LB: It has to. Sometimes it finds itself in a new, unexpected place, which I love—in a corner, or at the very edge of a long wall. Early on, of course, I made my work with the walls and floors in mind—I literally worked with / on the surrounding architecture.
VH: Is your work extravagant?
LB: I would like it to be! I always want to push things to the edges—trying to manipulate them in a joyous, extravagant way.
LYNDA BENGLIS (b. 1941, Lake Charles, LA, USA) lives and works between New York, NY, Sante Fe, NM, Kastelorizo, Greece, and Ahmedabad, India. Recent solo exhibitions include: Lynda Benglis: Spettri, Thomas Dane Gallery, Naples (2019); In the Realm of the Senses, Museum of Cycladic Art, presented by NEON, Athens (2019); and Lynda Benglis, Pace Gallery, Palo Alto (2019).
VINCENT HONORÉ is a curator. He has worked at Palais de Tokyo, Tate Modern, DRAF, Hayward Gallery. He curated the 13th Baltic Triennial and the Pavilion of the Republic of Kosovo for the 58th Venice Biennale. He is currently Director of exhibitions at MOCO Montpellier Contemporain.
All images: © Lynda Benglis Licensed by VAGA Courtesy: the artist, Pace Gallery, Thomas Dane Gallery