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Hi all! My name is Daniela Benaim. I study MA Fashion image at Central Saint Martin’s and today I’m going to talk to about my project ‘La Casa’ which I submitted to the Latinxs Collective. Thank you for having me today.
Could you tell us about how much of your inspiration for your project La Casa came from your own experience living in between two countries and cultures? Does each chapter of the iterations of home take us through a linear story?
Well, like La Casa, The House has been a constant throughout my life and work. I think it comes from my passion for horror movies, Latin American literature, gothic and Victorian novels and also women’s art in which the domestic sphere is really important. The house is almost like another character a protagonist. But at the same time, when you see something from a distance of course, it is different, so after coming to London, the house became even more crucial and more interesting in my life. And I knew it was a concept that I wanted to explore in my final project for the master. Even though it has of course elements from my life and my experience, I don’t see it as an autobiographical project.
There is a final publication called ‘Home in The Exile’ in which I explore the different stages of the life of a migrant. At the beginning the person feels claustrophobic in their homeland in their home country and this person dreams about leaving to start a new life in the country. So then this person moves and she starts integrating and adapting to the new culture and finally through memory and imagination this person constructs an idealised home that has never existed. So, I was thinking after all this conversation and maybe this a metaphor of the whole project. Maybe the whole project is about constructing this imaginary house in which I feel at home but it only exists in my imagination and because they’re are a lot of elements from dreams of the unconscious, I think it's more chaotic, it's a union, a mix of different chaotic stories.
It's really important as an artist to put yourself in the project and at the same time to have distance from it and see with different eyes and with references and inspiration from other people as well.
You often use objects of the grotesque such as masks and dolls in your images, could you elaborate on what they mean to you?
Yes of course, you are totally right. Mikhail Bakhtin and Julia Kristeva who wrote about the grotesque and the abject are really important and are a constant reference in my work. I love the concept of the grotesque body, in contrast to the classical body, the grotesque body is open, it's always in the process of becoming, it's about breaking boundaries, it's about transformation.
So, I love the idea of the pregnant woman and the ageing body, which are grotesque, because they are open. It's a body that comes from another body, a body that's always changing. And the masks are really important in the grotesque because they are about metamorphosis, they are about transformation, they are about the carnival, they are about playing with different characters, playing with yourself, trying to be somebody else.
So the mask is of course a really useful element and a great resource in order to play with a concept that is changing and fluid like the concept of the home. At the same time, in one of the publications we used found object and second hand clothes to produce doll and mask and it’s really interesting because I realised that the holes, the dust, the smell, the stains, they are signs of time and decay that are present in the house, the building, the body but also in the clothes. I love that the presence of time in a material object for me is beautiful. So yeah, that's why I used these resources to explore the concept.
About the Home, A Metaphor of the Mind fashion film: Some of us got the impression that it could be a story of grief and psychological regression, or of the dangers of getting lost in the past. Could you tell us more about it?
Well I love telling stories and not explaining them like too much. I love how you can produce something and there are different interpretations and find open endings, I love them. Also I don’t wanna give too much information, but , at the same time I didn’t pretend to make a sad story or a moral tale at all, but I can see that for some people it's sad, it's scary, and it's ok because one of the inspirations was the twilight zone.
And you can see that in the different episodes, there are funny elements, mysterious events, scary elements, happy elements and that's life so for me it's perfect that you had these interpretations. And um, what is interesting is that my family came from Poland, Morocco, Spain to Venezuela and they left all their belongings and homes behind, so I’m not able to touch or see any of those things that are autobiographical objects. So maybe I used these second hand clothes and found objects with a story or memories that are not my own to produce these autobiographical objects that I have lost so. That is things like Nancy, that she uses her mind, her imagination to travel to that house, maybe I use the entire ‘La Casa’ series to travel to these places that are important in my story but that I cannot reach because they disappeared.
So yeah, I think it was a really interesting question and it makes complete sense.
In Watershrines, you talk about giving back value to water. What did you find in your research about what has changed in our relationship with water? Are there similar rituals or shrines from the past that inspired you in this project?
Yeah, well… In Asian cultures, there has always been a fascination for water, so for example Shinto shrines, which were built in 700 before Christ, were built for venerating water sources, for example mountains, lakes. And they were built without like, any human big intervention, it was always like a frame, so it was literally to just frame the source, and then venerating the water itself, or any other natural sources. In religion, for example in Islam, water is considered a holy substance, that sustains life. They even need to make some rituals before entering any mosque, so for example cleaning themselves or actually drinking water. So, nowadays as busy city-dwellers, we are just taking for granted water. We just need to open the tap, take the quantity that we need, and yeah and that’s it. That’s like our perception nowadays. So that’s what I found out in my research.
And I was wondering like, where did you - where were you looking for your research? Was that like, mostly online or did you actually visit any place?
Yeah well actually, I had the opportunity to go in Mexico City to one place, that the name is Casa del Agua, Water House. So that was another like, place that makes sense in my research. Most of them was research online, other were social research interviews, but this place was built for filtering rain water and then preparing it for the consumption. So it was kind of like a filter, that captures the rain water and then passes through beautiful containers, and they were like stones with good wishes, and classical music in the background, because there has been some Japanese research that says that if you actually have at the atoms of water under a microscope, and you compare the atoms that were listening to classical music and listening to metal music, they behave in different ways. So yeah, all this process of giving the actual good purpose of cleaning, of filtering the water, and then drinking it with all this consciousness of giving value to water. So yeah, that was like my way to research.
Yeah, that’s so interesting! It’s like a lot of the things you’re mentioning are also spiritual in nature, right? It goes hand in hand, our relationship with water and spirituality.
Exactly, and actually that was kind of like the route I wanted to go through, but the thing is that I was asking myself: How in a city full of different religions, backgrounds, to make these rituals that are not related to religion but to venerate? So it was more like this connection to the water, to the value of water. So that’s why all the aesthetics that I developed for the project were going in that direction: something sacred, something to venerate, something… but without touching the religion. So that was the route of it.
Could you tell us about how you choose the site of Regent’s Canal for this interactive installation?
That’s a very good question because when I was looking for the locations, I was sure that I wanted to use a place where busy people, and Londoners, were commuting. So something that they were using on a daily basis. A place where, of course, water was present, and a place where the users somehow are not taking full responsibility of water. So, as I mentioned in the previous question, I started to do some interviews in the canals part of my research, so I discovered that when I was interviewing boaters who live there, actually live there, they were saying: “Oh, no no. The canal is very dirty because people who walk by, or teenagers who have a drink just don’t care and throw the cans in the canal, and throw the bins or trash.”. And when I was walking people that just were walking by they were saying: “No, no, no. The boaters are the guilty of the water pollution, because their boat diesel is getting the water dirty…”. And I was like okay so no one is actually connecting with the water! And also, Regent’s Canal is a 200 years old man made water body, so I thought that that fact, that it’s something that was built by men for controlling the water, was also related to the idea that I had. And another thing is that the canal, where it was built, two lost rivers in London were dried because of the construction of the canal. So everything like, matched perfectly for me in Regent’s Canal as a place for displaying this trail.
Yeah, and I also saw like, that on the map obviously there were different stations to the shrines, and you got a map at the beginning. Was there a reason for the trail to begin in one end, rather than begin at the other end?
Well that’s the thing, that everything was a trail, so at the beginning you needed to collect like some objects for you to complete the trail. So those were specifically located there because it was actually, there is a kind of castle. So I wanted to give like this narrative of you’re entering into a different world, into a different place where the water is considered as something, as a treasure! So that was the reason because, the reason behind choosing that starting point. Then, the second shrine, which is the shrine for caring, is located in front of Camden Market, so it’s one of the most polluted areas of the canal, so the ritual there was to collect trash from the canal and then place it into a special bin. So it was easy because it’s very polluted there! So okay, that’s a good one. Then the next stop, it is an infinite mirror that projects as well an animation of one of these lost rivers. So right now it’s part of the sewage system, so it was a memory of how it used to be that river there. And the last point is a rain catcher, so it’s just a few steps of the previous one, so I wanted to make this trail as well affordable to everybody to complete the whole trail. So that was the last one is more related to the distance between one shrine and the other.
How do you think design and architecture can be significant agents in responding to the lack of public concern on non renewable resources, and how did you arrive at this idea in your practice?
Yeah well I think as a designer, as an architect, we have the responsibility to show to the audience new perspectives of how resources that we use, that we daily use, are taken for granted. For example, I remember I once went to an exhibition that was showing how, all the process that a banana needs to take part to actually arrive to your fruit bowl. So once you are aware of the processes behind things, you tend to value more things. So with design, with shaping buildings, with shaping public spaces, you can always show a new perspective of seeing things. So, yeah, in Watershrines I wanted to show how small actions could actually improve your wasteful habits and the negligence related to water bodies. So it’s always to show how something from this perspective could be transformed into another perspective. So I think that’s one of the most valuable responsibilities that designers and architects have, to take the full responsibility to show the other perspective, and how to shape that behaviour. So yeah, I tend to take into consideration that into my practice.