We spoke with soon-to-be 4D alumna Elenor Hellis about her ‘image-making performance’ practice, a near run in with the porn industry, and the sickness she feels when presenting a new work. This week we chose to feature her final foundation show film ‘Scanning Performance, 2012’, a week after she finalised her work for the degree show and reflects on the last four years at CSM.
“You can’t control how your artwork is perceived, even if that’s as ‘pornography’!”
Could you tell us about more about your film ‘Scanning Performance, 2012’?
The piece was developed out of concepts I was exploring around ‘hyper-narcissism’ and controversies surrounding airport security scanners. It came from the idea of having the body pressed up against glass and a ‘photocopy your ass at the office’ joke taken to an extreme. Capturing every inch of my body, I developed the work for my foundation show. Then, ] performance s p a c e [ sent out an open call to artists, so that I actually performed it live. This was my first time performing in front of a live audience and I remember how scared I was, the Director giving me a shot of gin before I went out to perform.
The performance was very well received, which was encouraging for a first time performer. The piece has gone on to lead me into many more exciting experiences. I’ve gone back to re-stage the work several times as well as being included in a feature for Dazed and Confused. More uncomfortably, after putting the live footage online, and my hits and followers increased exponentially, I soon realised that the film was getting added into ‘porn/art/theatre’ channels on YouTube. It even got published on a porn site without my permission. In the end I had to contact Google to demand right to remove film from the unauthorized site. This was a bit of a nightmarish time, but it drove home the fact that you can’t control how your artwork is perceived, even if that’s as ‘pornography’!
How do you view the relationship between your body and technology today?
I have done many performances that follow in a vein or structure similar to ‘Scanning Performance’. I have experimented with USB endoscope-style devices, digital microscopes and Go Pros. I have also returned to older technologies and have made 16mm footage of my body using a Bolex camera. I would describe my performances and film works as ‘bodily’, in that they try and recapture a more human, rather than filmic, experience. Through technology I negotiate the relationship between what the eyes see and what the lens sees.
“I often won’t make or present a work unless it gives me a slightly sick feeling in my stomach.”
Your practice appears to sit across several ongoing ‘projects’, can you talk a bit about that, do they run simultaneously or is one more prominent and then dies down again, for example?
Mostly I work on a project in isolation, but of course I am open to old themes resurfacing and new ideas emerging when appropriate. I think the one string that runs through all of the projects is the exploration of my personal relationship towards shame and embarrassment. I often won’t make or present a work unless it gives me a slightly sick feeling in my stomach!
Now that you’re almost finished at CSM, what can we expect from your degree show and beyond?
For the Degree Show I have written a short poem about the estrangement from my father and the fleeting moments where I confuse him with other men on motorbikes. I go on to talk about the awkward memories of seeing my father’s paintings of nude women in crash helmets hanging on his living room wall as a child. The work is comprised of the poem, his original paintings, and a new film that can be viewed inside of a crash helmet using Google Cardboard. I guess the work is exciting for me as I am displaying works that aren’t completely my own making, for the first time. I’m interested to see how well this will go down with the examiners and also the audience!
After graduating, I will return to my studio that I share with three other artists, try to survive in London with a student loan, and work to sustain my practice! I expect my work will change dramatically without the aid of the fantastic facilities and workshops I’ve had here at Central Saint Martins but I feel ready, I feel prepared… only because I have to be…