Fotograf Magazine

Julie Béna

Like the Moon in the Sun Is My Shadow

Associative visual games characterize French artist Julie Béna as an artist who uses a refined language to bridge two words – ambiguities transform unbounded speculations, thus creating a hibernating indeterminacy of reading. Essential to her work is the open concept of two realities that can interpenetrate within a particular choreography and scenography.

I am sitting in a non-existent smoky cabaret. I am probably playing a minor character in the city of Twin Peaks, where I meet a playful singer (or narrator?). She watches me intently – perhaps she is playing with me. Do I feel awkward, or am I expecting something big? Although this atmosphere is con-ducive to performances (Have you seen Pantopon Rose?, 2016, 2017, Who wants to be my horse?, 2018, Rupert’s Tale, 2018), the center of the artist’s work lies in this play with reality and fiction, wherein the borders become blurry and the spectator does not know which side they are on. The year is 2016 and I am walking through the Štěpánská Passage, home to the Ferdinand Baumann Gallery. This was the site of the artist’s first solo exhibition in Prague (Purple Unicorn, 2016). The shop windows go by like a film of consumerist culture. Eroticizing objects that engage us in a lascivious game of forbidden fruit vary in contrasting materials; in craft and industrial processing. The objects themselves arise from the formal field of design and their fragmentary nature aptly leads the spectator to infinite asso-ciations. The artist is aware that this is fetishism interspersed with kitsch. We also encounter constructions made of anthropomorphic tentacles in Julie decided to try… (2017) or GENESIS (2018). The metal statues associate the tool used – for instance – by the protagonist of the film Basic Instinct to murder people. Is this a common tool for everyday use (an ice pick) or a murder weapon?

A more detailed interpretive key, discernible in the art-ist’s artistic expression, is a commentary that always breaks down to two delimited opposites and represents a characteristic dualist line. Contrasts appear in all the forms she works in – performance, video, ob-jects and installations – and are always unified by a locally specific context within the space or gallery. Her work is inspired by literature, scenes from cinematography, theater backstag-es, scenography and the aesthetic of the 90s. It manifests the artist’s sharp and strongly critical feminist language, which also appears in her latest exhibi-tion, The wolf, the princess and the little soldier (2021). Julie Béna thus empha-sizes the fact that she is simultaneously a mother and an artist, searching for answers to the question of gender equality between both these roles. She also creates dialogues – at this exhibi-tion, a dialogue with her daughter. The residuum, however, is somewhat mel-ancholic – the undisguised illusoriness of the existential societal crisis. It is like the star sign Gemini. The latency of personality is reflected in parallel – like the moon in the sun – in their shadow. The open end of two realities. However, this is merely an immersive fiction for the spectator.

JULIE BÉNA is an artist born in France who works and lives in France, New York and Prague. She studied at the elite Villa Arson school in Nice and is a graduate of the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. She is currently represented by the Gallery Joseph Tang in Paris and Gallery Polansky in Prague. Since the fall of 2020, she leads the Performance studio at the Faculty of Fine Arts of the Brno University of Technology.

TEA ZÁCHOVÁ is an independent curator, lecturer and art critic based in Prague. She is currently a member of the Galerie 35M2 collective in Prague. She has participated in several prestigious international residencies including the Delfina Foundation in London, Mustarinda in Finland, MQ21 in Vienna or the Nida Art Colony in Lithuania.

Tea Záchová