CONTEMPORARY ART SPACE, KALA GHODA, MUMBAI

THE MESSAGE OF SYMBOLISM

by Emma 27th Apr, 2020

The word “photographer” makes people think of someone who takes photos. Some do just that. But others, like Evelyn Bencicova, create controlled environments where every detail is directed. The symbolism is calculated, and the illusions are by design. Evelyn shares with Method a glimpse into her world.   

In an article with Scene 360, you mentioned having “visual sensitivity” where you imagined the inside of your neighbors’ houses as a child despite your bad eyesight. Do you think this could be something like when they say deaf people have heightened sense of hearing… you had a heightened sense of imagination?

I am not sure if this is directly connected, maybe I will never know but as far as I remember I was escaping into imagination even before my eyesight started to cause me troubles. Quite early on I realised that the world of the mind is an infinite ground that feeds on but is not fully restricted by reality. Always fascinated with observing the world by spying on my neighbors through their windows was part of that. Also, it was the only view offered from our flat located in a typical socialist housing estate called “panelak” in Slovakia. For me, these hundreds of windows were entries into other people’s lives through tiny fragments of what was visible. But I always knew more than I saw. I imagined the whole flat, the entire reality of the person occupying the space beyond the tiny rectangle that framed my view.

Maybe I loved binoculars because it allowed me to see details that were otherwise blurred and unclear. But maybe you are right. Maybe I learned to imagine what I could not perceive fully with my eyes. At the age of 18, I went for sight correction surgery. I still remember afterwards, especially the first days, I could not get enough of everything…the complicated, structured and beautiful world around. In a way, this fascination has stayed in me even till this day.

If you could point a camera back at a place and time in your own life, what moment would it be?

Interesting question! Honestly, I don’t feel a huge need to point a camera at my own life. At the same time, I did recreate many memories in the form of images and stories. In the process, the event is not a pure copy of what happened but rather a reflection of it. The interpretation of something I lived or experienced focuses on a message more than documenting reality. Even though a big majority of my works include this personal layer which can be totally invisible for many viewers, I always try to tell a more general story that is not just about myself but might touch anyone dealing with or aware of similar issues.

Your (An)organic photos are creepy yet appealing. It’s strange that such innocent objects, when arranged in such a way, can become so powerful. How or why do you think that happens?

(An)organic explores the history and the purpose of still-life as a genre. Still-life is not just a random constellation of objects. The choice, symbolism and composition of its particles define the person who owns it and the way it is presented to the public. Every detail is important. Animals display their human-like characters through the interaction with surrounding “landscape of things”.

The sphynx cat, a symbol of the rich – well-fed, elegant and disinterested – does not pay any attention to the tasty, delicate dishes served on the table. This is a personification of luxury. Hairless rats feast on what resembles their own flash. Cruelty. A funeral table overtaken by group of mice whose presence remains of void, something what used to be and does not exist anymore. Mortality. Here are just few examples of what I see. So to answer your question, the objects here act more like symbols or carriers of meaning/feelings, rather than “things”. In connection with animals, everything builds a certain atmosphere that can be felt and interpreted by the viewer, often even serving like a mirror reflection. (An)organic is more about humans than about animals or nutritious objects:)

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(an)organic by Evelyn Bencicova

I have to ask…after you shoot, can you still eat squid, salmon, and any other food you’ve used in slightly creepy photos?

I’ve been a vegetarian from a very early age, and in the last years my body started to refuse any dairy products and gluten so most of my meals are composed of fruit, vegetables and nuts. Despite that, I don’t have judgements towards people who prefer a different diet as long as they don’t indulge in over-consumption (I myself occasionally eat seafood). The issue that bothers me is disrespect and lack of appreciation and dignity of living beings. During the project I was dealing with how to use everything after the shoot so things do not go into waste, what would make me feel quite guilty, is if through the artistic process, I become a part of the problem I’m trying to speak about. Otherwise, I do not see anything creepy about it. We live in a culture where all the judgement is based on presentation.  Even looking at old still life market scene paintings makes some people disgusted by what is happening in contemporary meat or diary industries. This is a much more gruesome picture, but the difference is that it is hidden from consumers’ view. Nobody want to see the rawness, blood or death which is what brought the dish on the table. Even all evidence of that is cleaned and arranged so we can feed further on ignorance. And that ignorance, refusal, arrogance and disrespect are what should be criticized more than the fact that many humans are carnivorous.

Can you tell us a bit about your testset series?

I created this series quite a long time ago with the help of Marek Wurfl who was assisting me. It was during the time when I was learning how to work with lighting and the project emerged as kind of exercise – TESTSET. The goal was to take two people who are not related in any way and create a diptych as an illusion of relationship through appearance, gestures, styling. In the subtle details of their hands, clothes and facial expressions you have to search for story or connection between them. We created different work for different reasons: sometimes it is for a client, for an audience, and sometimes for ourselves as an inner satisfaction or even kind of a therapy etc. Until this day, I see this work as my creative experience of how to learn while doing the project – more technical than conceptual, which is not necessarily the way I decided to go later on, but as they say: you need to learn the rules in order to break them:)

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testset by Evelyn Bencicova

What has been the hardest part of your job? This can be a specific anecdote, or an ongoing challenge.

I would say to not get lost completely in the process of exploration. To remember the initial message while redefining it … also staying honest with myself. These are more internal issues so there is no anecdote for that unfortunately. Another challenge recently has been defining my role – not that I would feel need for any hierarchy or labelling, but suddenly I’ve started to feel that the idea of “photographing” is quite far from what I do and want to continue doing. I’ve started to experiment with other ways of expression, and have started from the point of struggle, but I also feeling immense curiosity and excitement again. I’m probably this person who is always destined to search, get lost and find something in order to get lost again.

What were you in the middle of before coronavirus pressed pause?

I was working, traveling a lot, planning exhibitions and events always on the run somewhere. Obviously, when all that becomes suddenly impossible, it took me some time to accept that and readjust. But at the same time, I realised that it was essential to pause and rethink where I am going, what I want to change, what to keep. So even if the future is uncertain, like for many creatives, I try to see it a blank canvas, a challenge and space for new possibilities.

If you were going to shoot something to represent coronavirus times, what props do you think you might use? 

Definitely it would not be the face mask. Even though I understand the desire of society to establish clear simple symbols that are meant to carry multiple meanings and wide range of emotions, I would choose to not represent current events with an object or a prop. Rather I choose to work with human stories, stories of closeness, isolation, weakness and strength, of being together apart. I also find it important to raise the topics which exist for a longer time, but now with raised awareness can become more visible. For example, we did a project with homeless people in Slovakia, that has not been published yet, but we used few images to fundraise for organisations that are helping people who cannot simply “stay at home”.

Evelyn Bencicova (b. Bratislava, 1992) is a visual creative specialising in photography and art direction. You can learn more about her at her website or her Instagram.

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