Artist Interview: Anne Bengard
Thanks to Anne Bengard who has also taken the time to answer my questions before the exhibition opens on Saturday!
Have a read of the interview below to find out more about Anne’s work and views on the theme of our exhibition.
What is your background? Perhaps you could briefly introduce yourself and your practice?
I was born in Leipzig, had my childhood in Berlin and moved to a small coastal town in the south west of England with my family at the age of 9. I began attending fetish clubs as soon as I turned 18 and began working for Torture Garden, the worlds largest fetish club, when I moved to London aged 19. Fetish club etiquette formed my ethos of respect, consent and tolerance and provided a safe space for me to experiment with self expression in a sex positive environment. It taught me to be non judgmental and aware of my prejudices.
After 7 years in London, working what felt like 1000 various jobs in the events industry, I decided to relocated to Berlin in 2014 to focus on and develop my painting practice (which I had always done on the side). After focusing on watercolour painting, my focus switched to oil painting and murals in the last couple of years. In my work I predominantly explore themes around fetish, fetishisation, intimacy and connection. I play with polarities in my visual language and always seek a sense of balance whilst trying to subvert stereotypes and break cliches.
Can you tell us a bit about this work?
It began as an idea of wanting to challenge the masculine stereotype, celebrating the beauty and grace of a man who is not afraid of vulnerability. I envisioned a black man in sportswear (a common fetishisation of the hyper masculine in mainstream media) suspended in rope bondage. I also wanted to subvert the pornographic cliche commonly associated with rope bondage, often depicting those tied up in submissive and highly sexualised contexts.
It was a year before I met Christian who was the perfect embodiment of who I had in mind to be the muse for this piece. Someone who visually fits the stereotype of the hyper masculine man but 100% reflects this graceful and self aware vulnerability.
His flexibility from his background as a dancer, endurance and of course the good vibes between him and my rigger extraordinaire Chandler made for a smooth collaboration and we shot our reference images in a public park using a beautiful tree as a suspension point.
During the shoot Christian said something that stuck with me ‘I wonder what my ancestors would think if they saw me now, being tied up hanging from a tree. In Germany!’
This notion hadn’t crossed my mind. For me personally, the piece became as much a celebration of men embracing and owning their vulnerability as it did about racism. In the months that followed the BLM movement got me delving further into the worldwide history of racism, terms like micro aggression, the economics of empire and so much more.
Despite the admiration and celebration of the vulnerable man I also felt guilt. I’ll never be able to understand what it’s like to be a black man because I will never be a black man. I began asking myself things like…what does it mean for me as a white woman to depict a black man in this way? What does it mean for me a white woman to be producing and making money from paintings of black people? Who am I to be doing this in the first place? Am I fetishising black men? Those are some of the thoughts and questions I grappled with.
What does ‘fetish’ mean to you?
Although the word evokes images of BDSM, latex, leather, feet etc at first, I like to think about fetish in terms of behaviour, devotion, obsession and consumption.
What made you apply for this call in particular?
The theme spoke to me in capital letters and with many exclamation marks.
Do you feel the discussion around fetishes is a balanced one, or do you think it often comes from one particular perspective?
The term fetish is definitely primarily viewed within a sexual context. The other meanings of the word e.g ‘something, esp an inanimate object, that is believed in certain cultures to be the embodiment or habitation of a spirit or magical powers‘ or ‘any object, activity, etc, to which one is excessively or irrationally devoted e.g to make a fetish of cleanliness’ are often overlooked or not considered outside a sexual context.
Do you think Berlin has a unique connection to fetish, if so why?
I do think so, in that it has been attracting ‘outsiders’ and ‘misfits’ since the 1700s by offering freedoms that were unheard of elsewhere to make it a significant capital city. Certainly in regards to the sexual side, Berlin offers a kind of freedom that’s difficult to come by in other places. To me, it feels as though people don’t take much notice if someone cycles past in full latex or leather. It feel less out of the ordinary here.
How do you feel about exhibiting work online instead of in a space?
I’ve built my business mainly through my online presence and have mainly shown and sold work online. It’s easy, convenient and allows access to many all over the world. But experiencing a piece of art in a physical space is always completely different. Thankfully, when people see my work physically they say it’s so much better than viewing it through a screen. I have experienced it the other way around too though where work I’ve admired through a screen was then slightly underwhelming and not as I expected it would be in real life.
What are you looking for from an exhibition, besides selling work?
Discussions, feedback, constructive criticism, and connecting with those who view my work. But also discovering artists and work I may not have known before and understanding my piece in a space with other artists responding to the same theme. When there’s a doggo or two running around and a glass of wine, that’s a pleasant bonus too.
Do you ever get nervous about showing work in an exhibition?
Have you ever shown at The Ballery before?
Nope, first time! Hopefully not the last.