Milan-based artist Monia Ben Hamouda may not seem like a “web artist” in the traditional sense because her work isn’t primarily about or made to be specifically displayed online. But it’s also true that what constitutes a net, web, or new media artist today is increasingly hard to define. Ben Hamouda’s work has an almost intangible quality that evokes similar feelings to art more traditionally deemed “internet art.” While much of her work could be considered sculptural in the strict, traditional sense, its inspiration and origins can often be traced back to a deep fascination with the internet, its meaning, and the real emotions it can inspire. As the artist says herself: “Internet is inspiring for me, as much as reality is.”

Ben Hamouda creates a deep sense of post-digital unease through her perfectly curated combinations of organic and synthetic materials. In the collision of these contrasting elements, Ben Hamouda skillfully exposes us to the persistent strangeness and complex symbolism of human existence today.

Note: The artist’s original formatting has been retained.

 

Monia Ben Hamouda, I can’t even reply you (but we were in love), 2017, Pig tails, water, travel sachet

 

Christian Petersen: Were you a creative child?

Monia Ben Hamouda: Definitely. Since I was very young I was interested in doing art, painting mostly.

I had the fortune to grow up in an environment that understood my propensity and encouraged it.

It was clear what I was going to be.

CP: How did your education affect the art you make now?

MBH: I studied photography and graphic design in high school, and sculpture in university. I think that changed and defined the way that I see spaces. Emptiness. What is inside and what is outside. Making decisions.

CP: 
What are your earliest memories of interacting with digital media?

MBH: I was born in 1991, so digital media is something that I always had at home. My father was very passionate about computers and graphic design, and the first time I saw Adobe Photoshop I was five years old. I had my first personal laptop at 13. I had a blog and started to work with photography and videos using a cheap digital Fujifilm camera, and I almost abandoned paint. This encouraged me to do graphics and photography in high school.

 

Monia Ben Hamouda, Sad Music Playing Subtitle, 2017, Glass, plastic bag, earring, water, Installation view of It Won’t Only Kill You, it will Hurt the Whole Time You’re Dying, Double Solo show with Michele Gabriele, OJ, Istanbul

 

CP: What influence does the internet have on your work?

MBH: Internet is inspiring for me, as much as reality is. I’m sort of obsessed with the idea of exploiting reality for my purposes, using it like a plastic material inside my sculptures. I see reality like a material. Environments, stories, people. They are not just hosting my piece: they often become the main characteristic of the work.

I’m trying to create objects related to experiencing love through the internet. To bring the emotions that you can feel when you receive a text from your lover, almost at the end of your story, almost broken: “please do not blacklist me. I love you. I care about you.”

You can experience these kinds of emotions just through an internet device. You can see how much space the conversation with this person occupies on your phone: 500kb. How can I feel this hurt for such a small thing?

Images like those are the strong narration filter inside my whole practice.

Broken hearts always have painful memories inside their iPhones.

This is what my pieces are talking about. Feeling exhausted, almost dead after some strong events of life.

Also, Nur Xyderiv (a series of work made by using a font that I created) is stirctly related to the idea of using reality inside the work. Often, the texts are comments that I saw on YouTube. Or recreating the song lyrics videos that you can find there.

Some of my sculpture, like Sad Music Playing Subtitle or Please Wake Up Subtitle, are the materialization of movies subtitles.

Sometimes you can find in those subtitles advice for what kind of emotion you have to feel in that moment. Words like “sad” or “melancholic.” It is like a caption of a caption. 

 

Monia Ben Hamouda, I’m Just Trying to be Pretty (Racoon), Installation view of H O P E, Curated by New Scenario, Technical University Dresden and ALTANAGalerie, Dresden

 

CP: You moved from making videos to sculpture. What prompted that change?

MBH: I think this was not really a change for me; it is just something about time, about where my research needs to go.

I’m interested in narration. Considering that, I think I’m still making videos.

I’m trying to create a story using objects and not shots anymore.

For example, in my pieces’ titles, you can see explicit narration purposes, and if you put them together maybe you can see a storyline…

 

Monia Ben Hamouda, Holding Hands as a Cup, 2017, Venetian tent, silicone, clay, plaster, water, Installation view of It Won’t Only Kill You, it will Hurt the Whole Time You’re Dying, Double Solo show with Michele Gabriele, OJ, Istanbul

 

CP: How does cinema/video influence you sculptural work?

MBH: Cinema is the most influential thing for me. Is like a goal for my work.

I want to reach people in the same way a movie or a tv show can do. I want to bring emotions out of people.

I want to make them cry.

 

Monia Ben Hamouda, I can’t even reply you (new), 2017, Pig tails, water, polymethyl-methacrylate, plastic band

 

CP: When and why did you start using animal parts in your work?

MBH: I started to use meat for my I can’t even reply you series in 2017.

I do not see those elements like animal parts.

They have alimentary purposes, and they interest me because they are part of reality, but somehow they are not easily recognizable.

CP: How would you describe the relationship between the organic and synthetic in your work?

MBH: One is the extension of the other.

Is really important for me to create a sort of “democracy” among the piece’s materials.

 

Monia Ben Hamouda, Still-Broken, 2017, Volleyball, bone, Installation view of It Won’t Only Kill You, it will Hurt the Whole Time You’re Dying, Double Solo show with Michele Gabriele, OJ, Istanbul

 

CP: The flesh and bone you use leave the viewer unsure whether it is human, animal or “other,” which (for me) creates a feeling of discomfort or unease. What draws you to playing with those kinds of emotions?

MBH: It is not really my intent to discomfort the viewer; I just had to use those elements because my research needed them.

The decision to use this medium derived from the need to formalize an image that could contain the strength of amulets. I started reasoning about Symbolization and about the tendency of human beings to use other living beings’ amputations as amulets and therefore acts as symbols.


The pigtail is a banal image, but also almost unrecognizable. In the collective memory it doesn’t practically exist, therefore it could symbolize, but in an ambiguous sense, a strange symbol of strength, alien and familiar at the same time.

The emotions that I can feel when I see those pieces are complex, because for me meat (and in particular pig meat) is a symbol: my family is half Muslim. It always was interesting for me to see how much layers of meaning are inside those images.

 

Monia Ben Hamouda, Hunter I, 2017, Water, plastic bag, cables, dog’s salame, Installation view of It Won’t Only Kill You, it will Hurt the Whole Time You’re Dying, Double Solo show with Michele Gabriele, OJ, Istanbul

 

CP: How would you describe your relationship with water (which is a regular medium in your work)

MBH: Passional. At some point of the formalizing process water arrives and I really don’t have choice. It’s brutal.

Like tsunamis.

Like love.

I strongly believe that water and emotions are connected. Cinema is full of this element. It is so melodramatic.

Think about lovers looking each other under rain: they are wet, they can kiss each other, they can cry.

It is almost the end. And they stare at each other, completely wet.
 Water is an empowerment and a dramatic way to show images. Sometimes I look at things trying to imagine them differently: water allows this change even though it maintains the objects unchanged. It’s plasticity. It’s sculpture.

See, liquid allows bodies to be sculpturally “full,” but in a passive way, like it’s been left on the floor.

It takes the shape that welcomes it, and that “leaves” it to be shaped by “others.”

They existed and then died. They were strong, but not any more. Maybe they will be strong again, like a dead shark on the beach. We have to be careful.

Also, I have a strong drive to work with this material since the beginning of my practice. It is something really natural to me.

I lived six months upon two lakes, in Lapland, in 2015, during the polar night. I was alone in the dark for so long… Water was literally everything that I had around me. I think it was an important experience for my work.

 

Monia Ben Hamouda, Dog I, 2017, Fur, muzzle, Installation view of It Won’t Only Kill You, it will Hurt the Whole Time You’re Dying, Double Solo show with Michele Gabriele, OJ, Istanbul

 

CP: What distracts you from your work?

MBH: Nothing, never. I’m obsessed, really.

CP: What bores you?

MBH: Openings.

 

Monia Ben Hamouda, Sad Music Playing Subtitle (detail), 2017, Glass, plastic bag, earring, water, Installation view of It Won’t Only Kill You, it will Hurt the Whole Time You’re Dying, Double Solo show with Michele Gabriele, OJ, Istanbul

 

CP: I also read that you “owe so much to snakes, those ‘eaten too much’ images.” Please explain.

MBH: As I told you before, reality is like a sculptural material for me, and my latest practice directly derives from some images of predators in particular circumstances that I saw.

Images like cut snakes, with the chest open and a deer coming out of it.

Somehow they are multiple things simultaneously: they are passive forms, drooping down on themselves, but also they are the perfect symbols of strength. Or better: loss of strength.

They are dead, but we are so afraid of them. We know their past. We know what they could do.

We can’t touch them.

Those kind of “passive- aggressive” images interest me for their ambiguity: dead but ready to attack you. Both in the same moment. It’s a behavior that expresses anger and hostility, but in indirect form, through the passivity.

 

Monia Ben Hamouda, Still-Broken, 2017, Volleyball, bone, Installation view of It Won’t Only Kill You, it will Hurt the Whole Time You’re Dying, Double Solo show with Michele Gabriele, OJ, Istanbul

 

CP: Do you have to deal with the decay of the organic matter in you work. Is the decay itself part of the work?

MBH: I don’t think so. I used materials which have this property but this is not the point.

The point is the failure of symbolization. Animal parts, amulets.

 

It Won’t Only Kill You, It Will Hurt the Whole Time You’re Dying, Monia Ben Hamouda & Michele Gabriele @ OJ

 

CP: Your have recently collaborated with Michele Gabriele. Tell us a little about that.

MBH: We’d met each other just before the group show that he curated (You would like that we were not here. But we are too emotionally absorbed by the homesickness of places that we’ll see only from the windows of our Bentleys, Milan, 2017) and we realized that we were both interested in this same idea of keeping the documentation as part of the art process. He invited me to collaborate, and since then we never stopped to work together. We are sharing a studio, and I can say that Michele’s work is a daily source of inspiration for me.

We strongly agree on visions and concepts. Even if our research is different, somehow they collide, creating important scenarios for both.

That’s the reason why we decided to work on a double solo (It won’t only kill you, it will hurt the whole time you’re dying (Istanbul, 2017): we had so many things to say together.

 

Monia Ben Hamouda, Survive, Adapt and Protect (Just Breath) (detail), 2017, Plastic band, clay, silicone, water, plastic bottles, fur, Installation view of Miranda, curated by PANE Project, Milan Italy

 

CP: You did a show in a working butcher’s shop (Miranda). How was that experience? How was it received by the customers?

MBH: I took it very seriously.

Miranda was my first solo show, and I was very excited and anxious about it.

I used all my energy, heart, and mind to build that show. I had the chance to show my research and I didn’t want to waste it.

I was so lucky to work with Lucia Leuci. She is very professional and sensitive. She truly believed in my work since we first met.

I felt at home, even if we used a butcher shop as location for the show. In the beginning of the setting up I was a little bit intimidated by the customers. It was tough for me. Some people were a little bit scared; they just wanted to buy meat and run away. Sometimes I wanted to run away too.

But Lucia and Antonio Miranda, the owner of the shop, treated me like family. I think it was tough for him as well. He was really sick at that moment, but very curious.

It was really important to me to use his name as title of the exhibition.

I was thinking that dramatic stories are often told by changing names. Here I kept the name and changed the story, exploiting Miranda’s identity to my purposes. Now I see the exhibition halfway between a love letter and an obituary. Between teen lovers and widowed old people.

It was strong for me. 

He died few weeks ago.

 

Monia Ben Hamouda, Survive, Adapt and Protect (Just Breath) (detail), 2017, Plastic band, clay, silicone, water, plastic bottles, fur, Installation view of Miranda, curated by PANE Project, Milan Italy

 

CP: What do you have coming up?

MBH: The next season I will present an ambitious project built on episodes, like a tv show.

Half Sculpture, half Cinema. You will see!

 

Christian Petersen

We run an online magazine, so of course, we’re interested in what’s happening with art on the web. We invited online gallerist, founder, and curator of Digital Sweat Gallery, Christian Petersen, to write a bi-monthly column for us. Every other Wednesday he selects a Web Artist of the Week.

 

(Image at top: Monia Ben Hamouda, Survive, Adapt and Protect (You’ll Never be Missed), 2017, Plastic band, clay, silicone, water, Michele Gabriele’s The Missing LinkInstallation view of Miranda, curated by PANE Project, Milan Italy. All images: Courtesy of the artist)

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