Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Helen Benigson: Weightless Utopia at Site Gallery, Sheffield

Wholegrain nostalgia fiends Grimes & Jones took a trip down (vacant) memory lane and bathed in the sticky warming ooze of a friendship that never materialised in our formative years of burger eating. 
We went to visit pint sized powder-puff princess of pink Helen Benigson's performance night 'Weightless Utopias' at Site Gallery, Sheffield.

You might know Benigson better as Princess Belsize $$$, the artist’s hip-hop alter ego that we first stumbled across in 2011. (TVOD group show, transition gallery - she didn’t attend)
The artist, (whether intentionally or not) having shed her colourful character in favour of her human name... we'd assume maybe to be taken more seriously as we step into the intricately arranged but pointedly straight-laced Site Gallery to a sea of concentrated faces and intellectual gushing. It could be, perhaps, that us famously inwards Yorkshire folk haven’t yet managed to breach the intimidating authority that comes with 'white wall' galleries and contemporary art - we're too busy growing beards, organising community funding projects and trying to 'get it'.

Non the less, having been aware of Belsize's (we prefer the superstar vibe) art and online presence for a few years we came expecting a sugar coated dose of humorous irony - an adolescent middle finger to the teen brat culture, and she provided it with aplomb.
Site Gallery's excellent exhibition space lends itself perfectly to this kind of personal event - the room looking buzzing but not crammed. An arousing and colourful mix of internet iconography, a cocktail of nipples and landscapes made us two committed perverts feel right at home.

Having spent a week residency in the culturally old-school South Yorkshire you felt Benigson had got to grips with the space perfectly, the room was visually stimulating (#tits'n'ass), like stepping into a teen wet-dream; we felt more engaged in this show than any other of our previous Site visits. (Specialising in the usually frosty 'lens-based media').

The on-the-night performers involved choreographed weightlifting, a 'hot-as-fuck' dancer, a live discussion group and a few raps by (the small gyal hersal) Princess Belsize. All of it awkwardly consuming the room, drawing you in with a hypnotic soundtrack of breathing and the hazy glaze of projector light transforming the room into womb.

The show was cute, feminine and purposely sexy, which sounds like our perfect Saturday night in together - we entered feeling unusually vibrant, straddled a couple of the specially created pink cocktails, eager to be involved...but for some reason we left feeling unfulfilled.

Interestingly, Helen described wanting to evoke feelings of 'awkwardness' in the literature, and you got a sense of that in the room. Arriving to a camera man (equipped with 'image-rights contracts to be signed), being encouraged to 'get involved' by the Site staff only to enter a room full of serious faces felt a little uninviting, but perhaps cleverly conducted this way. 
The discussion group, lengthy, and to-the-point was lost on us; 
we wanted to be near the real action - the physical activity of the dancers and weightlifters... always seduced by a cheeky hip-thrust and thigh gap.

Perhaps it was our insatiable appetite for trouble (soft hedonists) that let us down. 

What Belsize Dollar brought to Site was a sweet taste of all things good about London’s up-and-coming commercial art scene, but what our fellow Yorkshire attendees and Site Gallery couldn't provide was the chaotic and socially vibrant party aftermath that usually ensues at successful London shows.

We moseyed around the room like new starters at the Office Christmas party, desperate to get our sticky fingers on the pulse... but no amount of cocktails and Run DMC could break a sweat on the fringe-clad Yorkshire gallery scene.

Bridging that gap between Belsize Dollar and Helen Benigson may prove a commercially sensible move for our fizzy London swagster but we feel the flagrant and silly raps do the talking way better than any prose-heavy essay could.

Visually we knew the exhibition was golden but as attendees to a 'party' the most fun part of the night was accidentally stumbling upon an unfortunate girl shaking her lettuce in the toilet. Feminism and 'weightless utopia' at its best!