In her first solo exhibition in a Danish art institution, the artist Rikke Benborg – best known for her film and video works – investigates hysteria as a cultural phenomenon that even today continues to influence our view of women, right down to the language we use.
The word ‘hysteria’ comes from the Greek word for womb. In ancient times people imagined that the womb could become detached, and driven by the desire to be impregnated wander around a woman’s body causing uncontrollable behaviour. The concept of hysteria – of the unrestrained, unreasonable and uncontrollable – has thus always been directly linked to the female sex and the belief that a man was needed to heal and control the pathological woman.
The exhibition explores conditions for and expressions of the female through the ages, interpreting the many faces of hysteria through works that examine the idea of women’s relationship to the supernormal, as well as investigating how humans – in this case women – react when their immediate scope for action is limited. How do we express ourselves if we are not allowed to have a voice but are instead subjected to the volition and dominance of another?
New video works in the exhibition have been inspired by Benborg’s interest in the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, one of the Victorian era’s institutions for ‘incurable women’ where the treatment of those diagnosed with hysteria included daily hypnosis and hypnotic suggestion. This kept the women in a trancelike state in which they lost control of their bodies and were subject to sexual abuse and theatrical displays.
As a new element of the artist’s work, the exhibition also includes a series of sculptural objects that function as costumes brought to life in a tableau vivant on the opening night, but also take the form of concentrated abstracts of domestic objects and interiors. The home has historically been viewed as the realm of women – representing the framework but also limits for their movements. In Hysterics women’s bodies become a virtual element of the home, and the boundary between body and furniture is no longer clear.
Rikke Benborg studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts from 1999-2006, prior to which she graduated with a BA Honours in Fine Art from Middlesex University. In Denmark she has exhibited at KUNSTEN Museum of Modern Art, Aalborg, Bureau Publik, Nikolaj Kunsthal, Rønnebæksholm, Kunsthal Aarhus, Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art and Randers Kunstmuseum, as well as in Scotland, Serbia, Germany, Los Angeles, Mexico City and New York.