Concordia University

IMCAFEST



A one-week festival presenting a virtual gallery showcasing Intermedia studio arts students from Concordia University. A collaboration between Club IMCA and IMCA 400, the festival celebrates the works of students past and present as they near the end of their Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees.

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interviews

· philippe vandal

· haal 400
· heather c. vulgar
· alex apostolidis
· benni
· ley lortie
· vanessa moscato
· diego ramirez

acknowledgements


schedule


publication


clubimca video art screening


performance night


archive

(coming soon)


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CONTACT 
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Home

04

A Conversation with Benni on Loretta and Denim


by carolina larossa

Benni Macdonald’s in-progress collaboration with Emerson Sanderson, “Loretta and Denim” is a chaotic performative video work which follows the two title characters through non-linear vignettes. This hilarious-yet-discomforting work centers themes of trans identity, addiction, and therapy. During our interview, Benni and I dove into this work and talked about humor, imperfection, new developments in the video, and their reflective process in this collaborative project.

“We wanted to create characters that were imperfect and okay… in a world that stigmatizes them for their identities and tries to pathologize them.”

In their collaboration with Emerson, Benni plays Loretta, an unapologetically messy Trans Suicide Hotline volunteer who is dangerously undertrained. When Denim calls the hotline during a crisis, an off-puttingly cheery Loretta answers, offering terrible advice before reading from a dry, unhelpful script with a checklist of superficial questions. Later, Loretta visits her therapist, an animated clown who interrupts Loretta with incoherent AI generated therapy jargon. Loretta talks about her drug use and daddy issues, and her goals of engaging in activism to “change all dads.” Both of these scenes represent a critiquing of the over-pathologization of non-normative identities. They reflect the experiences of alienation which trans, queer, and drug using individuals face from public health institutions. When talking about scenes like these in my interview with Benni, we circumambulated one of the central themes of the project, which is that society’s “professionalization of therapy [is put] on a pedestal as an end-all cure to mental health, but in practice it is unhelpful and overpathologizing… If you’re trans or use drugs, your identity becomes pathologized as sick or crazy.” For people whose identities are dismissed by western/colonial ideologies, the mental health institutions built from this problematic value system offer structural alienation and violence instead of help. Loretta and Denim is a restless video work which intuitively and intentionally explores issues of intersecting marginalized identities within the oppressive framework of psychology, crisis centers, and western society as a whole.

During our conversation, Benni and I talked about Benni’s trepidations with humor in their work. Most of the scenes in the video so far feature campy, over-the-top editing and dialogue coupled with intense scenes, such as Denim’s breakdown. “I’m questioning why I feel the need to make others feel comfortable.” Benni and I talked about some in-progress scenes which have developed a much more abstract and emotional tone. In one such scene, Loretta is shown hiding in the bathroom at a party, where disembodied gossiping voices criticize her through unsettlingly distorted audio. This tonal shift in the work reflects Benni’s contemplations on the performativity of humor, as both a performer and an artist. It seems that this in-progress scene may represent Benni’s growing ability to embrace the vulnerability in performing Loretta, a character which represents many challenging moments in their life. So far, Loretta’s unabashed self-acceptance has focused on the campy, “Paris Hilton” side of messiness, but this glance into Loretta’s dark emotional state acts as a grounding moment for the work. Surveilled, over-pathologized, dismissed, the whispers from the other partygoers outside of the bathroom in which Loretta takes refuge can be interpreted as the the social (and institutional) pressure of perfection, and what happens when these standards turn inwards, invalidating a person’s identity from within.

When going over artistic influences for the work, Benni and I spoke about Ryan Trecartin, specifically the way in which Trecartin’s videos suddenly shift from hilarious to scary. “I admire how Ryan Trecartin can switch between moods, where you’re laughing and all of a sudden you’re like ‘wow this isn’t funny anymore.” As a non-linear video work, the choice to allow the narrative to flow into darker moments gives the opportunity for viewers to take a step back, to reconsider their relationship to the work so far. Dark moments like Loretta’s bathroom scene make the viewer ask themselves if they had known the depth of these characters’ experiences the whole time.

Benni looks forward to working with music in order to compose emotional movement throughout the work. Early on in our conversations, we discussed the unhinged performances in Ryan Trecartin’s works, a technique which inspired Benni. We talked about the challenge that Benni considered, the difficulty of pushing the performance of such an intensely personal character so far. Benni considered the contrast between their work and Ryan Trecartin’s in the apparent degree of separation in the dialogue and characters featured in Ryan’s work; for example, the dialogue in Trecartin’s Center Jenny is quick and almost unintelligible, but when you do happen to catch a phrase they are philosophical, theoretical, and impersonal. The opposite is true for Emerson and Benni, who perform characters who are facing the same challenges as they do in real life. An avenue which Benni decided to experiment with was pushing the “overtherapized” persona, who obsessively tries self-help, yoga, and crystals in an attempt to embody the model of perfection for recovery. These topics have been fruitful pools of jargon from which the duo have been able to source much of their “chaotic” dialogue. This seems to be one of the latest advancements in the project.

“Loretta would never think about racism… they’re so in their own world, never thinking about their whiteness and living their bimbo lives...” Benni has also been considering the positionality of their work, which reflects the experiences and privileges of white people, and questioning not only the space and relevancy of the project but also how these characters can be used to talk about issues such as Black Lives Matter in ways that aren’t either superficial or unnatural. Benni feels inspired by their conversations with another local artist persona, Lenore Claire as Sandy Bridges, who uses their character and platform to uplift other artists through hilarious interviews. Benni finds that Loretta and Sandy are similar in many ways and feels inspired by the success of Lenore’s improvised and genuine approach to de-centering her character and sharing her platform while still creating art.

Benni’s work this semester has been very inspiring to watch. Their reflective/intuitive/care-full/playful collaboration with Emerson has developed a mesmerizing and touching video work with incredible potential. It has been a pleasure to work with them this semester.