March 30, 2017  —  by

Drinking Posh Water with Ben Elliot

credit: Charles Negre (PICTURES) Lily Taïeb (Model) Lorandy (Make up & Nails) Paul Duchemin (Hair)

Ben Elliot (22) picks up my skype call in Paris, where he was born. He’s wearing a black hoodie and a Burberry cap, the one with the infamous pattern once appropriated by chavs and now reappropriated by ironical cynics. He has just released the third installment of tbh i dunno if i have feelings, which started in 2016 as “an exhibition with a set of basic artworks” he explains.

“I wanted to make something more real, more actual, to make a progress from my first exhibition by generating a series of different projects to build my name as a masterpiece, a cultural brand becoming an icon” he says unapologetically, “I like the culture nowadays, like social media, reality shows, business… I think it’s interesting to take from it and build a personality and lifestyle as one big interconnected piece of art. Last year, I did a party starring the upcoming generation, the one holding the future and evolving more broadly with the transhumanism stuff. This year I wanted to launch a product and e-shop. My main idea is to build a smart empire, to sell smart products and ideas, to do exactly like the Kardashians but in a brand-new way, more close to the future, technology and sciences development. Selling ideas more than VR glasses because I know that in 20 years that will just be obsolete. Before doing art I did books, I love writing, it’s kind of direct, honest and efficient, ideas are becoming books, first human product, and first merch on my eshop.”

Everybody needs water. It’s the best product.

They are also an early form of culture, it’s interesting that you started with books and you’re now doing brand collaborations. It seems to follow evolution. “Yes totally, and everything is technology in the end. Books are like the first smartphone of humanity in a way. And water is the first product of life, the basic one we are and consume everyday. Everybody needs water. It’s the best product.”

So how did the water collaboration happen? Did you get in touch with Voda Voda? “Yes. I proposed it to them, we talked about it and they loved the idea to collaborate with the art. Then we produced it.” Water is certainly a basic product but we made it a product, a commodity. It being a product, a commodity, is kind of problematic, right? “Why?” The fact that we have to buy water it’s somehow problematic. It’s pretty mindfucking. “I don’t think that way. I just see water as a product of life not just a product to shop. Of course it’s in a shop and you have to buy it, but still it is the product and the first technology of life, we can build a lot of stuff from it. When it comes to buying water itself, I don’t really see that as an issue, selling and buying is the way we build our society, maybe it’s stupid.” Well, it’s not stupid. It’s actually very clever to sell water because everybody needs it, as you were saying. If you don’t have it you die. Even tap water costs money but you’re focusing on bottled water and particularly these posh water brands like Fiji, Voss… you probably know many more than I do. “No, not really more than you. The water brand I made the collaboration is one of them, yes, fancy water, but I don’t have really a position on that. I chose this brand for how it looks and the quality of the water. It is not really my goal to represent luxury. I’m neither interested in politics or social issues. I’m more the kind of people who see humanity as a big organism or network, like when you look at animals or nano-particles, it’s just a species for me and I’m just observing it. Lifetime on earth is just a tiny part of life, so tiny that in the end buying water or not is not really a question.”

Art today is almost all about denouncing stuff. I’m not like that.

So you’re just observing life and representing it in your works as it is? “Yes, more focusing on how things evolve, humanity+, the post-human thing. I know it will end with artificial intelligence whatever the final form.” Humanity? “Yes, sure. And it’s okay. It’s not a bad or good thing to change or disappear ultimately, monkeys disappeared before, that’s the game.” Are we the new dinosaurs? “Absolutely.” I think so too. But if we are the new dinosaurs, are we our own meteorite? “Sure.” Or is technology the meteorite? “I feel like the meteorite is just life. I don’t believe in destiny or else but it is plainly logical. First you have a cell in water, then more and various transformations and then an A.I. Then it will return in the loop of matter which I am pretty sure is infinite.” But we are life. “A part of it yes, always changing and it’s okay.”

Okay. So when you approach social media, technology and everything there is no criticality nor commentary to it in the way you do it? “No. Art today is almost all about denouncing stuff. I’m not like that. I did a party and it was more like celebrating and I feel social medias are beautiful things, there you can share ideas, your personality, it’s an unlimited meeting point for everybody and everything. I’m living that like in a cyberpunk movie, enjoying the game, trying to reach the next level. I don’t believe in The Society Of The Spectacle or decadence or else. I think it’s all old concepts.” Yes for sure, they are quite old now. “Now we’re focusing on how to make the body better, how to live smarter… uploaded and augmented. Of course the Internet may not be perfect and you can point some bad sides too if you want, free will is good.”

I’m sponsored by some brands on instagram, like Nike, and I like to think I’m wearing ideas.

Would you say the project is dystopic? “More like utopic actually.” Like Andy Warhol, who said “in the future everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes”, would you say in the future everyone will have their own brand of water? “It’s already the case. Everybody has their brand of something. Hoodies and stuff like that but I don’t advocate that necessarily, more believing in the augmented life for everybody and somehow having a brand is linked.” True. There are many young people launching new brands, beside themselves operating like a brand. “Yes, all the time.” Is it merch more than fashion, whatever is the difference? “Similar I guess, branding” So is it a hot thing now for teenagers to have their own brand of sweatshirts? “Yes and not only teens, everybody, every medias or else. Just a social trend. We all need to imitate the others.”

Fashion plays an important role in your work. “Well, everything is visual today so it is more about how you look and express yourself, clothes are a daily life object, an important one in the social game, it defines yourself and your ideas. On social medias it’s the first thing you see from the person.” Makes sense, especially being from Paris which is the “capital of fashion”, although there’s a difference between the fashion world and the menswear subculture of hoodies, caps… right? “There are links and they are not so different today. I don’t really care about fashion that way and I think it’s just interesting to be sponsored by other brands, I like to take a part in it. I think it is fun to do it in a thoughtful way. I’m sponsored by some brands on instagram, like Nike, and I like to think I’m wearing ideas.”

The Kardashians are doing more interesting stuff than 99% of the artists today.

It seems hard to me to stay neutral when you do a party, a water collaboration or social media… you’re either critiquing it, making a parody or celebrating it or maybe none of those. “Yes none, just reproducing them in a brand-new way… My work is not about celebrating, even if I did it once, it’s more being a part of it and activate something different inside.” Then we all are part of it, doing social media, throwing parties, self-branding… but you seem to do so in quite an extreme way, going very far, maybe exploring the limits. “Yeah, the limits are good to reach another layer. And Art is all about having fun too, not taking Reality that seriously because at the end of the day you are not sure of anything. When I take a selfie, it is just a selfie, I am not trying to make it more deep or smart, I think it is already the case.”

It’s also funny that you mention Kim Kardashian because she also operates with all this in a very extreme way, I think. “Yes. I don’t like everything about her but I think she with her family did really good things culturally speaking. Making 13 seasons of your life with Keeping Up With The Kardashians is a huge masterpiece!” It’s like a Truman Show almost. “Yes. Crazy!” So you’re interested in it conceptually but not aesthetically? “Yeah in a way, depends on the day.” Kanye West also wants us to believe it’s a masterpiece. “Yes, he’s trying to do art but nobody is taking him really seriously when it comes to that” Well, many people take it seriously. He sells millions of records, he fills stadiums… It’s the art world, which is very few people, that does not take it seriously. “Yes that’s what I meant, because they think they’re smarter. It’s all about that. Things should be put at the right place more often, don’t want to insist on The Kardashians (laughs) but they’re more interesting stuff than 99% of the artists today. I feel like it deserves to be seen in a different way sometimes.”

It’s like the continuation of conceptual art in a capitalization way.

You consider The Society Of The Spectacle to be old ideas, but you’ve mentioned trans-humanism quite a few times now. It is not a very new thing either. “Sure. I think we are already living it. It’s just a word to name something happening. I love watching movies, science fiction, cyberpunk fiction… it’s just a new idea of life which is more exciting than the idea of god or gender or politics and so on.” How does it relate to your work? “I see people taking selfies and posting them, uploading themselves like the first step of artificial intelligence. It’s like the continuation of conceptual art in a capitalization way.”

Conceptual art came from the frustration with traditional forms in a way. Artists were kind of frustrated so they started to react against them. When I see your work over the last year I see that you also started with a more traditional exhibition format and then from there you went to different medias, not traditional at all, like throwing a party. Was it a reaction to the exhibition? “Yes, Totally. I like to make a difference between art and contemporary art because the last one seems more to obey some established trends and rules. I played by the rules in the first exhibition and I’m happy that I did that, once. I will do it again, we all need to fit somehow. But still I like to think there’s contemporary art and there is art. Art is more about realizing in what world you live and the potential it has, making it visible again, in a new way, to generate a new step.” Everything is contemporary in the end. “Of course! I just did contemporary art with the water collaboration but not playing the game as it is or just a bitmaybe because I can’t be a total freak.” He laughs. Do you pursue a more ‘pure’ idea of art then? “Yes. Water is pure.” Even in a bottle? “Sure. It’s from the purest source from the mountains of Serbia.” Is it not corrupt to put water, which comes free in nature, in a bottle and sell it? “I don’t believe in corruption.”

I would like to make the next step of art, the future of art.

You’re represented by a PR agency instead of a gallery. “Yeah. It’s part of it.” So you consider the tactics you choose to present yourself to be part of the artwork. “Sure, the way you present things is as important as the rest, it shapes the whole thing.” You two worked very closely to organize tbh i dunno if i have feelings 2, the party. “Yes. The goal was to choose people from different backgrounds like music, fashion, art, entertainment… and to bring together some very young figures who embody the different ideas of today.” So was there like a casting for the attendants? “Almost, more like a natural casting.” At the same time you were doing your work you were presenting other artists, empowering your whole generation through your work. “Yes I like to do that. For the water project, I assembled different aesthetics close to mine but didn’t create any content myself directly.” It’s almost curatorial then, where’s the line between creating and curating, if any? “No line, no labels but of course I’m doing art. I would like to make the next step of art, the future of art.” Ending with what we started, you said you wanted to be an icon of art, maybe the last human artist? “Yes. Before Artificial Intelligence makes art.” Laughs. Would you like to add anything? “Stay hydrated, drink Water.”

Buy Ben Elliot Water in his e-shop.
Follow Ben Elliot in Instagram.
And always drink water.

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