Art Has More Than One Face
A conversation with Steph Benenson
by Axel Gonzalez, Miguel and Ruby; Youth Artists with the Urbano Project
This blog was supported by an Artist Residency at the Urbano Project
“I think we are only better as a society if more perspectives are shared.” -Stephanie Benenson 2020
Stephanie Benenson is a social practice artist that was raised in New England. Born with Polish and Irish heritage, she believes that “there is an appreciation and a connectivity that people have within themselves to the place that they live in, the history of that land, and the history of the people who have come through that land.” For Benenson, creating artwork around origin and immigration stories is directly inspired by her childhood, and the stories her grandparents shared.
Art is a significant part of not only Stephanie’s life, but her family’s as well. “My father is an artist, my mother is an artist and my grandfather on my mother’s side is an artist and an immigrant from Ireland.” Like her family, Benenson’s art endeavors began by painting. Later, Steph began “migrating” to social practice and taking interest in the immigration stories that the Boston communities held.
It was significant for her to understand “the importance of those stories and how [they] built resilience within me” as her life was built “on the shoulders of what my parents and grandparents went through.”
Benenson is an artist that looks beyond traditional forms of art, she stresses this belief that “it’s not about the media, it’s about an idea.” This is something that has allowed her to create multiple projects that revolve around Social Practice. Social Practice is an art medium focusing on engagement through human interaction and social discourse. By constantly collaborating with others through her designs, she explained that, “Every project we create inspires the next project.” With her work, she strives to expand the palate of what art can be because “For people to be engaged in storytelling, there needs to be more than one way of communicating that message.”
One of Benenson’s most recent projects, Harbor Voices, completely embodies the idea of story-telling. Harbor Voices is an amazing spectacle of laser installations as people of many different backgrounds share their stories. Creating a sound collage created through layered interviews, Steph creates an immersive installation in which music and light mix to create bonds between strings of lasers.
According to Benenson “the interwoven light and how that light is choreographed to the sound collage is very meaningful to me as part of the process.” The beauty of this installation is the way light immerses a viewer…. But they also have a conceptual implication. “The joining of the light and the lasers and the beams of light represented this connectivity into the interwovenness of the stories that are shared and that oftentimes stories of the past will have some connected meaning to a story in the present.” Yet, she later mentioned that “Lasers were almost secondary - the real focus are the stories and the voices.”
Harbor Voices expressed this message through these mediums “in order for people to engage in story-telling.” Hearing someone talk about something may sometimes be confusing or hard to understand because you are given information though one sense only. The reason why Harbor Voices’ success came to be, is because it gives you another way to communicate. It gives a crowd more opportunities to relate to the person sharing their story. Just like Benenson said, “There are so many ways of communicating a message through art, but what also matters is the interaction between the storyteller and the audience.”
When creating installations with Harbor Voices, Benenson expressed that her work reflects greatly on the history of the past in order to create awareness and respect of the stories that have led to the present. For Benenson the goal is to have an “understanding around the leadership roles in your community … and how you can take on a leadership role in social activism in your community.”
Overall, she hopes that through her work viewers will feel inspired to not only learn from others but to also share their own stories, create ideas, and collaborate. By doing so increasing cultural awareness that will initiate positive change in your community.
About the Artist
Stephanie Benenson is an interdisciplinary artist based in Massachusetts. guided by inquiries into social mobility, inclusivity and accessibility in the arts, and the power of exploring personal history through the medium of community storytelling. In 2017, Benenson started Harbor Voices, an artist-led community storytelling collective that creates public celebrations of the collective voice. Benenson believes that Art, particularly participatory projects, has the ability to bring people together and impact the future.