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Rinse and Hold, but also presence and absence, far and close, painterly and sculptural. An ephemeral tension lies at the core of Isabella Benshimol Toro’s latest production, materializing in a series of monuments to the unconscious. Massive doors and window frames, discarded from British council houses, become poetic containers of the human experience, thresholds to its mundane, uncanny essence.


A bodily, peristaltic pulse seems to pervade the show and inform the way visitors move in the space. The closer you get, the closer you are to realizing Toro’s brushstrokes are traces of intimacy: sweaters, pants, towels. Who was the owner of that cerulean shirt? What story does it come with? However, it is only by stepping back that you allow a watery and abstract landscape to exist. The countless bodies contained by the frames dissolve. The only body left in this array of sculptures is the one standing in front of them.

The conversation follows the opening of the artist’s solo show Rinse and Hold at ZÉRUÌ, London. Which will be open to the public until June 29th, 2024.


Maddalena Iodice: Last time we talked you said something that perfectly encapsulates the sense of your practice “My work is about the anxiety and the relaxation through the domestic and the intimate”. Let’s start from here, how you got to this and how these elements were diluted within the series of work you presented in this solo. 


Isabella Benshimol Toro: I got to this statement and realization after a talk I was invited to, which went so bad. I was so stressed about having to articulate my work through words you know…After the talk, I came back home and the only thing I did for hours was watch the washing machine swirling, being productive. In a way this gave a sense of relief to my lack of articulation. I just found it very hard to speak about work that in a way is first and foremost, very unconscious, and whose process of realization is absolutely uncontrollable. There obviously are some structures I work with but my practice is something that comes very much from the urge of making. There's a sense of pleasure in making, there's a sense of accomplishment, there's a sense of being, there's a sense of authenticity in making. I've always felt quite scared about articulating too much as if it could take away the magic and mystery the work holds. The magic I am interested in is very bodily, something you can't necessarily locate but somehow lies within you and propagates through the act of making or experiencing art. I guess, as an artist I'm just trying to frame, contain these things and deliver them into the world. Containment. That is where the impetus for this new series originated.

MI: A form of containment where intimacy and domesticity are very much conveyed by your choice of materials and the visual codes you assemble...Have the notion of intimacy and domesticity changed as you moved between Venezuela, Italy and the UK? From one cultural environment to another…

IBT: I don't know if I can trace back how these notions morphed for me over time specifically. I just feel they are very much ingrained in my unconscious experience. For instance, having grown up in Caracas in turbulent times, contradictory and indigestible notions around barriers, limits defined my ideas of domesticity. I have this image of a very thick iron fence that divides the rooms from the rest of my house. 

What this series allowed me to do was to work in a very intuitive way, responding to objects, materiality and compositional processes without the need to encapsulate them into words. I worked with windows and doors form British council houses, which interestingly are forms of containment themselves... I had a conversation with an artist friend who is from Venezuela and pointed out how interesting it would be to see this project respond to windows and doors from different countries, and how it could tap into the cultural heritage these containment objects represent.  


MI: I have always found it very interesting how here in the UK most windows have no curtains which allows some sort of voyeurism in people's life...I find your work to echo this tension. If on the one hand you covered the transparent quality of the glass, on the other you did it with garments and clothes that hint at the chaos and poetry of the human experience. The closer you get the more you can capture the details of such human traces. Yet, as you step back everything acquires an incredible painterly quality which is a new nuance in your work.


IBT: Totally! At the early stages of this project I went on many walks around the city and I would actually find myself gazing through windows into people's houses. Every single object seemed to add to the imagination of their lives, there was something revelatory about some objects as if they were there to be seen by the street walkers...In regards to the painterly quality of these works, you are right, however, the process of installation in the gallery spaces proved to be crucial for me. When I was making the works I had no idea how they were going to function in the space or how they were going to be installed, then I realized the work had a (unconscious) site-specific essence that stresses the limits between sculptor, painting and drawing. I left 20 centimeters of space between the wall and the works, just enough for people to look at what was happening on the other side of the glass… The viewer becomes the central element of the show: seeing the outside of the houses from the inside. 


MI: Transforming personal clothes and underwear into bodily traces opens up to themes such as the feminine subjectivity and the diasporic experience. Where does your work sit within these frameworks? I know your practices come from a very intuitive place, however I think it is always very interesting to observe how the reading of one's work might expand when considered in the context of the wider cultural scenario.


IBT: Yeah, I I think the work has very much been framed into these discourses. Even though I see how my practice could become a portal to delve into certain themes, it is not necessarily meant to be a response to such topics. I identify as a woman and I happen to live in a female body which obviously informs my way of articulating the human experience, but this does not mean I would define my work to be feminist, you know. I am interested in the intuition of the female gaze, yet I don't want my work to be framed around gender.
During a studio visit someone asked me what it is that I hate the most about my work. The question brought me back to the piece “Nine-or-ten-year-old, 2023”. A work I had a certain difficulty with because it always felt so feminine... Historically femininity has always been associated with something pure, gentle and weak. An association which I have unconsciously internalized and I find myself grappling with. There is something in these new works produced for Rinse and Hold that respond to this particular issue. The pieces grew in size, the windows and doors I worked with are massive and incredibly heavy, I moved them myself from a space to the other... and thinking about it now, it really feels as If I needed to go through this process to articulate a work that breaks with these anachronistic qualities the feminine has always been associated with. 


MI: The process and your way of materializing ideas: How do you navigate error and moments of doubt? 

IBT: So, there are two things here for me. One is error which can occur during the production process, the other one is doubt and the feeling of doubting yourself as an artist. I often find myself thinking Is this work really me? Is it good enough? Doubt for me connects with authenticity which is something that I tend to be very interested in. Sometimes, I really need to step back and be like It's just me and doubts, and it is fine. On the other hand, when I hear the word error or mistake, I do get really excited! It is almost something I want to happen in my work. I am interested in exploring the limits of the conventional ways of making. The way I work is very much “wrong”, I’ve developed a technique with resin that is very much what they tell you not to do with it in art school, playing with drying times to shape and mould actions. 

MI: Is there something you learned about your practice as a result of this last production? 

IBT: I have been very interested in exploring and finding ways to think about scale in the work with this production. I feel the essence of the work is the same, but its size has expanded in a way that I find thrilling. The absence of the body is very much exaggerated, and the space that it should have occupied becomes filled with a large-scale and much more graspable void... I feel that’s what makes it site-specific, a quality in my work that I don’t necessarily plan, but always ends up happening, as a conversation between the space and the objects that live in it. 


States of Making | Note 

States of Making delves into the granularities of generating art and what it is like to be an artist at the early stages of their career. Offering a space for spontaneous and open-ended dialogue to happen, it brings attention to the importance of the process, encompassing the moments of doubt and clarity that punctuate it. Stemming from the desire to platform the work of the new generation of artists, this series of conversations is facilitated by writer and curator Maddalena Iodice.

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