The Passenger: An Interview with Ana Benaroya
"Get into the car / We'll be the passenger / We'll ride through the city tonight / We'll see the city's ripped backsides...", one of the best lyrics in "The Passenger," Iggy Pop's brilliant song, and yet perfectly in this context, we are listening to the Siouxsie and The Banshees version. It's the context by which Ana Benaroya sets the stage for her new solo show of the same name, The Passenger, on view now through May 10th at Carl Kostyál in London. We feel like we have been on a ride with Benaroya over the past year, as she was our cover story in Spring 2020 when the world shut down and now have returned to focus on her newest works as the world begins to emerge. And yet this work is an introspective look at Americana, our classic iconography of Hollywood, classic advertising, sexual innuendo and a woman's role in that imagery. The car, America's ultimate tool of freedom, is front and center.
In a wonderful essay about the show, curator Morgan Aguiar-Lucander wrote, "Throughout this body of work Benaroya reflects on how women and their bodies were, and continue to be used to sell a hyper-masculine conception of success, freedom and conquest. While the advertisement suggests that if you buy the car you might get the girl, Benaroya liberates and empowers the women of these images, inverting the notion entirely. There is no doubt that it is we, the viewer, in the passenger seat and that these women are behind the wheel."
We sent Benaroya a few questions about the work, her readings before, the success of the last year and the soundtrack of her studio life. —Evan Pricco
Evan Pricco: What made you focus on, or even name your show, The Passenger and have these vehicles and movement in the show? I liken the idea to being along for the ride, but with a protest here.
Ana Benaroya: My previous two shows, The Softest Place on Earth and Teach Me Tonight, both took place inside particular spaces (an apartment and a cafe, respectively). I really enjoyed centering my shows at within a space/place—but for The Passenger I wanted that place to be less static. A car is a place that moves and it is also one that holds a particular place within the American imagination. The show title itself comes from the song "The Passenger" by Iggy Pop - though the version I would play on repeat in my studio is the cover by Siouxie and the Banshees.
The press release touches on this, but there is this fraught relationship between woman and cars, perhaps this sort of Hollywood created stereotype. You have these woman in vehicles, they seem to have become more muscular and strong and almost life-sized, what was your thinking?
Yeah, a lot of my image research at the beginning of making this show centered around classic Hollywood starlets and stars and their cars. I liked how they posed with their cars—and I was also drawn to a lot of car advertisements from this period as well. I think cars themselves have a really strange relationship to gender, often associated as a male interest and as a symbol of masculinity—but then cars often being given "she/her" pronouns and female names. I liked the idea of the car being another body in my painting— alongside the women I paint, whose bodies often fluctuate between masculine and feminine—I think the car can do the same.
I have read Manifesto of Futurism, a long time ago, but I remember being really... I wouldn't say into Marinetti's work, but it stuck with me for sure. What did you get from it and how did it play a role in The Passenger.
What really stayed with me was how militant it was (and sexist). Its machismo was funny to me - and I think they way they pitted technology and mysticism against one another was interesting. Cars and trains and aggression were the way of the future, as they saw it. I liked the challenge of taking this philosophy into my paintings of women and cars— but turning it on its head a bit.
There was Los Angeles and NYC and Hamptons shows last year, London now, and I'm curious if you ever let it creep into your head where the works will be shown? Did London play any role in subject matter?
It did— I wanted to create work that drew its inspiration from Americana, hence the cars and Hollywood as my starting point. But ultimately, my work is heavily altered and created within my imagination, even if its inspiration starts in reality. So I guess the answer is yes and no haha.
I love the connection that Aguiar-Lucander made in regards into these sort of parallel conversations with mid-century advertising, sort of baby boom idealism mixed with Prince's work around the Cowboy, I thought those were wonderful insights. What parts of art history or even cultural history do you research when you prep a show?
Totally, I hadn't thought of the Prince or Koons connection until Morgan wrote about it in his essay. Well for this show in particular I mentioned above the Futurists and classic Hollywood starlets. I always have a starting point, but honestly, it evolves as I make the paintings and drawings. Similarly to how I make my work, there is a level of intuition and unexpected twists and turns in my reference points and research. During this show I ended up looking at lots of Bonnard, Elizabeth Murray, Matisse and stills from James Bond movies.
I know you have a soundtrack in your head for this show. Give me a few...
The Passenger by Siouxsie and the Banshees, Denise by Randy & the Rainbows, Diana by Paul Anka , Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) by Nancy Sinatra , New Mistake by Jellyfish, and Desperado by The Eagles.
The past 15 or so months have been really great in terms of your work. There's a boldness that seems to be sharpening. How are you feeling right now about the direction, and what's next?
Thanks Evan! I feel excited - I'm using my work for The Passenger as my jumping off point for the next body of work. Definitely going to spend time exploring drawing more - I want to work on drawings and paintings simultaneously and see how they affect each other. Thematically I'm keeping it open at the moment, I want to experiment a bit before diving into a specific series again.