Chloe Bensahel is an artist whose work combines the traditions, plants, and stories linked to materials in order to address human relationships to place. Bensahel’s work often blends individual narratives and material research in order to make work that is both of a place and separate from it, a moment between past and future. For this year’s San Francisco Design Week, Bensahel will realize an installation about immigration in the bay area.
SFDW: What is something you’ve had to question and overcome in your life?
C: That common question “Where are you from?” is perhaps the question I’ve dealt with for most of my life. My first response is “I’m French,” to which the answer is “really?” I sound like an American. I was born in France in a Moroccan Jewish family and moved to Washington DC as a child, at that age where any language seamlessly inserts itself into your brain. I realize that being a French immigrant means being a privileged kind of immigrant, but I know that I’ve struggled with the same cultural confusion that many other immigrants have in this country. Back in France, I’m seen as a foreigner, so the honest answer to that question would be “I don’t know.”
SFDW: What is an action you are taking based off of that?
C: As an artist, I’ve always been fascinated by how culture manifests itself in the physical world – French tapestry, Japanese paper, Chinese silk. I’ve come to see that every material comes in small but significant varieties, appropriated again and again. Paper, for example, originated in China, the recipe then altered to give Japanese, Nepalese, Italian, or French paper. People move in the same way. Past generations of my family have moved from Algeria to Morocco, and then to France or Spain. Borders might be in place, but no person can be reduced to one place. I make work that combines various world traditions, an abstract of a much larger human cultural narrative.
SFDW: So tell us a bit about your installation for SFDW?
C: That was on my mind when I was coming up with the installation for SF Design Week, called “J’arrive.” I’ll be constructing a kind of wall that depicts the number of new immigrants who have come to the Bay Area since 2013. Around half of those immigrants work in fields of management, business, design, and science and more than half have a bachelor’s or master’s degree. I’ve been using red thread to stitch postcards that represent that figure. The front is clean and the back has all of the “unfinished” bits. I’m looking forward to seeing reactions the humanization of data, bringing it into the physical sphere. The title can be read as “arriving” in English but actually means “I’m coming,” in French, posing the question of what truly arriving looks like.