Ben&Julia - portrait
This week the French/Swiss duo of artists answers our questions.
  • Soundtrack of the report
  • Radio
  • Flairs
Ben&Julia are a French-Swiss duo who are not only talented graphic artists and filmmakers, but also travellers and artists that take us on a trip. They take us on a trip through their colourful and eccentric parallel universe to the Valley of the Farting Hens (Kak&Kook and the Valley of the Farting Hens), share the initiatory trip of three mushroom brothers towards the dream world (Tahiti Boy and the Palmtree Family "1973"), and even send us on an exploration of a distant planet in search of the great love (Flairs "Radio"). All of these works can be attributed to their overflowing imaginations. But, their many travels have also been a great influence. In particular, their long visits to Thailand, India, and now Berlin, where they currently reside.
The Main Drag "Dove Nets" directed by Ben&Julia
Ben&Julia 1Ben&Julia 2 Ben&Julia 3 Ben&Julia 4 Ben&Julia 5 Ben&Julia 6 Ben&Julia 7

1/ Do you consider yourselves travellers?

We love to travel and would travel all the time if we could! Ben: Julia moved around quite a bit when she was younger, which must have given her ants in her pants because, she is always thinking about leaving! Julia: I left Switzerland to study in London and then started working. After that, I was back in Switzerland for two years, in Paris with Ben and finally in Berlin where we live today. Ben: I’ve also travelled all over Spain, England, the US… but we take all our big trips together: India (Chennai, Kerala, Andaman Islands), Thailand (Bangkok, Koh Lipe, Lopburi). We like taking “discovery” trips and even more so “life-experience” trips.

2/ What attracts you to travel? What does it bring you?

We are very attracted to the unknown, and we like to escape from the humdrum routine of daily life. Travel, for us, is a special time where we stop working and get to open our eyes wider and become more human again. I think that, like many people, we get caught up this crazy Internet age with Facebook, Twitter, etc… It’s entertaining, but it’s not really life. One time, we lived with a family in Kerala, India. We were isolated in the mountains next to the jungle, about 40 minutes from the Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary. Tribal women would come grind their grain in the morning. At night, we would hear men hitting the tree trunks to keep away wild elephants. And, at 5’o-clock in the morning, their fifteen year old son would run to school. It was still dark out and he had to run two hours. In the evening, he would return with a smile up to his ears happy to see us and chat with us. These are the times when you reflect and put things into perspective.

3/ You’ve travelled to India and Thailand. Are these experiences present in your work?

Very present. When you are in countries like that, you want to breathe in the culture and make it your own; but it’s too vast, too rich. When you think about the time we take to make our sculptures and then look at a Dravidian temple, it seems crazy. You feel as though you were in “Spirited Away”, and the little grandmother who sweeps the temple floors is going to turn into a butterfly-fox, the monsters are going to open their mouths wider and you’ll be taken down a magical stream. Our trips definitely enrich our work, and it’s reassuring to think about how many places we have yet to visit. European culture is great but, the mythology of these other countries takes you on such a journey.

4/ Tell us about a favourite memory from your foreign travels.

Julia: In Romania, I stopped at a lakeside campsite where you could camp for a dollar. Suddenly, a young girl showed up and started picking up wood to help make a fire. She was talking really loudly. The next thing I knew, a bunch of gypsy children started coming out of the woods. In the end, there were many of them surrounding me. Each one had a unique personality, like characters from a movie. We looked at each other and communicated through gestures. Their mother showed up and they didn’t want to eat with me. We spent some time together though. They just wanted to spend some time there. Aside from that, our trips to London are always quite eventful. We’ve seen some pretty unbelievable things there. Ben: In India, with the family we mentioned earlier. One evening, the parents started singing a love song at the dinner table; it was incredible. We were certainly a bit shy, but also very touched. It was sincere and beautiful. In the Andaman Islands, nights fishing with the neighbourhood guys. Otherwise, exploring the Wild Life Sanctuary on foot! It’s a 4-5 hour jungle excursion with two guides armed with machetes and guns. In the morning, they saw me come out of my room wearing shorts and said: “Ah! It rained during the night so there are going to be leeches”. We only had one pair of trousers and Julia only agreed to go if she could wear them. I ended up with leeches hanging onto my socks the whole trip… Since the guides were only in shoes, I didn’t bring it up too much!

5/ Do you ever tell your travel stories through images?

We take lots of pictures, draw, and make short videos here and there. More than anything else, travel has to be lived. In fact, we practically never share the photos from our trips.

6/ Where do you dream of going next? What culture do you dream of discovering?

Madagascar, the Galapagos Islands, the Philippines, Malaysia … Our trips are very oriented… In order to choose our destinations, it’s 50% animals and 50% local cuisine. Mmmm!
Music Video "Radio" by Flairs directed par Ben&Julia

7/ What would be your ideal mode of transportation, real or imaginary?

Our ideal trip would be a world tour accompanied by biologists explaining all the subtleties of nature, the animals… on land and under water too; we love diving and snorkelling.

8/ You left Paris more than a year ago. Is there anything in particular that you miss?

Ben: Aaaahh Paris! I did 10 years in Paris… That kind of sounds like I’ve done time in prison! What I miss… The people who moan, the social pressure, salt addictions, sky-high rent, people’s pride and hostility… and also friends, but for real this time! Paris is too hard, especially for artists. As a creator, you strive to develop your sensitivity, become vulnerable, but you feel things more intensely. If you do that in Paris, you’ll have a hard time of it.

9/ You have since lived in Berlin... How has that influenced your work?

For us, Berlin imposed itself as the solution. It will soon be two years, and for us, this city represents freedom, time, joy, melancholy (the type that inspires you), possibilities, encounters, space… There are always new, incredible places to discover – places in the image of those who love them. A journalist said that there was a Berlin “feel” to the Dove Nets clip, which was the first video we made upon arriving here with Stink Berlin. She spoke of “Berlinesque playfulness”… We never think about these things when working, but we love the city, that’s for sure. We live in it and with it.

10/ Any new trips or projects planned?

In ten days, we’re off to Lisbon. We rented an apartment in Alfama; we’re thrilled! We’re working on another big trip, to another universe this time: our expo during the Pictoplasma festival in April. This work is very close to our hearts because it is real, not just a video. We created it as a physical multisensory and multidisciplinary work. We are counting on you to come and experience this with us from April 4 to 9 at Stink Berlin, Schönhauser Allée 161A!

11/ Thanks for your time and, thanks for this touching postcard!