‘Like a prophetess-professor’ (Latitudes, 2023), artist and writer Crystal Bennes critically and poetically examines knowledge systems and power structures. Using a method that often begins with feminist reinterpretations of archival histories or myths, her way of working makes essential, often surprising, connections between science, history, capitalism, colonialism, gender and political power.
Bennes works across a wide range of media including tapestries, soap sculptures, photographs, publications, performance lectures, prints and meadows. Her work has been exhibited and collected in the United Kingdom and internationally. Her interests include sites of scientific research, libraries, migration of plants and people, women’s histories, nuclear culture, language and translation, the subversion of academic methodologies, and the politics of art practice.
Her publications, artworks and installations range from Jacquard textiles woven with computer punchcard programmes to photobooks knitting together links between early computing, nuclear weapons and women computer programmers. They include the pseudo-archaeological recreation of a nineteenth-century Roman hay meadow, a story of unintentional plant migration; a wide-ranging investigation of one of the only human-made chemicals that both nourishes and destroys us: fertiliser; and a performance installation featuring a Pythia-like oracle that speaks of corrupt global commodities traders.
A Classicist with a PhD from King’s College London, Bennes previously worked in the U.S. Senate and as an architecture and design journalist before retraining as an artist. She studied for an MFA at Aalto University, Helsinki and École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and obtained a practice-based PhD at Northumbria University, Newcastle.
Recent exhibitions include: Platform: Early Career Artist Award (2023), Edinburgh Art Festival; Flora Italica (2023), Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen; Mauvaise Herbes, Centre Photographique d’Ile-de-France; No Island is an Island, Landskrona Foto International Festival; and Hermes and the Veil (2021), Gallery North, Newcastle.
Klara and the Bomb (2022), her first photobook—charting connecting threads between the U.S.’s nuclear weapons research, gendered histories of modern computers, and nuclear colonialism—was published by The Eriskay Connection in 2022. It was shortlisted for the prestigious Photo Text Book Award at Les Rencontres d’Arles in 2023.
Between 2022 and 2024, she is artist-in-residence at Edinburgh College of Art as a Talbot Rice Resident on a programme supported by the Freelands Foundation.