March 30, 2017  —  by

Drinking Posh Water with Ben Elliot

credit: Charles Negre (PICTURES) Lily Taïeb (Model) Lorandy (Make up & Nails) Paul Duchemin (Hair)

Ben Elliot (22) picks up my Skype call in Paris, where he was born. He’s wearing a black hoodie and a Burberry cap, the one with the infamous pattern once appropriated by chavs and now reappropriated by ironical cynics. He has just released the third installment of tbh i dunno if i have feelings, which started in 2016 as “an exhibition with a set of basic artworks” he explains. This time, the project takes the form of a product release. Ben has got his name, or shall I say trademark, on hundreds of bottles of Serbian luxury water that you can buy for 15€. Not the cheapest bottled water on the market (not the most expensive either), but quite a bargain if you consider it to be contemporary art.

I.G. — It’s interesting that you started with books and you’re now doing brand collaborations. It seems to follow some sort of cultural evolution. B.E. — “Yes, totally, and everything is technology in the end. Books are like the first smartphone of humanity in a way. And water is the first product of life, the basic one we are and consume everyday. Everybody needs water. It’s the best product” So how did the water collaboration happen? Did you get in touch with Voda Voda? “Yes. I proposed it to them, we talked about it and they loved the idea of collaborating with the artwork. Then we produced it.”

Everybody needs water. It’s the best product.

Water is certainly a basic product but we made it a product, a commodity. It being a product, a commodity, is kind of problematic, right? “Why?” The fact that water, which exists naturally and nobody manufactures, is sold and has to be bought is pretty mindfucking. “I don’t think that way. I just see water as a product of life not just a product to shop. Of course it’s in a shop and you have to buy it, but still it is the first product and the first technology of life, we can build a lot of stuff from it. When it comes to buying water itself, I don’t really see that as an issue, selling and buying is the way we build our society, maybe it’s stupid.” Well, it’s not stupid. It’s actually very clever to sell it because everybody needs it, as you said. While you just die without it, even tap water costs money. However, you’re focusing on bottled water and particularly these posh water brands like Fiji, Voss… you probably know many more than I do. “No, not more than you. The water brand I made the collaboration with is one of them, yes, fancy water, but I don’t really have a position on that. I chose this brand for how it looks and the quality of the water. It’s not really my goal to represent luxury. I’m neither interested in politics or social issues. I’m more the kind of people who see humanity as one big organism or network, like when you look at animals or nano-particles. It’s just species for me and I’m just observing it. Life on earth is just a tiny part of life, so tiny that buying water or not is not really a question.”

Almost all art today is about about denouncing stuff. I’m not like that.

So you’re just observing life and representing it in your works as it is? “Yes, focusing on how things evolve, humanity+, the post-human thing. I know it will end with artificial intelligence whatever the final form.” Humanity? “Yes, sure. And it’s okay. It’s not a bad or good thing to change or disappear ultimately, monkeys disappeared before, that’s the game.” Are we the new dinosaurs? “Absolutely.” I think so too. But if we are the new dinosaurs, are we our own meteorite? “Sure.” Or is technology the meteorite? “I feel like the meteorite is just life. I don’t believe in destiny or else but it’s plainly logical. First you have a cell in water, then many more and various transformations and then artificial intelligence. It will return in a loop of matter which I’m pretty sure is infinite.” But life is us. “A part of it yes, always changing and it’s okay.”

Alright. So when you approach social media, technology and everything, is there no criticality nor commentary to it in the way you do it? “No. Art today is almost all about denouncing stuff. I’m not like that. I did a party and it was more like celebrating and I feel social networks are beautiful things, you can share ideas there, your personality… It’s an unlimited meeting point for everybody and everything. I’m living it like in a cyberpunk movie, enjoying the game, trying to reach the next level. I don’t believe in The Society Of The Spectacle or decadence or else. I think it’s all old concepts.” Yes for sure, they are quite old now. “Now we’re focusing on how to make the body better, how to live smarter… uploaded and augmented. Of course the Internet may not be perfect and you can point some bad aspects too if you want. Free will is good.”

I’m sponsored by some brands on instagram, like Nike, and I like to think I’m wearing ideas.

Would you say the project is dystopic? “More like utopic actually.” Like Andy Warhol said ‘in the future everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes’, would you say in the future everyone will have their own brand of water? “It’s already the case. Everybody has their brand of something. Hoodies and stuff like that but I don’t advocate for this necessarily but the augmented life for everybody and having a brand is linked to it somehow.” True. There are many young people launching their own brand, beside themselves operating brands. “Yes, all the time.” Is it merch more than fashion, whatever is the difference? “Similar I guess, just branding.” So is it a hot thing now for teens to have their own brand of sweatshirts? “Yes and not only teens, everybody, every media outlet or whoever. It’s just a social trend. We all need to imitate the others.”

Fashion plays an important role in your work. “Well, everything is visual today so it is more about how you look and express yourself. Clothes are a daily life object, an important one in the social game, they define yourself and your ideas. On social media it’s the first thing you see from the person.” Makes sense, especially being from Paris which is ‘the capital of fashion’. “I don’t really care about fashion that way and I think it’s just interesting to be sponsored by other brands. I like to take a part in that. I think it is fun to do it in a thoughtful way. I’m sponsored by some brands on instagram, like Nike, and I like to think I’m wearing ideas.”

The Kardashians are doing more interesting stuff than 99% of the artists today.

It seems hard to me to stay neutral when you do a party, a water collaboration or social media… you’re either critiquing it, making a parody or celebrating it or maybe none of those. “Yes none, just reproducing them in a brand-new way… My work is not about celebrating, even if I did it once, it’s more being a part of it and activate something different inside.” Then we all are part of it, doing social media, throwing parties, self-branding… but you seem to do so in quite an extreme way, going very far, maybe exploring the limits. “Yeah, the limits are good to reach another layer. Art is all about having fun too, not taking ‘reality’ that seriously because at the end of the day you are not sure of anything. When I take a selfie, it’s just a selfie, I’m not trying to make it more deep or smart, I think it’s already the case.”

It’s also funny that you mention Kim Kardashian because she also operates with all of this in a very extreme way. “Yes. I don’t like everything about her but I think she and her family did really good things culturally speaking. Making 13 seasons of your life with Keeping Up With The Kardashians is a huge masterpiece!” It’s like a Truman Show almost. “Yes. Crazy!” So you’re interested in it conceptually but not aesthetically? “Yeah in a way, depends on the day.” Kanye West also wants us to believe it’s a masterpiece. “Yes, he’s trying to do art but nobody is taking him really seriously when it comes to that” Well, many people take it seriously. He sells millions of records, he tours every stadium… It’s the art world, which is very few people, that does not take it seriously. “Yes that’s what I meant, because they think they’re smarter. It’s all about this. Things should be put at the right place more often. I don’t want to insist on The Kardashians (laughs) but they’re doing more interesting stuff than 99% of the artists today. I feel like it deserves to be seen in a different way sometimes.”

It’s like the continuation of conceptual art in a capitalistic way.

You consider The Society Of The Spectacle to be old ideas, yet you’ve mentioned trans-humanism quite a few times now. It’s not a very new thing either. “Sure. I think we are already living it. It’s just a word to name something happening. I love watching movies, science fiction, cyberpunk fiction… it’s just a new idea of life which is more exciting than the idea of god or gender or politics and so on.” How does it relate to your work? “I see people taking selfies and posting them as uploading themselves , like the first step of artificial intelligence. It’s like the continuation of conceptual art in a capitalistic way.”

Conceptual art was born out of a certain frustration with traditional formats and conservative institutions. In a way, artists were kind of frustrated so they started to react against them. When I observe your work over the last years, I see that you also started with a more standard exhibition and from there you went to disruptive ‘medias’, let’s say, like throwing a party. Was it a reaction to the initial exhibition? “Yes, Totally. I like to make a difference between art and contemporary art because the last one seems to obey some established trends and rules. I played by the rules in the first exhibition and I’m happy that I did that, once. I will do it again, we all need to fit somehow. But still I like to think there’s contemporary art and there is art. Art is more about realizing in what world you live and the potential it has, making it visible again, in new ways, to generating a new step.” But it is contemporary after all. “Of course! I just did contemporary art with the water collaboration but not playing the game as it is or just a bit maybe because I can’t be a total freak!” Do you pursue a more ‘pure’ idea of art then? “Yes. Water is pure.” Even if kidnapped in a bottle? “Sure. It’s from the purest source from the mountains of Serbia (laughs).”

I would like to make the next step of art, the future of art.

You’re represented by a PR agency instead of a gallery. “Yeah. It’s part of it.” So you consider the tactics you choose to present yourself to be part of the artwork. “Sure, the way you present things is as important as the rest, it shapes the whole thing.” You and worked very closely to organize tbh i dunno if i have feelings 2, the party. “Yes. The goal was to choose people from different backgrounds; music, fashion, art, entertainment… and bring together some very young figures who embody different ideas of today.” So was there like a casting for the attendants? “Almost, more like a natural casting.” Interesting, at the same time you were doing your work you were presenting other artists, empowering your whole generation through your work. “Yes I like to do that. For the water project, I assembled different aesthetics close to mine but didn’t create any content myself directly.” It’s almost curatorial then, where’s the line between creating and curating, if any? “No line, no labels but of course I’m doing art. I would like to make the next step of art, the future of art.” Ending with what we started, you said you wanted to be an art brand, maybe the last human artist? “Yes. Before Artificial Intelligence makes art (laughs).” Would you like to add anything? “Stay hydrated, drink water.”

You can get Ben Elliot Water in his e-shop (www. and browse his other projects at