Ilana Harris-Babou Turns Wellness Trends into Surreal Videos and Sculptures

Alina Cohen, Artsy, March 12, 2020
Last summer, Ilana Harris-Babou became an amateur anthropologist. To make work for her current exhibition at Chelsea gallery Hesse Flatow, the Western Massachusetts–based artist relocated to live among her chosen population: the women of Amagansett, the Long Island town just past East Hampton. To observe these characters in their natural habitat, Harris-Babou attended The Class, a fitness workshop promoted by Gwyneth Paltrow and her lifestyle brand Goop. “You’re basically doing calisthenics,” Harris-Babou recently said of her experience. “There’s this pop music playing and it gets louder and louder, and the instructor is screaming at you, ‘Go deeper! What is that thing inside of you? Follow it!’ Those vague self-help phrases.” Eventually, the whole class begins screaming—an exercise intended to help participants find release.
Throughout her multidisciplinary art practice, Harris-Babou often mimics a particular brand of whiteness—she says she’s “almost in white lady drag or white CEO man drag.” Adopting these personas, she investigates cultural preoccupations with cooking shows, self-improvement, design, and the beauty industry.