Elena Helfrecht (b. 1992 in Bavaria; based in London and Bavaria) is a visual artist working with photography. In 2019 she completed her MA in Photography at the Royal College of Art in London, after receiving her BA in Art History and Book Science from Friedrich-Alexander-University in Erlangen in 2015 and briefly studying Art and Image History at Humboldt-University in Berlin from 2016 to 2017.
Elena’s work revolves around the phenomena of consciousness, emerging from an autobiographical context and opening up to the surreal and fantastic, at times grotesque. She is interested in how inner space is formed, how it interacts with different environments, and how it can be visualised. Interweaving memories, experiences, and fantasy, she creates an inextricable narrative with multiple layers of meaning characterised by a visceral iconography.
In 2020, her work was nominated for the Foam Paul Huf award and selected as a finalist for the Sony World Photography Awards, HSBC Prix pour la Photographie, The Aftermath Project Grant, and as a winner of Camera Work hosted by Palazzo Rasponi 2. She was one of the Bloomberg New Contemporaries in 2019, showing at South London Gallery and Leeds Art Gallery, and a Jury Favourite for the Le Bal Award for Young Creation, as well as a winner of the AOP Student Awards, Magenta Flash Forward, and the Ginnel Foto Award in the same year. Her work has been published in books and magazines such as the British Journal of Photography, HANT Magazin, Der Greif and "On Death" by Kris Graves Projects and the Humble Arts Foundation, which was one of Time’s 30 Best Photobooks of 2019.
"Plexus" is a photographic case study through archival still lifes, highlighting the effects of inherited trauma and postmemory, and providing a familiar terrain to explore the influence of the family in the discovery of psychological and cultural processes within history. In this work, I investigate the complex routes of my ancestors using my family home and archive. Finding documents and artifacts which lost their history and became indecipherable, I add my own narrative to what is left unknown, to create a metaphor transgressing personal and national boundaries. When trying to put these found fragments together, the term 'remembering' becomes literal: I piece together the limbs of a body of events I have never fully seen or experienced, to understand the past, the present, and ultimately, the impact this kind of baggage has had on myself, the people around me, and the viewers alike. I use the objects and architecture of the house as parabolic proxies, turning them into gates connecting the past and the present. This creation of dream-like environments and symbols interlinks all that is remembered and simultaneously forgotten.
Even though history never repeats in the same way, I can observe cyclical patterns reappearing, and catch myself repeating the behaviours of my mother and grandmother that so greatly ended up influencing me. With this body of work, I want to raise awareness for the aftermaths of conflicts generations later and examine how collective memory is shaped and influenced. Creating a new sense of identity through confronting the past, spanning across four generations, provides grounds for a detailed investigation of postmemory, mental health, war, and history.