Lena Chen

visual artist, writer and activist

23.10.2017   - 29.10.2017

Writer, visual artist and activist Lena Chen (previously Elle Peril) (b. 1987, San Francisco) explores women’s identity and trauma through performance and text. One of the earliest documented cases of “revenge porn”, Chen embarked on a five-year experiment living under an alternate identity as nude model “Elle Peril” to reclaim agency over her image and narrative. A graduate of Harvard College, she has spoken internationally at Oxford, Stanford, Yale and SXSW. Her work has been funded by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, Berlin Senate Department for Culture and Europe, Delegation of the European Union to the United States, and Puffin Foundation.

I grew up in California as the daughter of Chinese immigrants, who repressed my budding sexuality by directing my focus toward academic achievement. After I was accepted to Harvard University, I moved across the country only to find myself burned out, depressed, and isolated in an elite environment where I felt I did not belong. I published a blog where I wrote publicly about my sexual experiences and mental health. Sex and the Ivy went viral, with some denouncing my lifestyle as “morally reprehensible” while others praised me for igniting frank dialogue.

My upbringing left me unprepared as a young woman to confront the power and peril of living in full view of the male gaze. After being targeted for revenge porn and cyberstalking, I became an advocate for sex education and reproductive justice. Publicly, my career as an activist was taking off, but privately, I was experiencing panic attacks and paranoia, symptoms of post-traumatic stress. In 2013, I moved to Berlin, where I adopted an alternate persona as a nude model. I wanted to discover what it meant to embody all the contradictions of womanhood – to be revered and vilified, desired and rejected, empowered and objectified. Through the act of undressing and posing for strangers, I attempted to reclaim agency over my personal narrative while questioning whether women’s emancipation is possible through embracing our sexual power.

From sex blogging to nude modeling, my work is concerned with women’s struggle to craft identities independent of men and capital during the age of neoliberal feminism. My confessional texts and interactive performances are exercises in exhibitionistic vulnerability that explore the thin line between victimhood and survival. My work addresses those affected by gender-based trauma and is inspired by witches, hysterics, sex workers, and all those who have threatened dominant political ideology through their mere existence.

I am currently working on a one-woman show and a collection of personal essays.

Lena Chen, Artist’s Statement


The Cyber and Material Character: weplay4unow.com

During The Beholder group show, SomoS presents a live link to “The Cyber and Material Character: weplay4unow.com,” a lhybrid live/online project and group show by Elly Clarke, Lena Chen, Stephanie Ballantine and Esben Holk at FKK (FotoKlub Kollektiv), Berlin. Both projects explore similar thematic interests, such as the connection between artistic labor, sex work, and the commodification of intimacy and identity in the digital age.

The premise of weplay4unow: Four online characters appear together in the material world, offering to you a chance to play. They test the boundaries of the ‘Cyboptican’: an action office of computers and webcams. They attempt to invert the gaze that is inherent to their Labor. The room is a set for the action to occur. The actions are instances of play. Buy an action and watch, be watched, watch together, or let us all be watched. (I see, you see, we see, they see). Choose a player and pay for their work. Or choose a task and select who you would like to perform it.

While some actions play into the notion of art and artists as objects of consumption, others “actions” challenge the notion of passive viewership as the spectator is asked to become a performer in the work. The durational performance runs from October 21st to November 4th.

An installation featuring a station with a computer screen with a live broadcast from the gallery space of FotoKlub Kollektiv is set up at The Beholder, in which characters from The Cyber and Material Character will be available to perform actions at the direction of spectators visiting The Beholder.

Lena Chen homepage
The Cyber and Material Character: weplay4unow.com