March 5, 2024
A screening of Sadie Benning's Videoworks, Volume 1 & 2
Cinema Rouge et Noir
Sadie Benning began making experimental videos when they were 15-years old, after their father, the filmmaker James Benning gave them a Fisher-Price PXL 2000 toy video camera for Christmas. Benning quickly became a pioneer of the genre, recognising its uncanny intimacy and psychodramatic potential. Made mostly in the privacy of the artist's bedroom, the videos offer a window into Benning's teenage world, narrating the discovery of their sexuality and the difficult experience of growing up as a lesbian in a violent, hostile and oppressive society. Using scrawled and handwritten text from diary entries, to record thoughts, feelings and images, Benning's videoworks reveal the longings and complexities of a developing identity in grainy pixelated black and white. Playfully seductive and painfully honest, Benning’s floating, close-up camera functions as a witness to their intimate revelations and acts as an accomplice in defining their evocative and experimental form. Benning's work emerges from a place half-innocent and half-adult— with all the honesty, humor, and desperation of a person just coming into self-awareness, trapped and uneasy.
Event a collaboration with and supported by Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Torino.
Sadie Benning Videoworks: Volume 1
A New Year (1989)
In a version of the “teenage diary,” Benning places their feelings of confusion and depression alongside grisly tales from tabloid headlines and brutal events in her neighborhood. The difficulty of finding a positive identity for oneself in a world filled with violence is starkly revealed by Benning’s youthful but already despairing voice.
Living Inside (1989)
When they were 16, Benning stopped going to high school for three weeks and stayed inside with their camera, TV set, and a pile of dirty laundry. This tape mirrors Benning's psyche during this time. With the image breaking up between edits, the rough quality of this early tape captures Benning’s sense of isolation and sadness, their retreat from the world. As such, Living Inside is the confession of a chronic outsider.
Me and Rubyfruit (1990)
Based on a novel by Rita Mae Brown, Me and Rubyfruit chronicles the enchantment of teenage lesbian love against a backdrop of pornographic images and phone sex ads. Benning portrays the innocence of female romance and the taboo prospect of female marriage.
If Every Girl Had a Diary (1990)
Setting their pixelvision camera on themselves and their room, Benning searches for a sense of identity and respect as a woman and a lesbian. Acting alternately as confessor and accuser, the camera captures Benning’s anger and frustration at feeling trapped by social prejudices.
Benning gives a chronology of their crushes and kisses, tracing the development of their nascent sexuality. Addressing the camera with an air of seduction and romance, giving the viewer a sense of their anxiety and special delight as they came to realize their lesbian identity.
Sadie Benning Videoworks: Volume 2
A Place Called Lovely (1991)
“Nicky is seven. His parents are older and meaner.” A Place Called Lovely references the types of violence individuals find in life, from actual beatings, accidents and murders, to the more insidious violence of lies, social expectations, and betrayed faith. Benning collects images of this socially-pervasive violence from a variety of sources, tracing events from childhood: movies, tabloids, children's games (like mumbledy-peg), personal experiences, and those of others. Throughout, Benning uses small toys as props and examples—handling and controlling them the way we are, in turn, controlled by larger violent forces.
It Wasn't Love (1992)
Benning illustrates a lustful encounter with a “bad girl,” through the gender posturing and genre interplay of Hollywood stereotypes: posing for the camera as the rebel, the platinum blonde, the gangster, the '50s crooner, and the heavy-lidded vamp. Cigarette poses, romantic slow dancing, and fast-action heavy metal street shots propel the viewer through the story of the love affair. Benning’s video goes farther than romantic fantasy, describing other facets of physical attraction including fear, violence, lust, guilt and total excitement. As Benning puts it, “It wasn’t love, but it was something...” It was a chance to feel glamorous, sexy and famous, all at the same time.
Girl Power (1992)
Set to music by Bikini Kill (an all-girl band from Washington), Sadie Benning's Girl Power is a raucous vision of what it means to be a radical girl in the 1990s. Benning relates their personal rebellion against school, family, and female stereotypes as a story of personal freedom, telling the viewer how they used to model like Matt Dillon and skip school in order to adventure alone. Informed by the underground “riot grrrl” movement, this tape transforms the image politics of female youth, rejecting traditional passivity and polite compliance in favor of radical independence and a self-determined sexual identity.