Videos (1970s - 1980s) from EAI and the Kitchen selected by Rebecca Cleman

From: Meredith Drum (email suppressed)
Date: Thu Oct 02 2008 - 10:32:56 PDT


For those of you in NYC, a friendly reminder about tonight’s
screening at ISSUE Project Room at 8 pm of videos from the 70s and
80s culled by Rebecca Cleman from the collection of the Kitchen and
EAI. There are some pretty spectacular pieces included. Rebecca’s
notes and descriptions of each film below.
And for more information about the program as a whole please visit:


Notes from Rebecca Cleman regarding her Oct. 2nd program:

My selections for tonight coalesced around a relatively narrow time-
frame ranging from roughly the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s. I doubt
this is purely coincidence. Though affordable cameras first became
available to the consumer in the late 1960s, video probably didn’t
become broadly influential until later in the 1970s, especially as it
was being integrated into the arts community. In the mid 1980s more
sophisticated editing tools would dramatically affect the type of
video and media art being produced.

I wanted to hone in on one of the first major artistic approaches to
video in its earliest manifestations: direct performances for
camera. These were usually recorded in real time before a fixed
camera, with a minimalist aesthetic. There is a slight departure
here in Lynda Benglis’ “The Amazing Bow Wow,” an ambitious video-
narrative in which Benglis performs as the owner of a hermaphroditic

As Dara Birnbaum articulates in her early Portapak piece “Pivot:
Turning Around Suppositions,” the specific relationship of camera to
subject mimics other power dynamics, particularly gendered power
dynamics. This is an excellent starting point for a program that as
a whole represents female artists’ use of video to create
discomfiting and confrontational works that exploit the camera’s
gaze. These works all on some level involve impersonations or an
assumed “camera presence,” that pivot on fixed assumptions about
gender, race, and class.

Videos in screening order:

Dara Birnbaum
Pivot: Turning Around Suppositions (1976) 10 min, video

This is a rare opportunity to see an early Portapak work by Dara
Birnbaum. “Pivot: Turning Around Suppositions” is a striking example
of Birnbaum’s rigorous examination of the power structures implicit
in viewer-television, camera-subject, and male-female dynamics. A
relatively simple exercise with profound implications, the “pivot”
here is between a static camera focused on a moving female performer
(Birnbaum), and a static performer captured by a moving camera.

As Birnbaum observes in the piece’s conclusion:
“It is hoped that this piece will become an investigative exercise,
allowing a better understanding of the openness and limitations
present when adopting a chosen role in the film-making process. The
suppositions are daily conversational extractions, although it may be
easily seen that in their very extraction they may become
exaggerated, or larger than life, thus there is a great freedom
involved in interpretation. This occurs both in the projected
psychology of the cameraman and the inner psychology of the
performer. The strength of the piece derives from the visible
manifestation of the participants, and their expressed similarities
and differences due to different psychological interpretation and

Lynn Hershman Leeson
Confessions of a Chameleon (1986) 9:09 min, video

Summarizing the work of San-Francisco based artist Lynn Hershman,
LACMA curator Howard Fox writes: “Hershman’s art is among the most
enigmatic, psychologically troubling, and philosophically ambivalent
art produced by her generation.” Hershman’s pioneering work in video,
film, installation, photography, and interactive computer and net-
based media art investigates the mediation of media in creating a
public identity, especially as it relates to a woman’s identity in a
culture that tends to be hostile and aggressive towards her.
“Confessions of a Chameleon,” the first in a series of videos
entitled “The Electronic Diaries” (1986 – 1989) exemplifies
Hershman’s provocation of media representations. Playing the role of
a “dubious narrator,” she both exposes and cloaks the impact of
traumatizing personal experiences, creating a portrait of herself
that is unsettled by its ambivalent sense of veracity.

Pat Hearn
Bondage (1980) 7:40 min, video

Before becoming a legendary art dealer, Hearn was a fearless and
eccentric performance artist. Simultaneous to her receiving a grant
from MIT to support her art, Hearn had a night job as a stripper.
 From a remembrance of Hearn by the artist Mary Heilmann: “She would
appear on stage covered with balloons that patrons would pop, one by
one, with their cigarettes. On her last night on the job, as each
man popped a balloon, she shot him with red paint from a squirt
gun.” “Bondage” is an uncomfortable, sadomasochistic performance
video from this time.

Lynda Benglis
The Amazing Bow Wow (1976) 32 min, video

The Amazing Bow Wow tells the tragic tale of a hermaphroditic dog,
reduced to performing as a tent-show freak. Problems begin when Bow
Wow's owners, small-time carnival impresarios Babu (Stanton Kaye) and
Rexina (Lynda Benglis), discover that their dog can not only talk,
but is also highly intelligent. Its extraordinary abilities provoke
fear and jealousy in Babu, and, conversely, affection and
protectiveness in Rexina. As Bow Wow's relationship with Rexina
becomes sexually charged, Babu attempts to castrate the animal, but
in a terrible twist of fate mistakenly cuts off its tongue.

Text from EAI Online Catalogue: Reprinted with
permission by Electronic Arts Intermix.p

Howardena Pindell
Free, White, and 21 (1980) 12 min, video

Like Lynda Benglis, over the course of an established career of more
than thirty years, Pindell has balanced formal abstraction with
overtly political art. “Free, White, and 21” is a powerful video
account of the racism Pindell has witnessed and experienced in her
lifetime, as described by Pindell in a direct camera address.
Throughout, she is undermined by a know-it-all blond woman (Pindell
in “white face”), symbolizing the skeptical white majority who are
“sympathetic” but reluctant to acknowledge the continued effects of
racism, especially in the art world.

Martha Wilson
Martha Wilson as Nancy Reagan (1985) 9:32 min, video

Founding Director of Franklin Furnace Archive, Wilson is also an
artist who has been working since the early 1970’s, as recently
represented in an excellent exhibition at the Mitchell Algus
Gallery. In his review of the show for the New York Times, Holland
Cotter wrote: “If I were to make a list of the half-dozen most
important people for art in downtown Manhattan in the 1970s…the
conceptual artist and performer Martha Wilson would be on it.”

In this keenly observed portrayal of Nancy Reagan - right down to her
pristine white gloves - Wilson represents the schoolmarmish First
Lady’s view of the arts to an audience at Exit Art. In conclusion,
she condescendingly suggests that artists keep their concern and
focus on art, rather than politics. Waving an arm sparkling with
jewelry, she adds, sneeringly: “Let us handle the new tax law.”

Performed for Oracle, performance series at Exit Art, New York.
Video by Susan Britton and Julie Harrison

Cynthia Maughan
Selected Works (excerpt) (1973-78) 20 min, video

“A third-generation Angeleno, Cynthia Maughan grew up on the
periphery of Hollywood, while absorbing and delighting in the movie
industry’s more marginal productions. In her three-hundred-plus
videos from the early 1970s on, Maughan dryly rifles through the
formulaic look of monster movies, sci-fi, horror, melodrama, Western,
noir, and B-grade cult flicks to texture her pithy storytelling.
Situating herself as actor and narrator of short, contained videos,
Maughan delivers cautionary tales, folk songs, social histories, and
simple actions with a contemptuous, comic, and, at times, woeful voice.”

Text by Catherine Taft, from the exhibition catalog “California
Video: Artists and Histories.” This is a selection of works that
were presented in the J. Paul Getty Museum’s 2008 exhibition, curated
by Glenn Phillips.

For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.