Sadie Benning

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Sadie Benning (born April 11, 1973) is a video maker, visual artist, and musician.

She first made her name in the early 1990s as a teenage video maker from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[1] Raised by her mother in inner-city Milwaukee, Benning left school at age 16, primarily due to the homophobia she experienced.[2] Her earliest works, made from the time she was 15, were shot with the Fisher-Price Pixelvision camera, which recorded pixelated, black and white video images onto standard audio cassettes. The Fisher-Price PXL-2000 camera used in her early works that brought her to the spotlight was a Christmas gift from her father, experimental filmmaker James Benning. At first Sadie was standoffish to the PixelVision camera. "I thought, 'This is a piece of shit. It's black-and-white. It's for kids. He'd told me I was getting this surprise. I was expecting a camcorder."[3] The majority of her shorts combined performance, experimental narrative, handwriting, and cut-up music to explore, among other subjects, gender and sexuality. Her work was twice included in the Whitney Biennial.

Sadie’s earlier videos, A New Year, Living Inside, Me and Rubyfruit, Jollies, and If Every Girl Had a Diary all use Benning’s isolated surroundings and the effect this had on her as the main focus. In her earliest work, A New Year, Sadie shies away from the front of the camera, using her surroundings - primarily the confines of her room and her bedroom window - to portray her feelings of angst, confusion and alienation. Sadie said in an interview, “I don’t talk, I’m not physically in it, it’s all handwritten text, music; I wanted to substitute objects, things that were around me, to illustrate the events. I used objects in the closest proximity – the television, toys, my dog, whatever” [4]

Exploring her sexual identity and growing up, the themes explored in "A New Year", repeat throughout the body of her work. Benning often used pop culture, such as music, television or newspapers as a means of amplifying her message while parodying the same pop culture at the same time. Often the images she would see on television or movies would piss her off and inspire her further, "They're totally fake and constructed to entertain and oppress at the same time -- they're meaningless to women, and not just to gay women. I got started partly because I needed different images and I never wanted to wait for someone to do it for me".[5] Given her confinement, the use of these mediums in her work is practical and gives insight to the viewer of how Sadie has been mostly interacting with the world.

In 1991, the first article about Benning's work, written by Ellen Spiro, appeared in the national gay magazine The Advocate.[6] As her work progressed, Sadie became more comfortable with herself in video she used images of her own body and her voice, creating another important texture to her videos. In works such as If Every Girl Had a Diary, Sadie uses the limitations of the PixelVision to get extreme close ups of her face, eyes, fingers, and other extremities to bring the viewer to a much more intimate and personal level with Sadie, literally pulling the audience right next to her face as she narrates her life and thoughts. Without any regard for a person’s background, race, or sexual identity, Sadie permits the viewer into enter her world, her mind, her cell, her place of refuge and recovery. “Benning’s daring autoerotic and autobiographic videos, her ability to make the camera seem a part of her self, and extension of her body, invite the audience to know her.”[7]

Later in the decade, she co-founded Le Tigre, the feminist post-punk band whose members include ex-Bikini Kill singer/guitarist Kathleen Hanna and zinester Johanna Fateman. She has since left the band.

In 2004, Bill Horrigan curated a retrospective of her works on video. In 2006, in collaboration with Solveig Nelson, she created Play Pause - a two-screen projected video installation. It was debuted at the Wexner in 2007 as part of the exhibition, "Sadie Benning: Suspended Animation." In September 2007, "Play Pause" was exhibited at the Dia Center in NYC.[8] Concurrent with the Dia installation, the collaboratively run Orchard Gallery exhibited her abstract drawings, video installation, wall sculptures, and "play/pause" records in the solo show, "Form of...a waterfall."[9] Two works from this exhibition were included in the 2007 White Columns Annual.[10] Recent exhibitions include Play Pause, Power Plant Gallery (2008), 7th Gwangju Biennale (2008), and VHS the Exhibition, Franklin Street Works (2012).

Benning has received grants and fellowships from Guggenheim Foundation, Andrea Frank Foundation, National Endowment of the Arts, and Rockefeller Foundation. Awards include Wexner Center Residency Award in Media Arts, National Alliance for Media Arts & Culture Merit Award, Grande video Kunst Award, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Circle Award. She received her M.F.A. from Bard College. Her videos are distributed by Video Data Bank.


2006: Play Pause (29:21, two channel video installation from hard drive, color digital video/ drawings on paper). Directed by Sadie Benning in collaboration with Solveig Nelson, Drawings and Sound by Sadie Benning

2003: One Liner (5:07, installation, b&w video/ Pixelvision)

2003: The Baby (5:40, installation, color digital video/ drawings on paper)

1999: Le Tigre Slide Show (slide installation projected during Le Tigre performances, 40:00, drawings & color slides)

1999: Le Tigre, recorded with Kathleen Hanna and Johanna Fateman (vinyl & cd)

1998: Flat Is Beautiful (56:00, black & white video/ Pixelvision, 16mm, and Super 8), co-starring Mark Ewert

1995: German Song, collaboration with Come (6:00, black & white video/ Super 8 film)

1995: The Judy Spots (12:30, color video/ 16 mm film), produced by Elisabeth Subrin

1992: Girl Power (15:00, black & white video/ Pixelvision)

1992: It Wasn’t Love (19:06, black & white video/ Pixelvision)

1991: A Place Called Lovely (13:40, black & white video/ Pixelvision)

1990: Jollies (11:18, black & white video/ Pixelvision)

1990: Welcome to Normal (20:00, color video/ Hi 8)

1990: If Every Girl Had a Diary (8:56, black & white video/ Pixelvison)

1989: Living Inside (5:06, black & white video/ Pixelvision)

1989: Me & Rubyfruit (5:31, black & white video/ Pixelvision);

1989: A New Year (5:57, black & white video/ Pixelvision)


  1. ^ Auer, James. "Film artist selected." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel January 5, 2000
  2. ^ Hillstrom, Kevin (1999). "Benning, Sadie: American Video Artist." Contemporary Women Artists Detroit: St. James Press.
  3. ^ Masters, Kim. "Auteur of Adolescence."Washington Post October 17, 1992
  4. ^ Smith, Gavin. (1998). "Toy Stories" Film Comment Nov/Dec98, Vol. 34 Issue 6, p28, 5p
  5. ^ Smith, Roberta. (1993). "UP AND COMING: Sadie Benning; A Video Artist Who Talks Through a Keyhole." The New York Times March 28, 1993.
  6. ^ Spiro, Ellen. (1991). "Shooting Star: Teenage Video Maker Sadie Benning Attracts a Youthful Audience." Advocate March 26, 1991.
  7. ^ Carter, Mia. (1998). "The Politics of Pleasure: Cross-Cultural Autobiographic Performance in the Video Works of Sadie Benning." Signs Vol. 23, No. 3, Feminisms and Youth Cultures (Spring, 1998), The University of Chicago Press. pp. 745-769.
  8. ^ "Sadie Benning: Play Pause, 2006". Dia Art Foundation. Archived from the original on 2007-11-23. Retrieved 2007-12-19. 
  9. ^ "Form of a waterfall. Sadie Benning". Orchard47. Retrieved 2007-12-19. 
  10. ^ "Looking Back: The White Columns Annual". White Columns. Retrieved 2007-12-19. 

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