Sadie Benning

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Sadie Benning
Sadie benning.jpg
Benning in 2011
Background information
Born (1973-04-11) April 11, 1973 (age 46)
Occupation(s)Video maker, visual artist, musician
Associated actsLe Tigre

Sadie Benning (born April 11, 1973) is an American visual artist, who works in video, painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and sound.[1] Benning explores a variety of themes including surveillance, gender, ambiguity, transgression, play, intimacy, and identity.

Early life[edit]

Benning was raised by their mother in inner-city Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[2] A single parent who worked as a maintenance painter in a hotel, Benning's mother was a creative influence who created life-size sculptures of various items.[3] Benning left school at age 16, primarily due to the homophobia they experienced.[4] Benning started filming with the "toy" video camera they received from her father, a film-making teacher.[5]

Early works[edit]

Benning began creating visual works at age 15. Benning used a Fisher-Price PXL-2000 camera, also known as PixelVision, which was a Christmas gift from their father, the experimental filmmaker James Benning.[6]

At first, Benning was standoffish to the PixelVision camera, which recorded pixelated, black and white video images onto standard audio cassettes. Benning is quoted as saying, "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."[7] Benning's first mysterious video was in a film festival when they were still a teenager.

Early themes[edit]

The majority of Benning's shorts combined performance, experimental narrative, handwriting, and cut-up music to explore, among other subjects, gender and sexuality.[6] Benning's work has been included in the Whitney Biennial on three occasions, and they were the youngest artist included in the museum's well-known and controversial 1993 Biennial.[8][9]

Benning's earlier videos – A New Year[1], Living Inside, Me and Rubyfruit, Jollies, and If Every Girl Had a Diary - used Benning's isolated surroundings and the effect this had on Benning as their main focus. In Benning's earliest work, A New Year, Benning shied away from being in front of the camera, instead focusing on their surroundings – primarily the confines of their room and bedroom window – to portray their feelings of angst, confusion and alienation. "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."[10]

The themes of sexual identity and the challenges of growing up are repeated throughout the body of Benning's work, who self-identified as a lesbian in 2014.[11] Benning uses pop culture, such as music, television or newspapers, to amplify their message while simultaneously parodying the same pop culture.[12] Benning also draws inspiration from images on television or in movies, observing: "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".[13] The use of a variety of media in her work gives insight to the viewer on how Benning has been mostly interacting with the world.[11]

As their work has progressed, Benning has increasingly used images of their own body and voice.[11] In works such as If Every Girl Had a Diary, Benning uses the limitations of the PixelVision to get extreme closeups of their own face, eyes, fingers, and other extremities so that the focus is on sections of their face as they narrate their life and thoughts.[11] In 1998, the English Professor Mia Carter observed: "Benning's daring autoerotic and autobiographic videos, [their] ability to make the camera seem a part of [their] self, and extension of [their] body, invite the audience to know [them]."[14]

Le Tigre[edit]

In 1998, Benning co-founded Le Tigre, the feminist post-punk band whose members include ex-Bikini Kill singer/guitarist Kathleen Hanna and zinester Johanna Fateman. Benning left the band in 2001. JD Samson joined Le Tigre after Benning's departure.[15][16]


1990 Artists' Television Access, San Francisco[17]

1991 Film in the Cities, St. Paul, Minnesota; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Randolph Street Gallery, Chicago[17]

1992 911 Contemporary Arts Center, Seattle; Art and Kultureproject, Vienna, Videos on the Self, Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki; Cinema in the 90s, Vassar College, New York[17]

1993 Sala Rekalde, Bilbao, Spain; Film Forum, Los Angeles; Rotterdam Kunst Stichting, Netherlands; British Film Institute, London; Vera Vita Giola Gallery, Naples, Galerie Crassi, Paris[17]

1994 In and Around the Body, Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania; Women's Self Portraits, University of California Santa Cruz, Berkeley, California; Queer Screen, Darlinghurst, Australia[17]

1995 World Wide Video Festival, Hague[17]

1996 Scream and Scream Again: Film in Art, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford[17]

1998 Up Close and Personal, Philadelphia Museum of Art[17]

In 2006, in collaboration with SolFilm Forum, Los Angeles; Rotterdam Kunst Stichting, Netherlands; British Film Institute, London; Vera Vita Giola Gallery, Naples; National Film Theater, London; Galerie Crassi, Parisveig Nelson, Benning 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 New York City.[18] 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."[19] Two works from this exhibition were included in the 2007 White Columns Annual.[20] Recent exhibitions include Play Pause, Power Plant Gallery (2008), 7th Gwangju Biennale (2008), and VHS the Exhibition, Franklin Street Works (2012).

In 2013, Benning was commissioned by the Carnegie Museum of Art for an installation of abstract paintings entitled Locating Center.[21]

Awards, recognition, and honors[edit]

In 1991, the first article about Benning's work, written by Ellen Spiro, appeared in the national gay magazine The Advocate.[22] In 2004, Bill Horrigan curated a retrospective of Benning's works on video. In 2009, Chloe Hope Johnson contributed a chapter in the book There She Goes: Feminist Filmmaking and Beyond (Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series) entitled Becoming-Grrrl The Voice and Videos of Sadie Benning.[23]

Benning has received grants and fellowships from Guggenheim Foundation, Andrea Frank Foundation, National Endowment of the Arts, and Rockefeller Foundation. These 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.

Benning received an M.F.A. from Bard College. Their videos are distributed by Video Data Bank.


Benning's Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects biography contains an exhaustive list of works.

  • 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: Aerobicide, video recorded for the track of the same name by Julie Ruin
  • 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. ^ Burton, Johanna (2017). Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon. New York: New Museum. p. 336. ISBN 978-0915557165.
  2. ^ Auer, James. "Film artist selected." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel January 5, 2000
  3. ^ Nelson, Solveig (2003). Retrospective | Sadie Benning. Chicago: Wexner Center of the Arts. p. 5.
  4. ^ Hillstrom, Kevin (1999). "Benning, Sadie: American Video Artist." Contemporary Women Artists Detroit: St. James Press.
  5. ^ Everyday innovators : researching the role of users in shaping ICT's. Haddon, Leslie. Dordrecht: Springer. 2005. p. 126. ISBN 9781402038723. OCLC 209847105.CS1 maint: others (link)
  6. ^ a b Curnotte, Rick (January 2003). Curnotte, Richard A. Jr. (ed.). "Child's Play: The Pixelvision Videos of Sadie Benning". The Film Journal (4). ISSN 1542-0868. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  7. ^ Masters, Kim. "Auteur of Adolescence."Washington Post October 17, 1992
  8. ^ Smith, Roberta (March 28, 1993). "UP AND COMING: Sadie Benning; A Video Artist Who Talks Through a Keyhole". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  9. ^ "SADIE BENNING: PLAY PAUSE". Whitney Museum of American Art. 2009. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  10. ^ Smith, Gavin. (1998). "Toy Stories" Film Comment Nov/Dec98, Vol. 34 Issue 6, p28, 5p
  11. ^ a b c d Russell, Catherine (2010). "Autoethnography". Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video. Durham NC: Duke University Press. pp. 291–295. ISBN 0822323192. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  12. ^ Morris, Gary (April 1999). Morris, Gary (ed.). "Behind the Mask: Sadie Benning's Pixel Pleasures". Bright Lights Film Journal (24). ISSN 0147-4049. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  13. ^ Smith, Roberta. (1993). "UP AND COMING: Sadie Benning; A Video Artist Who Talks Through a Keyhole." The New York Times March 28, 1993.
  14. ^ Carter, Mia (Spring 1998). "The Politics of Pleasure: Cross-Cultural Autobiographic Performance in the Video Works of Sadie Benning". Signs (Feminisms and youth Cultures ed.). The University of Chicago Press. 23 (3): 745–69. doi:10.1086/495287. ISSN 0097-9740. JSTOR 3175309.
  15. ^ "Who Is LeTigre". Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  16. ^ Rodgers, Tara, ed. (2010). "Alone/Together" [Le Tigre]. Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound. Duke University Press. pp. 245–54. ISBN 0822346613. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h Contemporary women artists. Hillstrom, Laurie Collier, 1965-, Hillstrom, Kevin, 1963-. Detroit: St. James Press. 1999. ISBN 1558623728. OCLC 40869639.CS1 maint: others (link)
  18. ^ "Sadie Benning: Play Pause, 2006". Dia Art Foundation. Archived from the original on November 23, 2007. Retrieved December 19, 2007.
  19. ^ "Form of a waterfall. Sadie Benning". Orchard47. Archived from the original on February 10, 2008. Retrieved December 19, 2007.
  20. ^ "Looking Back: The White Columns Annual". White Columns. Retrieved December 19, 2007.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Spiro, Ellen. (1991). "Shooting Star: Teenage Video Maker Sadie Benning Attracts a Youthful Audience." Advocate March 26, 1991.
  23. ^ Columpar, Corinn and Mayer, Sophie (2009). There She Goes: Feminist Filmmaking and Beyond (Contemporary Approaches to Film and Media Series). Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press. pp. 172–182. ISBN 9780814333907.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

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