Sadie Benning

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Sadie Benning
Sadie benning.jpg
Benning in 2011
Background information
Born (1973-04-11) April 11, 1973 (age 45)
Occupation(s)Video maker, visual artist, musician
Associated actsLe Tigre

Sadie Benning (born April 11, 1973) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is an American video and visual artist.[1] A 2005 Guggenheim Fellow, Benning has repeated throughout the body of their work the themes of masculinity vs. femininity and the challenges of being young.

Early life[edit]

Benning was raised by her mother in inner-city Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[2] She left school at age 16, primarily due to the homophobia she experienced.[3] She started filming with the "toy" video camera she received from her father, a film making teacher.

Early works[edit]

Benning began creating visual works at age 15. She used a Fisher-Price PXL-2000 camera, also known as PixelVision, which was a Christmas gift from her father, the experimental filmmaker James Benning.[4]

At first, she 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."[5] Her first mysterious video was in a film festival when 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.[4] Her work has been included in the Whitney Biennial on three occasions.[6][7]

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 the main focus. In Benning's earliest work, A New Year, Benning shied away from being in front of the camera, using her surroundings – primarily the confines of their room and their 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."[8]

The themes of sexual identity and the challenges of growing up are repeated throughout the body of Benning's work, who herself identifies as a lesbian.[9] Benning uses pop culture, such as music, television or newspapers, to amplify their message while simultaneously parodying the same pop culture.[10] Benning also draws inspiration from images on television or in movies. "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".[11] Given her confinement, the use of these mediums in her work is practical and gives insight to the viewer of how Benning has been mostly interacting with the world.[9]

As her work has progressed, Benning has increasingly used images of her own body and her voice.[9] In works such as If Every Girl Had a Diary, Benning uses the limitations of the PixelVision to get extreme closeups of her own face, eyes, fingers, and other extremities so that the focus is on sections of her face as she narrates her life and thoughts.[9] "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."[12]

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 2000. JD Samson joined Le Tigre after Benning's departure.[13][14]


In 2006, in collaboration with Solveig 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.[15] 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."[16] Two works from this exhibition were included in the 2007 White Columns Annual.[17] 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.[18]

Awards, recognitions and honors[edit]

In 1991, the first article about Benning's work, written by Ellen Spiro, appeared in the national gay magazine The Advocate.[19]

In 2004, Bill Horrigan curated a retrospective of Benning's works on video.

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.


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. ^ They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?
  2. ^ Auer, James. "Film artist selected." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel January 5, 2000
  3. ^ Hillstrom, Kevin (1999). "Benning, Sadie: American Video Artist." Contemporary Women Artists Detroit: St. James Press.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Masters, Kim. "Auteur of Adolescence."Washington Post October 17, 1992
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "SADIE BENNING: PLAY PAUSE". Whitney Museum of American Art. 2009. Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  8. ^ Smith, Gavin. (1998). "Toy Stories" Film Comment Nov/Dec98, Vol. 34 Issue 6, p28, 5p
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Smith, Roberta. (1993). "UP AND COMING: Sadie Benning; A Video Artist Who Talks Through a Keyhole." The New York Times March 28, 1993.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ "Who Is LeTigre". Retrieved July 10, 2014.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "Sadie Benning: Play Pause, 2006". Dia Art Foundation. Archived from the original on November 23, 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
  16. ^ "Form of a waterfall. Sadie Benning". Orchard47. Archived from the original on 2008-02-10. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
  17. ^ "Looking Back: The White Columns Annual". White Columns. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Spiro, Ellen. (1991). "Shooting Star: Teenage Video Maker Sadie Benning Attracts a Youthful Audience." Advocate March 26, 1991.

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