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Looking In the Mirror, I See Me

— Early Women’s Video Art from the Video Data Bank Collection

Wednesday 24 May 2017, 5 pm

Video still from “Two Faces “ (1972), copyright of Hermine Freed, courtesy of Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, www.vdb.org

On the 40th anniversary of the Video Data Bank, a collection curated by Abina Manning, LOOP is pleased to present the extraordinary experimental video work of six pioneering women artists in the during the 70's in the U.S. They had a relevant place in the feminist movement, which incorporated video as a tool for women's activism.

It is already well established that the emergence of video art tools in the late 1960s and early 1970s paved the way for an extraordinary number of outstanding video art works by women.  Captivated by the relative accessibility, portability and immediacy of Sony’s Video Porta Pak, a significant number of women artists were compelled to experiment with the video format.  Often taking a direct-to-camera approach, many of the resulting works reflected the burgeoning feminist movement in the U.S. at the time.

Other fascinating tendencies can be traced: a claiming of the image of oneself in the face of the commercial world’s co-option of the female body; video as a means by which to directly comment on a world where, to a great extent, men called the shots; video as a tool through which to disrupt and question notions of originality, “truth”, and identity, via feedback, looping, and static; and last but not least, video as a vehicle for humour and parody, whether directly mocking aspects of society’s male hierarchy, or oneself.

The works in this program, all made by women artists active in the 1970s — video’s first decade — occupy a number of positions and points of view in relation to women’s role in society.

Video still from “Two Faces “ (1972), copyright of Hermine Freed, courtesy of Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, www.vdb.org

Two Faces

Hermine Freed, 1972, 06:24, B&W, silent.

In her oft-cited essay “Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism,” Rosalind Krauss says, “self-encapsulation — taking the body or psyche as its own surround — is everywhere to be found in the corpus of video art” (October 1, Spring 1976). This certainly applies to this early work of Hermine Freed. Utilizing a split and reversed screen, Freed faces herself, caressing and kissing her doubled image. Without narration, the tape shows Freed suspended between two images, existing as a doubled person. In light of feminist discourse on women’s alienation from themselves in a male-dominated culture and the co-option of women’s images by advertising and the media, this tape reads as Freed’s attempt to contact her self-image directly — to, in effect, claim her image.

Video still from “Collage ” (1973), copyright of Lynda Benglis, courtesy of Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, www.vdb.org

 Collage 

Lynda Benglis, 1973, 09:30, U.S., colour, mono

Three basic compositions are played and recombined in Collage: a hockey game; arms swinging across the screen; and a hand holding one, two, then three oranges. As in her other work, Benglis plays with several generations of each shot, rescanning the screen, and placing objects in front of the monitor. Organized around color and rhythm, each segment uses bright colors, rapid movements, and complex layers of images to present a mesmerizing compendium of information that frustrates any sense of narrative. The accompanying soundtrack is an independent collage of noises, feedback and static that create a gritty aural texture.

Video still from “Arbitrary Fragments ” (1978), copyright of Barbara Aronofsky Latham, courtesy of Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, www.vdb.org

Arbitrary Fragments

Barbara Aronofsky Latham, 1978, 12:44, colour, sound

Using highly manipulated and over-processed images, Latham investigates the process of video as inherently fragmented. Weaving together various people’s impressions of the artist and her work, the work demonstrates important parallels between video, storytelling, and the formation of identity — all processes of active fabrication that blend “lies” and truth in the construction of a certain reality, history, or past. Labeling an image of herself talking as “her most recent explanation,” Latham addresses “the construction of her video personality” as an identity outside of herself.

Video still from “Learn Where the Meat Comes From” (1976), copyright of Suzanne Lacy, courtesy of Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, www.vdb.org

Learn Where the Meat Comes From

Suzanne Lacy, 1976, 14:20, colour, mono

A classic feminist video, Learn Where the Meat Comes From depicts how, “gourmet carnivore tastes take on a cannibalistic edge. This parody of a Julia Child cooking lesson collapses the roles of consumer and consumed: Lacy instructs us in the proper butcher’s terms for cuts of meat by pointing them out on her body. As the lesson progresses she becomes more and more animal-like, growling and baring over-sized incisors. Perhaps, in her role as a gourmet cook, she is herself as much consumed as consumer.”

— Micki McGee, Unacceptable Appetites, exhibition catalog (New York: Artists Space, 1988)

Video still from “Mitchell’s Death” (1977), copyright of Linda Montano, courtesy of Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, www.vdb.org

Mitchell’s Death

Linda Montano, 1977, 22:20, B&W, sound

Using performance as a means of personal transformation and catharsis, Mitchell’s Death mourns the death of Montano’s ex-husband. Every detail of her story, from the telephone call announcing the tragedy, to visiting the body, is chanted by Montano as her face, pierced by acupuncture needles, slowly comes into focus then goes out again. The chanting is reminiscent of Buddhist texts, while the needles signify the pain that is necessary for healing and understanding.

Video still from “Dressing Up” (1973), copyright of Susan Mogul, courtesy of Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, www.vdb.org

Dressing Up

Susan Mogul, 1973, 07:06, B&W, mono

A reverse striptease, non-stop comedic monologue about shopping for clothes, while eating corn nuts. Dressing Up was inspired by the artist’s mother’s penchant for bargain hunting. Mogul produced Dressing Up as a student in the feminist art program at the California Institute of the Arts in 1973.

“On mother-daughter relationships and clothes that make the woman. Turning her barbed wit both inwards and outwards, this pioneering video artist reflects on women’s private and public lives.”

— Josh Siegel, Curator, Museum of Modern Art, New York City

About Video Data Bank

Founded at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in 1976 at the inception of the media arts movement, Video Data Bank (VDB) is a leading resource in the United States for video by and about contemporary artists. The VDB’s collection has grown to include the work of more than 600 artists and 6,000 video art titles. VDB is dedicated to fostering awareness and scholarship of the history and contemporary practice of video and media art through its distribution, education, and preservation programs. The collection is made available to museums and galleries, libraries and educational institutions, cultural institutions and alternative exhibitors through a far-reaching national and international distribution service. Programs and activities include maintaining both analog and digital archives, preservation of historically important works of video art, the commissioning of essays and texts that contextualize artists’ work, the publication of curated programs and artists’ monographs, and an extensive range of public programs, including the popular online streaming program VDB TV.

Abina Manning

Executive Director, Video Data Bank

January 2017

Programme (73 minutes)

Two Faces,
Hermine Freed, "Two Faces", 1972, 06:24 min, B&W, silent.
Collage
Lynda Benglis, "Collage", 1973, 09:30 min, colour, mono.
Arbitrary Fragments
Barbara Aronofsky Latham, "Arbitrary Fragments", 1978, 12:44 min, colour, sound.
Learn Where the Meat Comes From
Suzanne Lacy, "Learn Where the Meat Comes From", 1976, 14:20 min, colour, mono.
Mitchell’s Death
Linda Montano, "Mitchell’s Death", 1977, 22:20 min, B&W, sound.
Dressing Up
Susan Mogul, "Dressing Up", 1973, 07:06 min, B&W, mono.