Lynda Benglis

Lynda Benglis produced a number of key works during the feminist revolution years between the late sixties and early seventies. Direct and visceral, her approach confronts the spectator with themes such as the representation of women, the role of the audience, and the exploration of female sexuality, as well as the creation of moving images in light of the new and radical practices of audiovisual production during those years.
During the second-half of the sixties, Benglis developed and experimented with pioneering investigations regarding forms somewhere between painting and sculpture that involve plastic masses created by the solidification of brightly colored polyurethane foams. These works were made and placed on floors in such a way as to appear still dripping or expanding. If on the one hand these works are linked to the contemporary practice of Process Art, on the other hand they already point out the artist’s steadfast orientation. Benglis became interested in undermining the prevailing and severe rationalism of Minimalism (greatly dominated by men and masculine approaches) by creating harmonious forms of strong metaphorical impact tied to female anatomy and nature.
Throughout the seventies Benglis explored and broadened her research of female identity and sexuality, making these an explicitly dominant theme in her audiovisual works. From her interest in human forms expressed in her sculptures, her investigation found new directions through a series of analytical and self-reflective videos. Benglis tested and experimented with the properties and limitations of video, stressing its physical aspects. Since her early works, she became interested in fundamental technical processes and modalities, such as repeatedly shooting material already filmed, manipulating the images on the screen, or working on the overlapping disjunction between audio and video tracks. In using her own physical presence and often creating multiples of her own image, Benglis has questioned the relationship between Ego and body, specifically working on the interrelations between interior and exterior reality and the cultural and anthropological implications of an interpretation focused on the relationships between ideas regarding female nature and culture. [F.B.]

List of Works

Mumble, 1972
video, black and white, sound, 20 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Placed in profile in front of a Robert Morris video, Lynda Benglis and her brother Jim carry out repeated gestures while the artist’s off-screen voice pronounces ambiguous and disorientating statements, which become more and more like an unintelligible, repetitive flow.

Now, 1973
video, color, sound, 10 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
In her first color video, Benglis experiments with the potentials of unnatural colors, increasing their saturation to the point of reaching considerable artificiality, thus challenging the commonly-shared opinion of video as an impartial medium. Throughout the entire work, Benglis asks “Now?” and “Would you like to direct me?” She repeats instructions such as “Start the camera” and “I said: begin to record.” This takes place as she makes faces and sounds in reaction to other images of herself on a monitor.

Female Sensibility, 1973
video, color, sound, 14 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
With strong, bright colors the video presents two female figures wearing much make-up and who pamper one another in turns, caressing at length and intensely kissing each other. They seem to exhibit themselves to the camera lens.

How’s Tricks, 1976
video, color, sound, 33 min. 45 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
The work presents a combination of live performances, interviews, and different television material that closely concerns the structure inherent to mass-media production. Albeit in a fragmentary way, the elaboration touches upon the very foundations of the process of artistic creation. In a radical deconstruction of the illusory nature of communication, this video develops an investigation on the roles and relationships among artists, representation, and the public. The image of the artist conversing with her collaborator, Stanton Kaye, is alternated with others dealing with the preparations for Richard Nixon’s farewell speech, a comedian and TV host who is interrupted by the technicians in his own studio, and footage of Rita Hayworth ecstatically dancing in a nightclub.

The Amazing Bow Wow, 1976
video, color, sound, 32 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
A work with a more pronounced narrative structure, this video describes the adventures and misfortunes of a talking hermaphrodite dog, staged using an enormous animated puppet. The dog is given as a present to Rexina and Babu, circus performers. The dog’s extraordinary intelligence progressively endears it to Rexina, while making the ever-jealous Babu try to castrate it. Filmed in a variety of outdoor locations and with costumes, make-up, and music composed for the occasion, the work, though seemingly farcical, actually veils a bitter metaphor on the risks of sensationalism, coupled with a reinterpretation of Oedipal themes.