Critics’ Picks

James Benning, Tulare Road, 2010, three-channel HD video, 18 minutes.

James Benning, Tulare Road, 2010, three-channel HD video, 18 minutes.

New York

Peter Hutton and James Benning

Miguel Abreu Gallery | Eldridge Street
88 Eldridge Street 4th Floor
January 24–March 8, 2015

It has only been a few years since Peter Hutton and James Benning began working with film in a digital format. In these artists’ two-person exhibition, one sees a trio of three-channel video installations. The works here advance—both topically and technically, as descendants of analog—the argument that cinema’s once-dominant aesthetic status has given way to more flexible, immersive moving forms.

Hutton’s At Sea, 2004–07, originally a single-channel 16-mm silent film, is here digitally converted and split into three distinct elements. Each frame documents a different stage of a cargo ship from manufacture to disassembly. We see the vessel’s journey feted by polychromatic streamers, a checkered array of freights sailing plainly into vast marine blue, and finally the ship washed up—massive and perished, in black-and-white. In showing these episodes simultaneously, Hutton narrativizes the beginning, middle, and end of industrial production. Benning’s work has similarly ruminated on industrial society and particularly its dissidents. Tulare Road, 2010, shows extended footage of cars passing on a highway that leads to the California State Prison in the city of Corcoran. Benning’s strict framing makes horizons bisect while roads stretch into the center of each image, drawing comparative attention to the distinct weather conditions each channel reveals.

If a protagonist were to be located in all three installations, it might be montage itself, which is problematized by the very fact that it meanders continuously across each triptych’s components, making discrete visual elements share space. To adroitly scan this sublime footage won’t feel unfamiliar to a contemporary viewer: In their shift toward digital images and multichannel installations, the filmmakers seem to acknowledge cinema—that boxed enclosure lit by a single screen—as an outdated site of entertainment corresponding to the very modes of industry and labor from which their work offers recourse.