New York

Lynda Benglis

Lynda Benglis showed videotapes at Paula Cooper’s which seemed simultaneously boring, interesting, and funny. But there’s no point getting entangled trying to explain such an apparently contradictory response. Most of the time, the content of Benglis’ videotapes is another monitor screen, which sometimes shows still another monitor screen. Much of what appears on the screens is the visual static which occurs when a monitor is on, but the tape has run out. However in these tapes, the tape hasn’t necessarily run out at all. Usually the visual static is at one remove or more from the machine we’re watching; it is on the monitor pictured in the tape. When the camera zooms in on the monitor so that the static fills the entire screen, there is no way of telling whether the static is the picture or the result of the tape’s being over—no way, that is, except for the noise. Most of the tapes have a loud, roaring, machinelike noise which, except for occasional interruptions, is constant. Thus, when the noise stops, the visual static is static and not a picture of static.

Benglis’ longest tape, Hometape Revised, used these same basic devices, but most of the time, figures were on the screens rather than static. Pictured in the tape is a monitor with a man’s profile on the left side of the screen. The remainder of that screen showed the screen of another monitor picturing a bearded man turned 3/4 away from the camera. The figures changed their positions from time to time, or another person substituted for one of them, or simply joined them. Through the constant roaring noise, the figures on separate monitors carried on conversation which only rarely could be understood. Benglis’ voice-over sometimes told us what they said, and sometimes told us other things. Whatever she said about anything was clearly not reliable, as several statements were blatant contradictions of previous ones. Most of her sentences were said more than once with some variation, and most of them were beautifully ambiguous, complementing the ambiguity of what we were seeing. What Benglis seems to be after, and gets, is some sort of grasp on or presentation of the contingency and sheer ungraspable nature of reality. Reality is a terribly imprecise term, but no more so than the situation Benglis presents. Grasping the situation on the screen can be fairly difficult, but not nearly so much as trying to comprehend the situations to which her voice-over sentences refer, such as “Robin Torreano (?) is weaving downstairs,” “The figure not on the screen right now is my brother,” and “The phone really is ringing in the other room.” There is a confusion over what is on the screen, but no comprehension at all of all the possibilities not on the screen. Benglis seems more interested with giving some indication of what is not on the tape than she is with what is on it. But perhaps her interest is more in reconciling the two, in giving some continuity to what is within and without the tape; one of the voice-over sentences is, “Continuity is a technique.”

Bruce Boice