With James Benning. Decoding Fear, the Kunsthaus Graz continues its involvement with moving images in space. Remarkable positions on this theme have already been presented a number of times in such exhibitions as Videodreams (2004), Diana Thater. gorillagorillagorilla (2009) or Screening Real. Conner Lockhart Warhol (2009/10). In an exhibition curated by Peter Pakesch, the link is now made between James Benning’s filmic work – already very well known in Austria – and other artistic aspects of his creative output.
The film maker James Benning (born 1942 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, lives in Val Verde, California) is a careful observer. His films, which track the extraordinary in daily life using long shots, are marked by precision and calm, offering views of (American) modes of life, landscapes, as well as natural and human phenomena. James Benning’s role is that of eye-witness. His observations would seem almost documentary-like, were it not for the mathematical precision that becomes clear when we examine his films. The image detail – mostly from a central perspective – is always perfectly balanced, the play between image and sound track is exact, the motive captured at the right moment by the camera. Benning’s perspective panoramas, which in their structure seem indebted to a painting tradition, are only broken by moving objects which lend the film a third dimension: a train which drives in and out again of the image (RR, 2007, BNSF, 2013), a female rider galloping firstly behind, then in front of the camera, jumping down from the horse the next instant in order to tie down a goat (El Valley Centro, 1999, from California Trilogy), a gardener who moves his lawn mower towards and then away from the camera (Los, 2000, from California Trilogy), or clouds which float gently through the static photograph of a hut in the middle of a wooded landscape (Stemple Pass, 2013). The staging is perfect precisely on account of these seemingly chance movements, and also due to Benning’s ability to wait for just the right moment, this an elemental condition for the indisputable poetry residing within his
James Benning harbours a guarded enthusiasm for technology; before becoming an artist, he pictures especially interesting for him. Criticism of the practices of the information society can be heard here, likewise the involvement with myths which show themselves not least of all in figures from recent American history. Specifically, there are two ‘dropouts’ who form the starting point for Benning’s projects, Two Cabins (2011) and Stemple Pass (2012): the writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) and the mathematician Theodor Kaczynski, known between 1976 and 1998 as the ‘Unabomber’. As different as the philosophies and outlooks on life of these two may seem at first glance, certain commonalities are also apparent, which are not confined to a (in the case of Thoreau more or less) withdrawn life lived in simple, isolated and self-constructed huts in woods… (For full text, visit the Universalmuseum Joanneum web site)