Sadie Benning: Pixelvisions

Curated by Scott Northrup
  • Benning


Screening Room - Michigan Theater Fri, Mar 25, 2022 7:00 PM



Neutral Zone


Made possible with support from the Video Data Bank and the College for Creative Studies


Sadie Benning’s early video works are nearly mythical in stature. They were made more than 30 years ago with a toy camcorder in their Milwaukee bedroom, at a time before they fully understood their nonbinary identity, and have not screened in the Ann Arbor Film Festival until now. These remarkable tapes were recorded with the Fisher Price PXL2000, which shot directly to audio cassettes in a flat, pixelated format known as Pixelvision. This might have been an underwhelming Christmas gift to the then 15-year-old who had been promised a camcorder, but it ultimately gave them agency to make sounds and images that are as tactile as they are emotionally and socially resonant. While Benning has made other complex and indelible works over the years, the time felt right to revisit these powerful, questioning recordings in light of the time that we’ve all spent inside these past few years, coping with who and where we are in this world.

A New Year

1989 | 6 | Pixelvision/digital file

A version of the “teenage diary,” placing Benning’s feelings of confusion and depression alongside grisly tales from tabloid headlines and brutal events in their neighborhood. The difficulty of finding a positive identity for oneself in a world filled with violence is starkly revealed by Benning’s youthful but already despairing voice.


Me and Rubyfruit

1989 | 6 | Pixelvision/digital file

Based on a novel by Rita Mae Brown, Me and Rubyfruit chronicles the enchantment of teenage exploration against a backdrop of pornographic images and phone sex ads. Benning portrays the innocence of same-sex romance and the taboo prospect of marriage.


Living Inside

1989 | 5 | Pixelvision/digital file

At 16, Benning stopped going to school for three weeks to stay home with their camera, TV set, and a pile of dirty laundry. The rough quality of this edit mirrors Benning’s psyche at the time, capturing a sense of isolation and sadness in retreat from the world.


If Every Girl Had a Diary

1990 | 9 | Pixelvision/digital file

Benning turns the PXL2000 on themselves, searching for a sense of identity and respect as a person in the world. The camera, acting alternately as confessor and accuser, captures their anger and frustration at feeling trapped by societal prejudices.



1990 | 11 | Pixelvision/digital file

Benning traces the development of their nascent sexuality with a chronology of their crushes and kisses, addressing the camera with an air of seduction and romance. The viewer can feel Benning’s anxiety and special delight as they come to realize a lesbian identity.


It Wasn’t Love

1992 | 20 | Pixelvision/digital file

Benning’s lustful encounter with a “bad girl,” illustrated through the gender posturing of Hollywood stereotypes. Cigarette poses, slow dancing, and heavy metal propel the viewer through this love affair, beyond romantic fantasy, describing other facets of physical attraction. As they put it, “It wasn’t love, but it was something …”


Girl Power

1992 | 15 | Pixelvision/digital file

Benning’s personal rebellion against school, family, and female stereotypes is a raucous vision of what it meant to be a riot grrrl. The video transforms the image politics of female youth, rejecting traditional passivity and polite compliance in favor of radical independence and a self-determined sexual identity.





Scott Northrup is a Detroit-based intermedia artist, writer, curator, and educator, and is a member of the AAFF Advisory Board. He holds an MA in Media Studies from The New School and a BFA in Fine Arts from College for Creative Studies, where he is currently the Chair of the Film, Photography, and Interdisciplinary Art + Design programs. His work has been exhibited and published in the US and abroad.