“Things do not change; we change“. Walden, Henry David Thoreau
James Benning deals with the conditions of technological developments and their social consequences. The ambivalence of the great American dream of (technological) progress, unlimited possibilities, freedom and independence, was reflected in his exhibition at the Kunstverein in Hamburg earlier this year.
Benning draws inspiration from the life and history of outlaws like the philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862) or the mathematician Theodore Kaczynski (born 1942), also known as the Unabomber. Thoreau’s 1849 essay, The Resistance to Civil Government (also known as Civil Disobedience), about disobedience against the state, questions authoritarian structures, and influenced the American protest movement of the 1960s, as well as Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. Kaczynski terrorized the United States from 1978 to 1995 with his letter bomb assassinations and drafted a manifesto in favor of resistance against the increasing permeation of technology in society, while secluded in the mountains of Montana. In the following, the whole story/exhibition becomes a story about the moment of radicalization.
The lecture will cover the exhibition and its different works that range from Thoreau’s writing in the 19th century till the Unabombers outrage in the 1980s. It tries to find the traces of today’s radicalization in the genealogy till industrialization. Benning lets the histories collide, not negotiating them in a documentary manner, but developing a geography of spirit. The emphatic atmosphere is created by the quality of Benning’s view, which is highly concentrated and directed by the obsession to exceed mere narration.
James Benning was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1942 and lives in Val Verde, California. He studied Mathematics and subsequently Film at the University of Wisconsin. Since 1987 he has been professor of Film at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. His films were celebrated as insiders’ tip at international festivals for a long time, but with the California Trilogy (1999 – 2001), 13 Lakes (2004), Casting A Glance and RR (2007) he became internationally known. In the context of the exhibition Benning presented works at Whitney Biennial (New York, 1980) and Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN, 2002). Exhibitions followed at 21er Haus (Vienna, Austria, 2012), Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, 2012), Kunstmuseum Basel (Switzerland, 2013), Artist Space (New York, 2013) and Fridericianum (Kassel, Germany, 2014). His work was shown in solo exhibitions at Galerie neugerriemschneider (Berlin, Germany, 2011, 2012, 2014), at Argos, Centrum Voor Kunst en Media (Brussels, Belgium, 2012) and at Kunsthaus Graz (Austria, 2014).