In 1987, a remarkable product appeared on the American market: the Fischer Price Pixel Vision Toy Camera, an easy-to-use video camera that was capable of recording images onto audio cassette. Although the product disappeared from the American market as soon as 1989 due to lack of sales, artists felt attracted towards the primitive charm of using the Pixel Vision camera and its unusual output – 2.000 pixels compared to the 150.000 in a normal TV-image. Because of its great popularity in certain circles and the limited number of cameras that are still around, the Pixel Vision camera has become a real cult object. In America, several special Pixel Vision video festivals are being organized.
The best-known representative of the Pixel Vision medium is the American video artist Sadie Benning. At the age of fifteen, she was already making videos with the camera. Benning records videos in her normal surroundings, often in her own room. Using recordings of written texts and parts of her diary, she deals with her lesbian identity and the desires that come with it. The Pixel Vision camera has played a central role in helping Sadie Benning develop a personal style of filming.
Pixel Vision 1
Aim, Before, Sierra Le Barron Mellinger (USA, 1988, 1 min.)
After Indian Healing Cixy, Sierra Le Barron Mellinger (USA, 1988, 1 min.)
These are videos created by the sort of person for whom the Pixel Vision camera was originally intended. Sierra Le Barron Mellinger was only 8 years old when she used it to make a series of tapes which include spoof commercials, staged and acted out by her parents, and everyday tours of her neighbours.
The Doctors, Sierra Le Barron Mellinger (USA, 1988, 8 min.)
Sierra follows her mother to an appointment with the gynaecologist, Pixel Vision in tow. After her mother has gone in for her examination, Sierra surveys the doctor’s waiting room. The receptionist is quickly judged to be less than interesting and dismissed with a curt “thank you”. When mum finally comes down the hall, Sierra asks if everything went all right at which point the tape ends.
Tabletop, James Benning (USA, 1988, 3 min.)
James Benning, Sadie’s father, chooses a more formal approach and uses the distortions caused by editing, characteristic of the Pixel Vision camera, as an element of form.
A New Year, Sadie Benning (USA, 1989, 6 min.)
The camera wanders over the surface of a television showing a game show, headlines in tabloid newspapers, the grey corners of Benning’s room: cataloguing images with an erratic but purposeful eye. The images serve as punctuation marks to a series of statements written on paper and passed across the bottom of the screen. Stories of rape, racism, drunk driving, crack selling neighbours, the decline of her neighbourhood and sentences about the larger questions of existence all come into view.
Living Inside, Sadie Benning (USA, 1989, 5 min.)
Me And Rubyfruit, Sadie Benning (USA, 1989, 6 min.)
Glass Jaw, Michael O’Reilly (USA, 1991, 17 min.)
‘Glass Jaw’ is a very personal film. O’Reilly was hospitalized after being involved in a car accident and being beat up. The video shows his recovery. Personal problems, involvement with the other patients and anger about the American health care system make ‘Glass Jaw’ into a personal and emotional video document.
Don From Lakewood, Eric Saks and Pat Thierney (USA, 1989, 3 min.)
The video takes as its starting point recordings of a series of actual phone calls, made to a much beleaguered and bewildered furniture salesman who is slow in realizing that he is part of an extended prank call. Both caller and salesman are represented by shadow puppets, with monstrous phone cables and elongated background sofas playing out a version of Dr. Caligari caught in a modern suburban wasteland.
If Every Girl Had A Diary, Sadie Benning (USA, 1990, 9 min.)
Pixel Vision 2
Jollies, Sadie Benning (USA, 1990, 11 min.)
A Place Called Lovely, Sadie Benning (USA, 1991, 14 min.)
Happy Birthday of Death, Susana Rabanal (Spain, 1992, 8 min.)
The thirteen-year-old lead in this short video regularly visits ‘Gipsy Pete’s’, a musty little shop stocking a wide range of pornography. Adolescent curiosity is fed by the owner with increasingly harder material. The video is an investigation into a teenager’s desire to enter a secret world and the discovery therein of an emerging sexuality.
It Wasn’t Love, Sadie Benning (USA, 1992, 20 min.)
Orion Climbs, Michael O’Reilly (USA, 1994, 30 min.)
‘Orion Climbs’ is an intimate exploration of grandfather’s childhood. Memories are used to conjure up an image of a child’s awakening consciousness and growing interest in its surroundings. The first, but also endless questions about the world, the stars and the universe, which always start with ‘why’ or ‘what is’…
Pixel Vision 3
Wicked Radiance, Azian Nurudin (USA, 1991, 5 min.)
A ‘dark’, abstract, personal vision delving into aspects of S/M sexuality and the video-maker’s own Muslim background. The tape bases its structural formation on the utilization of light and dark as in the ‘Wayang Kulit’ (‘Shadow Puppet Theatre’). The texts in the video are in Malay.
Bitter Strength: Sadistic Response Version, Azian Nurudin (USA, 1992, 2 min.)
A response to those who think that S/M is a form of violence against women. Set against the backdrop of processed S/M imagery and ‘industrial’ sounds, voice-over exhorts women to resist their attackers; at the same time, a certain eroticism is prevalent in the images and words.
Girl Power, Sadie Benning (USA, 1992, 15 min.)
Strange Weather, Peggy Awesh and Margie Strosser (USA, 1993, 50 min.)
A day in the life of a young woman and her drug culture companions holed up in a house in South Florida. Hurricane Andrew is brewing of the coast but the group is smocking crack cocaine and pays no attention. ‘Strange Weather’ is a lucid and fabulous mixture of converging impulses and reactions to the clouded subject of drug use. If present-day media hysteria, the politics of addiction, CIA drug trafficking, slacker drugstore cowboy mystique, television actualities like ‘Cops’ and it’s cloned offspring come to mind, along with Warhol and Fassbinder there is no point in blocking the flow of associations. But the video is undeniably original and a major new achievement in the remarkable body of work by Peggy Awesh.