Gretchen Bender, Sensurround, 1983, silkscreen and c-print on tin
From Andrew Russeth comes Cindy Sherman’s 1987 interview with Gretchen Bender, published in BOMB Magazine:
CS There’s an article in an L.A. paper describing you as a TV terrorist, saying that you can attain a critical edge through overload.
GB Yeah. There are artists who talk of using silence as a weapon, an alternative and an act of resistance. That’s one end of it. I’ve gone in the opposite direction but with the same desire. I think it’s more important to mimic and provoke at this point.
CS Your theatrical pieces are counterpointed by the tin pieces, which ironically, make objects out of paradigms.
GB Either way, it’s only temporarily effective. Hans Haacke uses part of the dominant high culture to criticize the function of the whole system through his object/displays. The question is–how broadly effective do you want to be? That is a difficult question with artists. Artists can be confused about their situation as a powerless elite. We operate from the protective base of the art world, a situation in which we can develop ideas but a place from which it is complicated to launch media-related art work without it getting co-opted by the very structures it criticizes. Although I use those structures. I’m resisting one channel television because I haven’t figured out how to effectively communicate except in a theatrical setting.
Again, I started wanting to quote the silence and art’s engagement/fear of politics, and I didn’t want to stop reading. Plus, it’s all talking about the tin pieces:
CS You’ve been criticized for being high tech, which is another way of infiltrating popular culture–using the technology that they use.
GB It’s something visual artists tend to resist although that resistance is steadily breaking down. More artists are figuring out how to use computer technology . . . there’s so much that’s happening visually. It’s strange that the art world resists using the visual tools of our time. What’s that about? It is scary when you have this heritage that you invoke–art history.
CS It’s supposed to be more pure if you use materials like paint or make it all yourself or use another person to make it for you.
GB The art world is trying to protect this antiquated territory and what is most disturbing about switching over to the newer technologies is that there is no authority to invoke. There aren’t any guidelines to tell you that you’re making ‘good’ art. No one knows enough or understands enough. There’s so much experimentation to do, so many blind visual forays to risk, so many conceptual implications of the newer technologies to try to comprehend. Many artists aren’t willing to take those risks. You don’t know if you are going to be effective or not, if you are going to make silly or profound works. I think that’s what terrifies most artists and I think that’s why the art world is so slow to accept the culture of today.
CS You have used imagery from other people’s art work in some of your own pieces. I interpreted that as reducing expensive works of art by male artists–paintings–to this disposable imagery level.
GB I wanted to use the art as signs and not as valuable objects. I decided to combine those found art reproductions as one combines words in a language or even just parts of an alphabet. I saw them as a moving language. I have been working with the equivalent flow of television. Before that, I was actually dealing with the equivalent flow of art objects. What’s really being said? At the same time, I realized that because we had gotten so much of our art out of magazines and reproductions, we weren’t contemplating art anymore. So I made those tin pieces to be a scan. You couldn’t fall into the pieces and contemplate. I go into galleries to see shows, to be aware of what is going on and it takes three minutes to see a show. Where are we? And what are we doing? It’s our nervous system–the time we live in–it’s not about reverie.
GB Artists using media have taken on a more complicated position in the culture than painters. Painters like tradition. And I think it’s a hundred, or a thousand times more difficult for a painter to make politically engaged work. They know that if it smells like art and looks like art and tastes like art–it’s painting. There’s not much risk in the art world.
CS Especially now, it seems really dull right now.
GB At the same time, I constantly examine my . . . I’m still operating within the art world. There is that base. Maybe it’s a base to reaffirm your goals or your sanity in trying to develop ideas. You do have people who want to see you succeed in producing important work.
Silkscreen on sheet metal must have caught Cady Noland’s attention. BOMB Magazine: Gretchen Bender by Cindy Sherman [bombsite]