A video produced by Lynda Benglis in 1973, Female Sensibility features the artist in a lesbian liaison with her friend and colleague, Marilyn Lenkowsky. This essay suggests that aspects of the video's content indicate that the artist intended this liaison to be an ironic enactment of the title term, “female sensibility,” and its twin concept, “female imagery.” Through its irony, Benglis' work in turn poses larger questions about the production and consumption of female sexual imagery by women artists: how does an artist project herself into her work? How does she define her practice in relation to feminist politics, on one hand, and popular culture, on the other? When does self-representation overstep the boundary between sexual valorization and prurient commodification? How, in turn, should a female viewer respond to erotic visual material produced by a woman? In order to understand the historical and contextual significance of these questions, I situate Benglis' video at the intersection of three visual histories in the US: that of early video art, seventies feminist art, and mass culture pornography. Although Benglis is primarily a sculptor, she turned increasingly to video in the early 1970s. While the medium initially served as a formal extension of her abstract, three-dimensional work, it ultimately allowed the artist to explore self-representation, to engage with feminist sexual politics, and to respond to mass cultural imagery more directly. As such, I conclude that Female Sensibility is revealing of a broader set of contradictions operating in art and visual culture at the time around the production and reception of female sexual (self-)representation.
Susan Richmond; The Ins and Outs of Female Sensibility: A 1973 Video by Lynda Benglis. Camera Obscura 1 December 2008; 23 (3 (69)): 81–109. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-2008-008
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