Approaching James Benning
James Benning has said that when he first started making films he was “like a folk artist.” He initially came to his medium with no formal training in art or cinema. What he did have were two degrees in mathematics, an education that critics often mention when accounting for the metric rigor of celebrated 16 mm films like Ten Skies and One Way Boogie Woogie. Benning loves rule-based systems—but not for their own sake. His formal precision has never been formalist; it is a way of sharpening the gaze and finding freedom in constraint. For some fifty years, the artist has chronicled American hegemony and counterhegemony, giving unconventional shape to histories of settlement, racial violence, land use, and unbelonging.
She is Reader in Film Studies at King’s College London. She is the author of four books including Ten Skies (2021). Her articles have appeared in journals including Screen, Cinema Journal, and Grey Room. She regularly writes criticism for publications like Artforum, 4Columns, and CinemaScope.