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Four 'Diaries' Are Opened for Public Viewing : Video: Four artists record their personal musings, and the result is a showcase of their work at the Long Beach Museum of Art.

September 27, 1993|KRISTINE McKENNA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As we tumble down the stairs of the '90s, one gets the feeling that when we abruptly land at the bottom in the year 2000, we'll discover that technology has invaded every aspect of human experience. Evidence of that possible eventuality can be seen in "Diaries," an exhibition at the Long Beach Museum of Art showcasing work by four artists who use video as a means of journal-keeping.

Conceived by the museum's Media Arts Curator Carole Ann Klonarides and featuring work by Lynn Hershman, Sadie Benning, George Kuchar and Michael Auder, "Diaries," which runs through Nov. 14, is above all else an odd conflation of the public and the private. Traditionally, the diary has been regarded as a hidden confessional where one gives free rein to the eccentricities that most clearly define us as individuals. The most important ground rule with a diary, and that which creates the psychological climate engendering such honesty, is that it's kept under lock and key.

Nothing could be more public and uniform, however, than video. Easily understood and available to all, the televised image tends to homogenize and round the edges off all it depicts; this is why it unifies us as a culture, while estranging us from ourselves. It's hard to imagine a less likely vehicle for diary writing, but this exhibition is a revelation in demonstrating how malleable video is. Operating from the same starting point, these artists strike out in wildly divergent directions, yet all emerge as fully fleshed-out characters.

Usually positioning himself as the star of his hilariously cheesy videos, George Kuchar takes a fantasy-inflected romp through the banalities of daily life; Lynn Hershman uses video as a therapeutic tool and speaks directly into the camera about disturbing episodes from her past; Michael Auder rarely appears on camera in his tapes, choosing instead to create a cinema verite chronicle of the people around him; and Sadie Benning, a 20-year-old Wunderkind whose work was featured in this year's Whitney Biennial, introduces herself as a politically aware lesbian in tapes with a grunge look that's emblematic of her generation.

Working with a Fisher-Price Pixelvision camera, a plastic toy that sells for less than $200, Benning made her first tape, "A New Year," in her bedroom in 1989. Combining handwritten text with close-ups of Benning's face and body--elements central to most of her work--the tape was followed that same year by "Living Inside," the first of several pieces dealing with Benning's coming out as a lesbian. Before talking with friends and family about the fact that she was gay, Benning confided to the video camera because, as she says, "the camera didn't judge me--it just listened, and I used it to get things out that I couldn't tell anybody yet."

As with Benning, Lynn Hershman's art pivots on a feminist reading of issues of sexuality and identity, and she uses video to journey into her past and her subconscious. A battered child whose violent early life catapulted her into an adulthood plagued by destructive relationships and self-hatred, the 50-year-old artist examines these aspects of her life with harrowing candor in front of the video camera.

"When I'm alone speaking into a camera, aspects of my subconscious come out that don't reveal themselves any other way," says Hershman. "I don't know why I relax into the camera the way I do, but I trust this machine in a way I find it hard to trust people. Maybe it's the silence--there's an element of acceptance in the silence of the camera.

"These tapes are difficult to watch, and I'm sure some people wonder why I'm making these issues public," she continues, "but in revealing these parts of myself I've discovered that many people are dealing with similar things--so in a sense, the tapes are about more than just me. The response they've gotten has proven that. Several psychiatric institutions have acquired the tapes and use them in working with patients, so you know there's more going on in them than just the story of my life."

While Hershman's work takes the viewer on an arduous journey through her past, George Kuchar's tapes are rooted in a delirious silliness worthy of the Marx Brothers. Born in the Bronx in 1942, Kuchar, along with his twin brother Mike, created camp parodies of pop culture that were part of New York's underground film scene of the '60s. In the early '70s, Kuchar relocated to the Bay Area, and in 1985 he acquired a video camera and began to exhaustively document the things that interest him; friends, family, food, sex, pets and weather are Kuchar's central themes.

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