Ericka Beckman: DOUBLE REVERSE MIT LIST VISUAL ARTS CENTER, MAY 24, 2019 - JULY 28, 2019
For the past four decades, the New York- and Boston-based artist Ericka Beckman has centred her video work on the visual language of games, fairy tales and folklore. While these might be sources of childhood fun, Beckman is not playing around: her dark, techno-futuristic films and installations use these tropes to question role play, gender and identity, as well as issues surrounding late-capitalist systems of power and control.
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) List Visual Arts Center, an immersive installation of four videos marks her first US retrospective. Works included range from one of her earliest milestones in film, You the Better (1983)—which follows a group of gamblers played by her artist peers Ashley Bickerton, Tony Conrad and Keith Sanborn—to Tension Building(2016), a mashup of US college sports pageantry.
Beckman is one of several female video art pioneers receiving renewed institutional attention. “Ericka deserved a survey 20 years ago,” says Henriette Huldisch, the director of exhibitions and curator at the MIT List Visual Arts Center. The problem was a simple issue of technology: most museums and galleries did not have the resources to mount video-dense shows. This is changing, thanks to the ubiquity of video technology in the digital era, leading to more visibility for artists that were experimenting with new media half a century ago, as seen in recent retrospectives for Joan Jonas at Tate Modern and Gretchen Bender at Red Bull Arts (until 28 July).
Similar to Jonas, Bender and others, Beckman “foreshadowed issues of representation and identity in our media-saturated world”, Huldisch says. While the male-dominated, new-media-averse art market of the late 20th century may have kept artists such as Beckman on the sidelines of some of the major art movements, these women found a medium free from the traditional canon. According to the artist, the language of gaming was useful to explore gender and identity in an increasingly technological, post-industrial world: “It still allows for an imaginary reality where anything is possible,” Beckman says.