Rosenthal, Benjamin

Benjamin Rosenthal
US videomaker


Interview: 10 questions

1. Tell me something about your life and the educational background
I was born and raised in New York City, and while I originally wanted to be an actor, I became bored with the narrative of performing others’ roles and found myself more attracted to artmaking—specifically performative artmaking—as a means to explore the strategies of how we perform. I received my BFA in Fine Arts with a Concentration in Electronic Time-Based Media from Carnegie Mellon University in 2006, and I studied briefly abroad at the Nagoya Zokei University of Art & Design in Komaki City, Japan, in 2005. Currently I am an MFA candidate in the department of Art Studio at the University of California, Davis, and will graduate the program in June of 2011.

2. When, how and why started you filming?
I remember somewhat foggily shooting a video for my Cooper Union application for college in 2002, and I never really thought much of it, but it was probably the impulse behind my engagement with the form. At Carnegie Mellon, I became addicted to cinema and video making, and through both the program there and their connection with Pittsburgh Filmmakers (where greats such as Brackhage worked in the past) I was able to explore the form in both 16mm film, single-channel video, live-video performance, and multi-channel installation work.

3. What kind of subjects have your films?
My work centers around the exploration of strategies of performativity. In my work I record spontaneous performative actions (be they events, studio performances, records of action in an object, found footage excerpts, etc.) and edit them against elements derived from or pulled directly from popular culture. Often a type of violence emerges from the intersection of vastly different pieces of footage and material, and I believe that my work investigates this space of violence beneath popular culture as a way to engage my own personal violent or sinister desires within larger cultural frameworks.

4. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles etc?
While I shoot footage that is relatively spontaneous, gestural or durational, I find that in the editing mechanism is where I truly develop my videos. Through this editing mechanism, I am able to articulate a new kind of performativity—excerpting specific moments in footage, repeating them over and over again, compositing them against other footage on top and in dialogue with them—a new kind of performativity that is a reflection of my own psychological space and physiological experience. I think that as an editing “style” the principles I use come somewhat out of the philosophy of soviet montage editing, but also from my experience with the television and the internet as figureheads of my generation.

5. Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.
I work on a MacBook Pro with a bootleg version of Final Cut Pro, and with Flash as well. I shoot primarily with a cheap sony consumer camera, but as I am now at UC Davis, I have access to more sophisticated cameras (a Panasonic DVX 1000, for example) that I sometimes shoot with. I tend to shoot, if possible, with more than one camera in my set-up because the nature of my filming is spontaneous, and I like to get as much material as possible to work with. I recently purchased a ProTools package to work with sound better, but I have yet to truly delve into that in full depth.

6. What are the chances of new media for the genre film/video in general
and you personally?

I think that new media has the most possibilities for exploring complex ideas and frameworks and so I don’t find it so much a chance or a risk, but rather liberating. I see new media as the only form of making that gives one the ability to manipulate experience in complex and temporal ways—bringing a viewer and the maker into various positions of experience, and so in that way it is one of the most effective ways to address complexity in out contemporary cultural situation.

7. How do you finance your films?
I finance all my work independently, and it is relatively cheap to produce. I do have a spectacularly generous fellowship from the University of California Regents that has made my ability to spend almost all of my time focusing on my work—so I would say I am extremely fortunate.

8. Do you work individually as a video artist/film maker or do you work in a team? if you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?
I primarily work individually, but I am open to collaboration with the right people. My hand is so much a part of the making, the way I see things connecting, etc., and I never enter the work with any sort of plan. Thus collaboration has been extremely difficult for me in the past because I exercise so much control and manipulation in my work.

9. Who or what has a lasting influence on your film/video making?
I am influenced, of course, by the performance greats—Vito Acconci, Paul McCarthy, Chris Burden, Bruce Nauman of the 1960s/70s, Hollis Frampton, Paul Sharits, and other historically great makers, but I am finding myself drawn as well to contemporary artists like Ryan Trecartin, Shana Moulton (whom is a friend of mine), and Matthew Barney who engage performance and video in interesting and new ways.

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a film/video maker?
I see myself as an artist who works with video, not a video maker exclusively, and so I do work with objects and drawings and other materials that inform or extend my entire artistic practice. I see myself living and working around the globe, if possible, and probably teaching as some point in the future because I see that as a critical part of keeping my dialogue fresh and engaging.

Can works of yours viewed online besides on VideoChannel/SFC? Where?\

List some links & resources