Gretchen Bender emerged in the early 1980s in New York as a contemporary of the Pictures Generation. She adopted cutting-edge technologies, moving from silkscreens and photographs to video, broadcast media and computer graphics, ensuring her work was never a step behind. This allowed her to subvert the culture as it was developing.

 

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

 

Her early use of video quickly evolved into a multi-screen approach: the initial two-monitor work Unprotected developed into the four-monitor Wild Dead and soon after that into the thirteen-monitor Dumping Core (all 1984), the first of her two career-defining “electronic theater” works. Titled in reference to the memory retained after a computer hard drive crashes, and also alluding to the nuclear fears from the then-recent Three Mile Island accident, Dumping Core combines computer animations created with Amber Denker, corporate logo graphics pulled from broadcast TV, and images of the El Salvadoran Civil War with an original soundtrack by Stuart Argabright, Michael Diekmann, and Shin Shimokawa.

 

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Dumping Core, 1984
Four-channel video, color and sound on thirteen monitors
15:21 min
Edition of 5 + 1 AP

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Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Dumping Core, 1984
Four-channel video, color and sound on thirteen monitors
15:21 min
Edition of 5 + 1 AP

Gretchen Bender
Dumping Core, 1984
Four-channel video, color and sound on thirteen monitors
15:21 min
Edition of 5 + 1 AP

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Dumping Core, 1984

Gretchen Bender
Dumping Core, 1984

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“Artists were still taking photos out of newspapers and magazines and deconstructing them and shifting them. I wanted to expand that language into television because it was apparent to me that it would be the next field. A goldmine for investigating cultural image-making in terms of visual expansion. The way every new visual technology is incorporated somehow into television. I think that there are incredible psychological effects going on.” –Gretchen Bender

 

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Archival material, Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Archival material, Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Archival material, Gretchen Bender Estate

“When you look at one screen, you cannot compare or contrast what you are seeing with anything else. There’s one source coming at you which presumes the authority of its viewpoint. Yet, if you have several TVs going at once, you can see the structure and watch it with more critical consciousness. So, instead of a single political message getting through, you watch multiple screens revealing complexity, contradiction, and manipulation of political viewpoints.” –Gretchen Bender

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Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Archival material, Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Archival material, Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Archival material, Gretchen Bender Estate

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“When you look at one screen, you cannot compare or contrast what you are seeing with anything else. There’s one source coming at you which presumes the authority of its viewpoint. Yet, if you have several TVs going at once, you can see the structure and watch it with more critical consciousness. So, instead of a single political message getting through, you watch multiple screens revealing complexity, contradiction, and manipulation of political viewpoints.” –Gretchen Bender

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

 

Through her obsessive sampling of broadcast television, Bender became aware of the psychological implications of the corporate logos and branding (GE, AT&T, CBS and NBC). These corporations were using the most advanced technologies to not only claim authority over the content being presented but also seduce the viewer into a passive state.

“I think that corporate computer graphics take these abstract, idealistic, deathless images and use them in a way that makes us feel enthralled when we watch them on TV. Somehow, they’re outside of us and they’re bigger, more powerful, more eternal than we are, even though these logos represent corporations that are made up of human beings. In some ways, these logos can depict surrogates for our psyches, abstractions that make death more surreal and less real in our imaginations.” –Gretchen Bender

 

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989
Twelve dye-sublimation prints mounted to armature
101.6 x 304.8 x 153.7 cm I 40 x 120 x 60 ½ inches
Edition of 6 + 1 AP

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Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989
Twelve dye-sublimation prints mounted to armature
101.6 x 304.8 x 153.7 cm I 40 x 120 x 60 ½ inches
Edition of 6 + 1 AP

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989
Twelve dye-sublimation prints mounted to armature
101.6 x 304.8 x 153.7 cm I 40 x 120 x 60 ½ inches
Edition of 6 + 1 AP

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Daydream Nation), 1989

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Her early investigations into these state-of-the-art graphics can be seen in Untitled (Daydream Nation) (1989) where Bender assembles a group of mathematically generated fractal images facing forward in a psychedelic landscape, only revealing on the backside images of a Tangiers cityscape.

 

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

 

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Ghostbusters, 1984
Two dye-sublimation prints
154 x 142.9 cm I 60 5/8 x 56 ¼ inches
Edition of 6 + 1 AP

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In Ghostbusters (1984) she has combined two computer-generated heads, which also appear in Dumping Core and Reality Fever (1983), with an image of her friend Cindy Sherman. The image is a precedent to Bender & Sandy Tait’s film Volatile Memory, in which Sherman is cast as a cyborg protagonist in a William Gibson inspired plot.

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Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Ghostbusters, 1984
Two dye-sublimation prints
154 x 142.9 cm I 60 5/8 x 56 ¼ inches
Edition of 6 + 1 AP

Gretchen Bender
Ghostbusters, 1984
Two dye-sublimation prints
154 x 142.9 cm I 60 5/8 x 56 ¼ inches
Edition of 6 + 1 AP

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Ghostbusters, 1984 (detail)

Gretchen Bender
Ghostbusters, 1984 (detail)

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Ghostbusters, 1984 (detail)

Gretchen Bender
Ghostbusters, 1984 (detail)

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Ghostbusters, 1984

Gretchen Bender
Ghostbusters, 1984

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In Ghostbusters (1984) she has combined two computer-generated heads, which also appear in Dumping Core and Reality Fever (1983), with an image of her friend Cindy Sherman. The image is a precedent to Bender & Sandy Tait’s film Volatile Memory, in which Sherman is cast as a cyborg protagonist in a William Gibson inspired plot.

Also in 1984, as Dumping Core was developing, Bender encountered the photographs compiled by Susan Meiselas in the book El Salvador: Work of Thirty Photographers, which depicted images of the horrific violence of the US-backed Salvadoran Civil War. The undeniable horrors in the photographs by Meiselas and her peers, like John Hoagland, have an urgency and viciousness that are impossible to ignore. For Bender, the images laid bare the real-life tragedies that popular television and media was trying to diminish.

Bender initially combined Hoagland’s photograph from the El Salvador publication in her work Gremlins, which was included in 1984’s multi-venue project Artist’s Call Against US Intervention in Central America.

 

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Archival material, Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Artists Call Against US Intervention in Central America, 1984 (archival poster)

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Carolyn Forche; Harry Mattison (ed.); Susan Meiselas (ed.); Fae Rubenstein. El Salvador: The Work of Thirty Photographers. Writers & Readers Publishing Cooperative, New York and London, 1983 (cover)

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Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Archival material, Gretchen Bender Estate

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Artists Call Against US Intervention in Central America, 1984 (archival poster)

Artists Call Against US Intervention in Central America, 1984 (archival poster)

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Carolyn Forche; Harry Mattison (ed.); Susan Meiselas (ed.); Fae Rubenstein. El Salvador: The Work of Thirty Photographers. Writers & Readers Publishing Cooperative, New York and London, 1983 (cover)

Carolyn Forche; Harry Mattison (ed.); Susan Meiselas (ed.); Fae Rubenstein. El Salvador: The Work of Thirty Photographers. Writers & Readers Publishing Cooperative, New York and London, 1983 (cover)

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Later, in 1988 in her exhibition at Metro Pictures Gallery, Bender included images by Susan Meiselas in her works Relax and Open the Door. For the exhibition, she licensed photographs from the library of Magnum Photos, though without a clearly defined purpose. It was an anomaly for Bender to seek any type of permission; perhaps the severity of the context made this an exception. By then, it was known that many of the photographers in Meiselas’ book were included on “death lists” by Salvadoran paramilitary groups.

Her attempted deference to protocol stopped as soon as she had access to the images, and outside of Magnum’s and Meiselas’ expectations, Bender blew the images up large and showed them alongside broadcast television sets and computer-generated graphics. By combining the corporate-funded graphics with images of US Government-funded violence, Bender was, like in her video work, confronting the numbed viewer with an undeniable reminder of the real world while also implicating the sources of the deception. As her friend and collaborator Amber Denker noted: “By taking the sexy graphics of whirling international corporate logos and interjecting them with images of the consequences of policies that were tooled for such corporations’ gain and profit, she questioned what America was about.”

 

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
TV Text & Image (OPEN THE DOOR), c. 1988
Live television broadcast on a monitor, vinyl lettering
Dimensions variable
Edition of 3 + 1 AP

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Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
TV Text & Image (OPEN THE DOOR), c. 1988
Live television broadcast on a monitor, vinyl lettering
Dimensions variable
Edition of 3 + 1 AP

Gretchen Bender
TV Text & Image (OPEN THE DOOR), c. 1988
Live television broadcast on a monitor, vinyl lettering
Dimensions variable
Edition of 3 + 1 AP

Details
icon_fullscreen
1 of 1
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
TV Text & Image (RELAX), c. 1988
Live television broadcast on a monitor, vinyl lettering
Dimensions variable
Edition of 3 + 1 AP

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Details
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
TV Text & Image (RELAX), c. 1988
Live television broadcast on a monitor, vinyl lettering
Dimensions variable
Edition of 3 + 1 AP

Gretchen Bender
TV Text & Image (RELAX), c. 1988
Live television broadcast on a monitor, vinyl lettering
Dimensions variable
Edition of 3 + 1 AP

Details
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1 of 1

Meiselas at the time was surprised, and disturbed, to encounter her image on the gallery walls. While she was no stranger to her images circulating as part of a movement, she has always gone to great lengths to create spaces for them to be seen within a specific historical or geographical context. As she stated in 1989: “The most brutal images from El Salvador were felt to be the most urgent. To bring those images home to as many Americans as possible meant going beyond the book to create spaces for the images to be seen.” Here, Bender’s use of it in a broader critique of media itself was jarring.

 

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

 

In Bender’s works Hell Raiser (1988–91) and Gremlins (1984), the use of John Hoagland’s photograph Two young girls found alongside the highway to Comalapa Airport (1980) is now shown with the permission of his family. Hoagland was killed in 1984 during an ambush in El Salvador by a bullet from a large caliber M-60 weapon, as supplied by the US Government to the El Salvadoran Army.

Another image from the El Salvador civil war, by an as-of-yet unknown photographer, is presented in the work Untitled (Landscape, Computer Graphics, Death Squad) (1987).

 

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Gremlins, 1984
Four dye-sublimation prints mounted on Dibond, top right photograph by John HoaglandTwo young girls found alongside the highway to Comalapa Airport, April 1980
130.8 x 174 cm | 51 1/2 x 68 1/2 inches
Edition of 6 + 1 AP

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Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Hell Raiser), 1988–91
Two dye-sublimation prints, top photograph by John HoaglandTwo young girls found alongside the highway to Comalapa Airport, April 1980
234.3 x 180.3 cm | 92 1/4 x 71 inches
Edition of 6 + 1 AP

More views
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Landscape, Computer Graphics, Death Squad), 1987
Three dye-sublimation prints, middle photograph by an unknown photographer, taken during El Salvadoran Civil War
304.8 x 152.4 cm | 120 x 60 inches
Edition of 6 + 1 AP

More views
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Details
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Gremlins, 1984
Four dye-sublimation prints mounted on Dibond, top right photograph by John HoaglandTwo young girls found alongside the highway to Comalapa Airport, April 1980
130.8 x 174 cm | 51 1/2 x 68 1/2 inches
Edition of 6 + 1 AP

Gretchen Bender
Gremlins, 1984
Four dye-sublimation prints mounted on Dibond, top right photograph by John HoaglandTwo young girls found alongside the highway to Comalapa Airport, April 1980
130.8 x 174 cm | 51 1/2 x 68 1/2 inches
Edition of 6 + 1 AP

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Gremlins, 1984 (detail)

Gretchen Bender
Gremlins, 1984 (detail)

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Gremlins, 1984 (detail)

Gretchen Bender
Gremlins, 1984 (detail)

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Gremlins, 1984

Gretchen Bender
Gremlins, 1984

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Hell Raiser), 1988–91
Two dye-sublimation prints, top photograph by John HoaglandTwo young girls found alongside the highway to Comalapa Airport, April 1980
234.3 x 180.3 cm | 92 1/4 x 71 inches
Edition of 6 + 1 AP

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Hell Raiser), 1988–91
Two dye-sublimation prints, top photograph by John HoaglandTwo young girls found alongside the highway to Comalapa Airport, April 1980
234.3 x 180.3 cm | 92 1/4 x 71 inches
Edition of 6 + 1 AP

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Hell Raiser), 1988–91 (detail)

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Hell Raiser), 1988–91 (detail)

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Hell Raiser), 1988–91 (detail)

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Hell Raiser), 1988–91 (detail)

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Hell Raiser), 1988–91

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Hell Raiser), 1988–91

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Landscape, Computer Graphics, Death Squad), 1987
Three dye-sublimation prints, middle photograph by an unknown photographer, taken during El Salvadoran Civil War
304.8 x 152.4 cm | 120 x 60 inches
Edition of 6 + 1 AP

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Landscape, Computer Graphics, Death Squad), 1987
Three dye-sublimation prints, middle photograph by an unknown photographer, taken during El Salvadoran Civil War
304.8 x 152.4 cm | 120 x 60 inches
Edition of 6 + 1 AP

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Landscape, Computer Graphics, Death Squad), 1987 (detail)

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Landscape, Computer Graphics, Death Squad), 1987 (detail)

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Landscape, Computer Graphics, Death Squad), 1987 (detail)

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Landscape, Computer Graphics, Death Squad), 1987 (detail)

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles
Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Landscape, Computer Graphics, Death Squad), 1987

Gretchen Bender
Untitled (Landscape, Computer Graphics, Death Squad), 1987

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“The work is about how we allow ourselves to see and, simultaneously, not to see the socio-political landscape we’ve created for ourselves. We know we fund death-squads in El Salvador, but we never have to see the dead bodies, or we see the aestheticized versions of them through photographs. I want us to feel how disturbing it is that we flatten our politics of death through visual representation.” –Gretchen Bender

Gretchen Bender – The Perversion of the Visual – Los Angeles

All installation views: Robert Wedemeyer