Skip to main content

Looking in the Mirror, I See Me — Early Women’s Video Art from the Video Data Bank Collection

Curated by Video Data Bank

The emergence of video art tools in the late 1960s and early 1970s paved the way for an extraordinary number of outstanding art works by women. Captivated by the relative accessibility, portability and immediacy of Sony’s Video Portapak recording system, a significant number of female artists began to experiment with the video format. Often taking a direct-to-camera approach, many of the resulting works reflect the burgeoning feminist movement in the U.S. at the time.

The videos in this program, all made by women artists active in the 1970s — video’s first decade — occupy a number of positions and points of view in relation to women’s role in society. Several fascinating tendencies can be traced:

• The claiming of one’s own image, occurring at the very same moment that the female body was increasingly co-opted by the commercial world of advertising

• Video being utilized as a means to directly comment on a world where, to a great extent, men called the shots

• Video being used as a tool to disrupt and question notions of originality, ‘truth’ and identity, via feedback, looping and the static shot

• Video as a vehicle for humor and/or parody, whether directly mocking the self or, more often, mocking examples of the machinations of male hierarchies apparent throughout western society

— Abina Manning, VDB Executive Director

# Title Artists Run Time Year Country
1 Two Faces Hermine Freed 00:06:24 1972 United States
2 Collage Lynda Benglis 00:09:30 1973 United States
3 Arbitrary Fragments Barbara Aronofsky Latham 00:12:44 1978 United States
4 Learn Where the Meat Comes From Suzanne Lacy 00:14:20 1976 United States
5 Mitchell's Death Linda Mary Montano 00:22:20 1977 United States
6 Dressing Up Susan Mogul 00:07:06 1973 United States

Two Faces

Hermine Freed
1972 | 00:06:24 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | 1/2" open reel video


In her oft-cited essay “Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism,” Rosalind Krauss says, “self-encapsulation — taking the body or psyche as its own surround — is everywhere to be found in the corpus of video art” (October 1, Spring 1976). This certainly applies to this early work of Hermine Freed. Utilizing a split and reversed screen, Freed faces herself, caressing and kissing her doubled image. Without narration, the tape shows Freed suspended between two images, existing as a doubled person. In light of feminist discourse on women’s alienation from themselves in a male-dominated culture and the co-option of women’s images by advertising and the media, this tape reads as Freed’s attempt to contact her self-image directly — to, in effect, claim her image.

This title is also available on I Say I Am: Program 2.


Lynda Benglis
1973 | 00:09:30 | United States | English | Color | Mono | 4:3 | Video


Three basic compositions are played and recombined in Collage: a hockey game; arms swinging across the screen; and a hand holding one, two, then three oranges. As in her other work, Benglis plays with several generations of each shot, rescanning the screen, and placing objects in front of the monitor. Organized around color and rhythm, each segment uses bright colors, rapid movements, and complex layers of images to present a mesmerizing compendium of information that frustrates any sense of narrative. The accompanying soundtrack is an independent collage of noises, feedback and static that create a gritty aural texture.

This title was in the original Castelli-Sonnabend video art collection.

Arbitrary Fragments

Barbara Aronofsky Latham
1978 | 00:12:44 | United States | English | Color | | 4:3 | Video


Using highly-manipulated and over-processed images, Latham investigates the process of video as inherently fragmented. Weaving together various people’s impressions of the artist and her work, the work demonstrates important parallels between video, storytelling, and the formation of identity — all processes of active fabrication that blend “lies” and truth in the construction of a certain reality, history, or past. Labeling an image of herself talking as “her most recent explanation,” Latham addresses “the construction of her video personality” as an identity outside of herself.

This title is also available on Barbara Latham Videoworks: Volume 1.

Learn Where the Meat Comes From

Suzanne Lacy
1976 | 00:14:20 | United States | English | Color | Mono | 4:3 | Video


A classic feminist video, Learn Where the Meat Comes From depicts how “gourmet carnivore tastes take on a cannibalistic edge. This parody of a Julia Child cooking lesson collapses the roles of consumer and consumed: Lacy instructs us in the proper butcher’s terms for cuts of meat by pointing them out on her body. As the lesson progresses she becomes more and more animal-like, growling and baring over-sized incisors. Perhaps, in her role as a gourmet cook, she is herself as much consumed as consumer.”

—Micki McGee, Unacceptable Appetites, exhibition catalog (New York: Artists Space, 1988)

This title is also available on I Say I Am: Program 1.

Mitchell's Death

Linda Mary Montano
1977 | 00:22:20 | United States | English | B&W | | 4:3 | Video


Using performance as a means of personal transformation and catharsis, Mitchell’s Death mourns the death of Montano’s ex-husband. Every detail of her story, from the telephone call announcing the tragedy, to visiting the body, is chanted by Montano as her face, pierced by acupuncture needles, slowly comes into focus then goes out again. The chanting is reminiscent of Buddhist texts, while the needles signify the pain that is necessary for healing and understanding.

This title is also available on I Say I Am: Program 2.

Dressing Up

Susan Mogul
1973 | 00:07:06 | United States | English | B&W | Mono | 4:3 | 1/2" open reel video


A reverse striptease, non-stop comedic monologue about shopping for clothes, while eating corn nuts. Dressing Up was inspired by the artist’s mother’s penchant for bargain hunting. Mogul produced Dressing Up as a student in the feminist art program at the California Institute of the Arts in 1973.

This now classic video was shown in Southland Video Anthology in 1975 at the Long Beach Museum of Art. Curated by David Ross, it was one of the first museum surveys of video art in the United States. Thirty years later Dressing Up has been exhibited internationally, and was exhibited at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, in 2008.

"On mother-daughter relationships and clothes that make the woman. Turning her barbed wit both inwards and outwards, this pioneering video artist reflects on women’s private and public lives."

— Josh Siegel, Curator, Museum of Modern Art, New York City

"One of the great things about Dressing Up is that it totally just undoes every notion of how in society at the time you might be expecting a woman to act, and then the fact that Mogul is naked eating corn nuts, which is the most unglamorous type of image, just puts it over the top."

— Glenn Phillips, Curator, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

"Susan Mogul's very funny video stories, in one of which (Dressing Up) she proceeds from disrobed to robed, reminiscing about the history of each item of clothing."

— Lucy Lippard, MS Magazine