Pain Thing 2
Can you be nostalgic for a life you never lived? Can you feel the pain of a trauma you never endured? Sadie Benning's first solo exhibition at Mitchell Innes & Nash is dubbed "Pain Thing 2"—the title, a pun on "painting," no doubt lightly riffing on the psychological anguish often associated with said act.
Benning—who got her start in the 1990s, when, as a teen in Milwaukee, she began making diaristic videos that blended recorded confessionals with snippets of home videos, toys, and photographs—continues to explore themes of ambiguity, gender, transgression, and intimacy with "Pain Thing 2."
The show divides the 53 panels on view into smaller sub-groups, or "Sequences," each forming a sort of storyboard. Throughout, collaged elements and photographic transparencies—the latter often appearing so overexposed as to be barely legible—are thickly layered with resin. The final works are hazy and obscure, like a memory, false or actual.
Nonetheless, subjects' belabored, often pained expressions are palpable. In Sequence 4 (Freeway) (2019) [pictured], a warm-toned image of a highway under a wide and yawning sky picks up on a sentimental and distinctly American sense of freedom—yet coupled with a grainy image of a woman in water and a close-up flash of threads of hair in motion, becomes achingly tender, and suggests the fractured recollection of trauma. In another picture, the blurred blotchy reds resolve into the shape of a rosebush; elsewhere, there is kissing.
It is impossible to gaze into one of these panels, each the approximate size and height of a face, without seeing one's features reflected in its uneven surface, as well the wavering shapes of other works in the room. Even as they contain images unreadable and references obscure, these pieces induce something resembling yearning, or empathy.
Sadie Benning, Sequence 4, (Freeway), 2019. Wood, photographic transparencies, aqua resin and resin; 53 panels/16 sequences, each: 9 3⁄4 by 7 1⁄4 inches.