It used to be that the material (the actual acetate film reel) determined the duration of Benning’s films and many other structuralist film-makers for that matter. Now, with the shift in medium, a greater challenge is posed due to the potential infinitude of digital. Presumably there is a limit as it would relate to some mathematical progression, however irrational it may be. This seems to make certain sense as Benning explores natural history via the structure of Pi, the first 27 digits, at least. How is not so readily clear, though thoughts about the expansiveness of time percolate while contemplating this question in relation to subject matter that involves specimens of larger spans of history in terms of both place and time. It’s also worth noting that pi is a number essential to understanding areas/volumes of circles, non-linear surfaces to be sure. So, much about this films’s (video’s?) stillness reflects our perception of time itself, a rhythm that flows at the pace of evolution. Since evolve implies change, change is indicated by either movement within a single shot (when one suddenly is reminded that this is a moving image despite the stillness of subjects most of the time) or when the shot changes to the next subject, the next scene, if you will. In some rare instances within Natural History, a single frame is but a blip in terms of its short duration. I became curious about these, because they seemed so out of character with respect the longer durations we have come to know with Benning’s looking and filming.
As with all Benning’s films, a meditation on what is within each frame is possible by its significant duration. Here the subject matter becomes slightly more unsettling as we are taken through an interior labyrinth as opposed to the typical, solitary landscapes we have come to associate with Benning’s films. Time is oddly revealed now also in terms of metaphorl such as with the preservation of biological artifacts. Peculiar is the staring contest with a mounted zebra, for example. So, the passage of time is one thing with respect to the duration of each shot, another thing with respect to the overall "film" and yet another as the subjects reveal their own relationship to time be it butterfly, worn columns, taxidermy mounts or formaldehyde specimens. The stillness speaks to permanence as well as the silence of death. Not a morbid tale but one that synthesizes various rates in the unending passage(s) of time.
This interior focus seems at certain moments in deep space corridors recalls, for me, the interior shot of Sharon Lockhart’s Lunch Break, a 35mm film transferred to HD Video which is comprised of a single tracking shot down a corridor documenting at a nearly imperceptible pace, the lunch break of Bath Iron Works employees near her native Maine. In contrast to the insistently linear tracking of Lockhart’s, Benning’s is equally circuitous, not to make too much of the math here. Compatriots in life and art, it’s not difficult the imagine the cross-talk here between Lockhart and Benning. So, the shallow space steps that Benning focuses on here have some relationship to Lockhart, however, his seem mostly void of life that is to say living things. His interest seems more to the space and the transitions, passageways between things, mixed-use space storage, office, and labs. Artifacts of both natural and cultural sign synthesize. For example, snakes can be read as helices, motion of time, representations of cycles, patterns, and so on...
Items that nearly eluded the viewer (and certainly my chance to capture an installation shot) were as follows: a spiral staircase. a single book up close and stacked ladders. All can, potentially, read as important nodes within stepped progressions, evolutions, and certainly connected to all manner of histories, not the least of which is Natural History, a video repository that reflects archives, libraries as much as it stands as a specimen in its own right, just a little out of time, certainly out of sequence.