Ericka Beckman is an American artist and filmmaker based in New York. Beginning her career in the 1970s alongside peers at CalArts, she is considered a key figure in the Pictures Generation. Beckman’s film and video works mark the rising influence and affect of video gaming, cybernetics and digital image-production on psychological development and social life. Her work has long experimented with how photography and the moving image might go beyond representation, how it can be used to manipulate human imagination and encode individual behaviour and group activity.
Alongside her own staggering body of work, she has collaborated with artists and filmmakers such as Vito Acconci, Guy de Cointet, Allen Ruppersberg, David Salle, Matt Mullican, Mike Kelley, Tony Oursler, Tony Conrad and Ashley Bickerton. Graduating from CalArts in the early 1970s where she had developed an interest in performance with her contemporaries de Cointet and Ruppersberg, Beckman moved to New York and began attending performances of Michael Smith and Julia Heyward. Her performance in Vito Acconci’s The Red Tapes 1976, made a lasting impression on Beckman who became interested in how cinematic space might simultaneously record architectural spaces and frames of mind or, as Acconci called it, ‘a topography of the self’. Adapting this and borrowing from Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget’s developmental theories of learning through trial and error came Beckman’s ‘Piaget’ trilogy 1978–81, an exploration of what she calls ‘the performance of the image’.
Similar to Piaget’s theory around repeated action, many of her works adopt games – children’s games, board games, schoolyard games, team games and later video games – as structuring devices. Through these come layered and ambitious works; sets appear like playing fields or virtual levels in which her various protagonists or ensemble ‘players’ are choreographed to the rhythms of her musical compositions and choral scores. To develop them, Beckman has worked with Cal Arts’s Percussion Unit, composer Brooke Halpin, and musician David Linton, and recently with Boston Symphony Orchestra Percussionist, Richard Flannigan To film these ambitious productions, she carefully ‘designs’ her camera movements according to the gradient and contours of diverse architectural spaces, often manually superimposing surreal animations on the camera rolls during production.
Image Games is the first retrospective screening of the artist’s works in the UK and shows an extensive body of her work from the 1970s to 2013, juxtaposed with work by her contemporaries, such as Mike Kelley, Vito Acconci, Michael Smith and Julia Heyward, as well as works from an emerging generation of contemporary moving image artists including Ed Atkins, Helen Benigson, Gil Leung, Sophie Michael, Mary Reid Kelley and Yemenwed. The programme is accompanied by a number of discussions with invited guests and features many newly restored prints.
Curated by Isobel Harbison in association with Tate Film.