Gretchen Bender (1951– 2004) was an American artist, editor, director and designer who used her skills to insert her vision into the very media stream she wished to critique. Alongside an active career as an artist, she produced, directed and edited music videos for Babes in Toyland and Martha Wash, and edited others for New Order, Megadeth and REM, as well as designing credits for the hit TV series America’s Most Wanted.
Bender was perhaps less recognised in her time than some of her art world contemporaries, and worked at the fringes of a group of artists who came to prominence in the 1980s known as the Pictures Generation, which included Jack Goldstein, Cindy Sherman, Robert Longo and Richard Prince. Combining aspects of conceptual and pop art, they used the ubiquitous influence of mass-media and images of popular culture to tackle head-on issues such as gender, sexuality and consumerism. But whereas they concentrated on photographs from the printed media, for Bender, ‘it seemed like the next area similarly to deconstruct was television’.
Showing at Tate Liverpool in her first UK exhibition, Total Recall 1987 is an 18-minute video installation comprising a constellation of moving images on 24 monitors and three projection screens. Arguably her best-known work, it features an incessant barrage of TV, advertisement and then-topical Hollywood film clips, spliced with animation sequences designed on a flight simulator by artist Amber Denker. To experience it is both overwhelming and entrancing, as it reflects Bender’s desire ‘to use the media against itself – to have it be entertaining and critical simultaneously’.