How's Tricks opens with Benglis' collaborator Stanton Kaye being questioned about his art practice, while a lush Hollywood soundtrack threatens to overpower his answers. They discuss art and illusion — an artist's vulnerability and the use of disguise — and move into the Wildean terrain of the truth in artifice. Cut to a mix of images: preparations are made for Richard Nixon's final speech as President; a vaudevillian TV host is interrupted and undermined by his studio crew; Rita Hayworth dances ecstatically in a nightclub. In the White House footage, a jocular but chilling Nixon banters with the TV crew and Secret Service agents, and for a sound test reads part of his resignation speech with a rehearsed gravitas. A repeated shot of the White House at night becomes an iconic image for the end of Nixon's presidency and the era it represented. Benglis is then questioned about her art practice in a revealing dialogue with Kaye. Subjects fundamental to her work are touched upon, including sexuality, the body and role-playing. The interview develops into both a free-flowing philosophical discussion about art and consumption, and a deeply felt personal confrontation between Kaye and Benglis.
How's Tricks' amalgam of performance, interview and found footage exposes the structure of the production of media. Benglis combines self-reflexive art-making with a lively discourse about artistic process. There is Brechtian deconstruction here, but also an engaging investigation into the relationship among artist, representation and audience.
Thanks to David Ross and the Long Beach Museum of Art.