Tuesday, January 24, 2023 at 7:30pm
Six Videos by Rodney Werden

361 Stagg Street, Suite 407, Brooklyn

I’m Sorry, Rodney Werden, 1974, digital projection, 5 mins
Call Roger, Rodney Werden, 1975, digital projection, 11 mins
May I, Can I, Rodney Werden, 1978, digital projection, 6 mins
Say, Rodney Werden, 1978, digital projection, 3 mins
Baby Dolls, Rodney Werden, 1978, digital projection, 19 mins
“I Bet You Ain’t Seen Noth’n Like This Before, Rodney Werden, 1980, digital projection, 36 mins

A key figure in the 1970s Toronto video art scene and a founder of longstanding distributor Vtape, Rodney Werden is well overdue for a survey. He approached his chosen subject, the psychosocial dynamics of sex and gender, with devastating honesty, and a blend of shock and banality that anticipates 21st century sensibilities. “They constitute, I think, one of the richest bodies of work in the medium,” argued Steve Reinke, one of Werden’s most ardent admirers, “though at this time they lie largely ignored.” This evening, Light Industry presents a sampling of Werden’s early experiments, most of which have rarely shown Stateside.

On the surface, what we encounter in Werden’s tapes may remind us of the repetitive, ritualistic actions of contemporaneous video artists like Bruce Nauman or Vito Acconci, but in some respects they are more in line with the taboo-busting of 60s underground film, or the gender interrogations of 90s New Queer Cinema. Through Werden’s lens, conceptual performance for the camera becomes entangled with eroticized mind-games enacted on the social fringes of sex work and kink subculture. “Prostitution and sado-masochism,” Reinke noted, “as in most of his videos, are the main concerns of this economist of desire.” Werden, himself heterosexual, was fascinated by deviations from normality, “possibly because I am so conservative and ordinary,” he once told interviewer Peggy Gale.

Werden’s own young body is on display in I’m Sorry and Call Roger. The former is an endurance tape in the strictest sense of the word, focusing on the artist’s bare, firm buttocks as they are rhythmically caned by an off-screen dominatrix. The latter is an imaginary television commercial for Werden as a hustler, its audio comprised of responses the artist received from a newspaper ad offering his services as a nude model. In Say and May I, Can I, Werden creates ludic scenarios in which female subjects—clothed and naked respectively—respond to suggestive verbal instructions. Made when transgender women had become objects of TV talk-show fascination, Baby Dolls presents an oblique first-person interview with an 18-year-old woman who has recently undergone gender affirmation surgery. “All we're shown is a hand methodically applying color to nails, hand, and feet,” John Greyson observed, “denying the gender transformation that we desire to witness.”

Far less withholding is Werden’s most astonishing tape, “I Bet You Ain’t Seen Noth’n Like This Before, one of a series of conversations conducted with sex workers and fetishists. In the video, Werden speaks with an older man who sits naked at home. The man explains that he has the ability to penetrate himself with his own penis, and then performs the act for the unblinking camera, ultimately reaching climax by rubbing up against a set of audio speakers emitting pulses of shortwave radio noise. “The tape is devastating,” Greyson wrote. “Its impact lies in the implicit collaboration between the subject and the producer—indeed, the subject controls everything that occurs. There is no possibility of exploitation, for Werden has refused to comment, moralize, or otherwise frame the experience of this very articulate gentleman: what you see is what you get, and I bet you ain't seen nothing like this before…”

Tickets - Pay what you can ($10 suggested donation), available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm. No entry 10 minutes after start of show.