Beth B provokes public dialogue on violence through her boundary-breaking art and films

With her shock of blue hair, Beth B is easy to spot in the crowd. But once she begins to speak, the brilliance of her words is what becomes striking.

Beth B

Beth B poses for a portrait before her Jorgensen Guest Filmmakers Lecture on Feb. 6 at IU Cinema. Photos by James Brosher.

The director, artist and educator spoke at Indiana University Cinema on Feb. 6 as part of the Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture Series.

Her documentary “Exposed,” which looks at the lives of eight edgy performers who are bringing the art of burlesque into the 21st century, had been screened the night before.

“My work, in a way, really looks at people who are breaking boundaries, breaking the law, breaking the norms,” she said.

As the audience filed into IU Cinema, images of her artwork repeated in a cycle on the screen. In exhibitions such as “Hysteria,” “Monuments,” “Portraits” and “Trophies,” she examined aspects of the female body in different contexts.

“I work in every different medium,” she said. “I really let the idea dictate where I am going to go.”

Culture of violence

On this day, Beth B had something else on her mind. Her talk, “Psychotic to Erotic,” focused on topics in her films, primarily the violence in American culture.

“I’m really interested in instigating change, and to provoke thought and questions,” she said.

One day as a child, Beth B saw swarms of police cars in her neighborhood in the aftermath of Richard Speck’s murders of eight nurses on the South Side of Chicago.

“I’m interested in how one crosses that line. Who is to say who is insane, who is sane, who is moral and who is just? And what do we do with these aberrations? I think the easy answer is to lock them away.”

Similar questions were central to her installations “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” and “Under Lock & Key.”

Beth B also shared more playful film clips, including an ’80s music video and the 1987 feature “Salvation.”


For several years, Beth B explored the darker side of human behavior, making films for Court TV. She became fascinated with how people gain trust over another person.

Beth B

Beth B gave the talk “Psychotic to Erotic” at IU Cinema on Feb. 6.

Her most haunting realization from this work, however, was that the people behind the least humane and most violent acts are not nearly as different from the rest of us as we like to believe.

“How did we get here? I talk about that in terms of our culture: the insanity in our culture, the violence in our culture,” she said. “I’m also curious on why we walk around, especially in America, in a bit of a state of apathy and numbness and amnesia.”

Breaking that cycle of violence is critical, she said. Each of us shares that responsibility.

“I have to make sure that the way I deal, in my personal relationships and outside in the world, is to be kind and gentle and loving,” she said.

“The change only resides within each of us, individually.”

Upcoming talks

MM Serra will present the next Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture at 3 p.m. Feb. 27 at IU Cinema. The talk will be free and open to the public. A ticket is not required, but seating is limited.

Serra is one of the founders of The Film-Makers Cooperative. Film clips shown at her lecture and evening screenings of “The Explicit Celluloid Body” and “The Short, Radical Films of MM Serra” contain mature content and graphic nudity. Discretion is advised.

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