Judy Radul

Words No Pictures Pictures No Words
11 May — 16 June, 2018

Just a cou­ple of inch­es below your brain is a tongue in cheek. Words No Pic­tures Pic­tures No Words fea­tures new works from Judy Radul’s exten­sive exper­i­men­tal prac­tice that merges form, media, cog­ni­tion, lan­guage, humour and emo­tion. The exhi­bi­tion is a stag­ing ground for a set of inter­con­nect­ing exper­i­ments as artworks—active, dynam­ic and sur­pris­ing com­plex­i­ties of visu­al phe­nom­e­na. Togeth­er they make a mul­ti­fac­eted loop­ing chain of oper­a­tions.


Fol­low­ing her relat­ed solo exhi­bi­tion at Witte de With con­cern­ing doors, win­dows, pages and video as cul­tur­al tech­niques, here again cam­eras, screens, doors, glass, books and mag­a­zines are con­sid­ered equal media; their forms and mate­ri­al­i­ties con­nect to con­scious­ness and struc­ture our real­i­ty. Think forms, not semi­otics.


The works them­selves include a room-divid­ing screen made of translu­cent smoked glass. Its live­ly sur­face at once reflects itself, the view­er, the gallery, and the assort­ment of ceram­ic birds seen through the glass which act as place­hold­ers of visu­al focus. Also includ­ed is a read­ing pavil­ion stag­ing the con­nect­ed but sep­a­rate read­ing of two copies of Michael Snow’s 1975 inter­me­di­al artist book Cov­er to Cov­er, itself a phys­i­cal nego­ti­a­tion of the page and the cin­e­ma. The instal­la­tion Man’s Hands (Words No Pic­tures Pic­tures No Words) com­pris­es two auto­mat­ed page-turn­ing machines, two artist mag­a­zines, two video cam­eras, two kinet­ic sculp­tures, and a small cin­e­ma enclosed by a the­atre cur­tain, togeth­er mak­ing a com­po­si­tion­al cir­cuit of vision, robot­ics, mechan­ics, images, words and mate­ri­als. Along with the cus­tom cam­era-motion con­trol and live-video pre­sen­ta­tion sys­tem that Radul has devel­oped over the past nine years, the page-turn­ing machines are an evolv­ing form in her work.


Turn­ing a page is an increas­ing­ly obso­lete ges­ture, its recto/verso encounter replaced by the “swipe.” The page-turn­ing machine turns some­thing that is very eas­i­ly, even thought­less­ly done by most of us, into a com­plex mechan­i­cal task, here, turn­ing the pages of Radul’s artist mag­a­zines. This cus­tom-designed automation—a blend of DIY and sophis­ti­cat­ed pro­gram­ming and fabrication—creates a kind of “bad actor”: a machine that makes each step of a thought­less task into a cal­cu­lat­ed and seg­ment­ed oper­a­tion.


The turned pages are being “read” by video cam­eras, their occa­sion­al­ly eccen­tric fram­ing, motion and rhythm chore­o­graphed by the artist. The mag­a­zine titled Words No Pic­tures com­pris­es words about hands, hand trans­plants, per­cep­tion, expe­ri­ence and brain plas­tic­i­ty. It includes news­pa­per nar­ra­tives con­cern­ing the first sin­gle, and one of the first dou­ble, hand trans­plant recip­i­ents as well as quotes and a few lines freely adapt­ed from Mau­rice Merleau-Ponty’s last work, The Vis­i­ble and The Invis­i­ble, 1968. Mear­leau-Pon­ty was con­tin­u­ous­ly describ­ing the things at hand—including his left hand touch­ing his right hand touch­ing something—while try­ing to artic­u­late a deep inter­con­nect­ed­ness, beyond the object sub­ject divide. Also sam­pled is Bri­an Massumi’s 2011 pub­li­ca­tion, Sem­blance and Event, for his descrip­tion of the rolling, turn­ing and return­ing of the waves and troughs of expe­ri­ence.


Pic­tures No Words is a pic­ture-only mag­a­zine which plays with ana­logues for brain imagery. The tiny images which punc­tu­ate the pic­ture sequence are tak­en from an archive of images based on the Inter­na­tion­al Affec­tive Pic­ture Sys­tem, a data­base of stan­dard­ized pic­tures rang­ing from the banal to the erot­ic to the dis­gust­ing, designed for study­ing emo­tion and atten­tion, wide­ly used in psy­cho­log­i­cal and cog­ni­tive research. This Open Affec­tive Stan­dard­ized Image Set (OASIS), an open-access online stim­u­lus set con­tain­ing 900 colour images depict­ing a broad spec­trum of themes, includ­ing humans, ani­mals, objects, and scenes, along with nor­ma­tive rat­ings on two affec­tive dimen­sions-valence (i.e., the degree of pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive affec­tive response that the image evokes) and arousal (i.e., the inten­si­ty of the affec­tive response that the image evokes).


The kinet­ic sculp­tures shake fab­ric strips print­ed with the same images used for cog­ni­tive and affec­tive test­ing, as well as descrip­tions of the images. These short, strange­ly evoca­tive attempts at deno­ta­tion are excerpt­ed for research papers, where, out of neces­si­ty to com­pile data and pre­pare reports into which dozens of pic­tures can­not be placed, the images must be described in writ­ing. In these trans­la­tions from image to text, the descrip­tions also unwit­ting­ly reveal gen­der, race, and cul­tur­al bias­es.


In Words No Pic­tures Pic­tures No Words, Radul con­tin­ues her ongo­ing exper­i­ments in the tragi­com­e­dy of cat­e­gor­i­cal think­ing and descrip­tion, evok­ing, but pur­pose­ly nev­er reach­ing the goal of rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Any sug­gest­ed dichoto­my between words and pic­tures is ques­tioned, and recto/verso is reversed, expand­ed, repeat­ed and refract­ed in mul­ti­ple cir­cuits.