The Body of Knowledge

Entry from Acts of Transfer:

Duration: 57 min 30 sec
Original Format: ¾” Umatic

Artist Judy Radul is onstage wearing a white nurse’s uniform. She is holding the resident Western Front cat, who she introduces to the audience. “This is Samantha,” she says, “she has a promising future in computers.” Radul puts down the cat and Samantha scampers offstage. Radul then faces away from the camera and begins to recite “ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma…” gradually increasing in volume, growing in intensity until she’s yelling, exhausting herself. She stops, walks forward, and bends down until she is sitting on her knees. Lifting her skirt, she exposes her ass, where the words “I KNOW” are scrawled in what appears to be black charcoal.

The opening scene of The Body of Knowledge serves as a useful starting point to introduce the eclectic and provocative nature of Radul’s performance at Western Front. Composed of a series of live acts, an hour-long performance unfolds as a philosophical meditation on a subject in conflict between being and knowing.[1] With scenes that vary in intensity, Radul replays the body (and its knowledge) in various humorous, crude, and absurd states of existence. The performance is intercut with a video production of Her Knowing of She Cutting I or Interrogation of the Pear, spliced with footage of Radul watching the video by herself on a monitor. The video Her Knowing of She Cutting I or Interrogation of the Pear was Radul’s first production, accomplished with the assistance of Susi Milne. It compiles personal and stock images that have been synthesized and overlaid with brazen prose and poetic text, perceived as Radul’s personal commentary. The cat returns throughout the performance, making a cameo in the video production and as a representational mask, appearing always as an objective observing body.

Through a phenomenological lens, Radul pushes an understanding of the female subject by using familiar materials as extended metaphors to situate knowledge in the experience of the body, and more specifically, a disabled woman’s body, as conveyed by surrogate actors who recite Radul’s personal medical history. Undertaking an exploratory investigation of understanding, conveying, knowing, feeling and seeing, Radul continually displaces or refuses access to her body, instead grounding the viewer’s experiences in her speech. Reflections about womanhood offer a material experience as she covers herself in white flour and black charcoal, finally transforming into a mark-making tool for a wholly different mode of representation.

These excerpts represent early work in the career of Judy Radul, a multidisciplinary artist based in Berlin and Vancouver, who also served as Curator at Western Front throughout the 1990s. Using playful gestures, such as the recruiting of surrogates and actors to stand in for her, Radul’s practice has tended to approach performance as a means of deconstructing its familiar tropes. Here the body is taken up as a location where inquiry into rhetorics and clichés of performance can take place. Radul’s interdisciplinary practice, now more often incorporating media production and installation, has continued to question how we, as social beings, understand our relation to the material world through the visual. Her conceptualist and absurdist sensibility treats the white cube as a staging ground for the intersection of language, objects and bodies in space.

1-Wallace, Keith. Whispered Art History: Twenty Years at the Western Front. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1993.

Credits for Her Knowing of She Cutting I or Interrogation of the Pear
Videographer: Paul Lang

Technician: Robert Kozinuk

Editor: Susi Milne
Organization and Production Assistance: Susi Milne

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Original Archive Entry:

Ideophrenia series. An hour-long performance positioning the subject within knowledge, involving prerecorded sound, a video created for the performance entitled, Her Knowing of She Cutting I or Interrogation of the Pear, several performers lip synching in succession to a taped explanation of Radul’s medical history, monologues by Radul, and the Western Front cats.

Full version of digitized video available through Western Front Archives upon research request.