Marina Benjamin on Descry 1992 - catalogue essay Black Boxes and Art in Time And Motion,



Judith Goddard's meditation on light and vision, Descry is a highly aesthetic installation resplendent in colour. Her arc of seven monitors are awash with the visible end of the electromagnetic spectrum. The seven colours of the rainbow flood the screens from corner to corner, and bleed into one another - a process that reminds us that colour is not in the eye of the beholder but a function of the transformative power of light; it is a matter of wave lengths. The arc of monitors cup a lone monitor on which an eye operation is screened. The operation involves replacing the eye's own lens with an artificial lens, Diopta 23. This allusion to man's ability to imitate nature is reinforced by the presence of a glass lens suspended in front of the monitor. The installation reveals how technology can not only re-create the process of seeing but also light itself, bringing to mind Keats' complaint that Enlightenment Newtonian optics destroyed the mystery of the rainbow.

The title of the installation is germane to its visual play. To descry means to catch sight of, to dimly discern; etymologically it has less in common with scientific observation than with scrying, that is, crystal ball gazing. A dialectic between the scientific gaze and mystical vision, between vision and visionaries, is intelligently exploited. The soundtrack which features a woman humming the Japanese Cherry Tree Song adds to the mystical feel of the piece, the woman’s presence is unmistakable yet ethereal, her ghostly presence is in spirit not body. Her feminine voice echoes deeply ingrained cultural associations of light with purity, spirituality and goodness, and implies a darkness hiding ignorance and evil under the cover of the night.

Goddard has managed to contain a great deal of analytic, almost scientific. content within an installation that retains a holistic, (close-to-nature' atmosphere. Lest the viewer is lulled into mistaking artifice for nature, she has introduced humorous and ironic elements into the piece, which return the viewer to an awareness of experiencing an illusion. Feathers and gold leaf blow across the screens, images of exploding fireworks make a periodic appearance, even a fish swims along the arc of monitors.

To conclude I want to reflect on the obdurate, opaque and inscrutable physical presence of the video technology, particularly in view of the customary identification of science and technology as masculine. In reality this identification is beyond dispute, the world of science is male-dominated - the laboratory as a sanctum of masculinity has only recently been infiltrated by professional female scientists - and the power of technology has been aligned with men's attempts to preserve man-made meanings in a man-made world, most disastrously with the manufacturing of the atomic bomb. Yet in the realm of the symbolic the video lends itself to another interpretation which can be clarified, ironically, by a scientific analogy: the black box. The term black box, aside from being an apt description of the video, is used by cyberneticians to designate items of machinery or sets of commands that are too complex. A black box is something about which the scientist need not bother his head, save from knowing the input and output. Only the input and output count. Like Pandora he has learnt not to open the box. The black box model lends video technology an unknown quantity by mystifying the image-generating process within. In the realm of the imaginary the video becomes an incubator, a feminised womb-like space nurturing creativity. But more importantly the black box model enables us to side-step issues of technology by giving us license to concentrate on its output, in this case the art of video installation.