1. Television has transcended itself as a technology and as a medium. Philip Auslander, in his book Liveness, writes:
If television once could be seen as ranking among a number of vehicles for conveying expression or information from which we could choose, we no longer have that choice: the televisual has become an intrinsic and determining element of our cultural formation.1
The televisual pervades every cultural site, including (since the first fledgling experiments in the 1970s) the Law, where video and digital information technologies are increasingly used. Arraignments, depositions, witness testimony, demonstrative evidence, even closing arguments may all be presented on video today; and the best-equipped contemporary courtrooms have all kinds of devices and systems for collecting and presenting “paratexts” (the name given to video and non-print media when they are used as legal documents).2
Beyond this is the increasingly common practice of presenting parts of American trials on the nightly news (we do not allow the filming of trials in Canada, yet.) Court TV is an entire channel devoted to airing:
the best of the US court trial coverage by day and riveting dramas, movies, documentaries and series in the evening. [It invites viewers to delve] into police and security, rescue and emergency medicine, forensic investigation and the quest for a fair and just society.3
The significance of this grand conflation of Television and Law—a conflation that is occurring both in the courts and in broadcasting—is central to Judy Radul’s enquiry in her ambitious new artwork World Rehearsal Court.4 In this piece, half the gallery is fashioned as a black box cinema, exhibiting a four-hour, seven-channel courtroom drama. The other half, tangentially related to the first, is located in the gallery’s white cube and explores the interaction of the apparatuses of Television, Law and Art through the presentation of a multimedia installation.5
Using international war crimes tribunals as its source material, the video in the black box cinema shows staged excerpts of the trials. Six flat-screen TVs hang in a single line across the space, each presenting one of the characters in court: from left to right, accused, defence attorney, judge, witness, court clerk, prosecutor.
The characters are all locked in static, medium shots and remain seated for the entire duration of a session. In fact, the only movement in the frame is the security guard (posted behind the accused), who occasionally undergoes a shift change (he or she enters and exits through a hidden door in the set). On a seventh monitor, placed on the ground in front of this panel of screens, the witness is seen again, now in a wide shot, sitting behind a table where a microphone awaits the testimony.
Watching the sessions, viewers evaluate the evidence as it is presented. But we are not being called upon here to guess the verdicts (as in many legal dramas on TV); although Radul has fictionalized some elements and changed all the proper nouns, the piece has the pace of direct transcription, and these cases are tried for years.6 Even if you watched all four hours you would only ever see fragments of the trials: it is the process, not the decision of law, in the spotlight here. Radul’s choices—the pacing, the fictionalizing, the fragments of trials—perform a “rack focus,” as they say in the film industry, perpetually shifting viewers’ attention from the specific stories back to the court of law itself. And indeed, this is what viewers are being asked to examine: the apparatus of law, the forms that govern its structure and, particularly, its use of, and negotiation with, the ever-increasing presence of technology.
For the most part each scene offers the recollections of a witness or the accused, who are both tasked with putting their memories into a semblance of order. This is a difficult endeavour, often antithetical to the way in which memory operates, and they are more than occasionally interrupted and asked to clarify this or that detail. (For example, “Yesterday you said you used a Kalishnikov gun, which you said you shot once. But a Kalishnikov gun shoots in sprays, so could you please clarify for the Court if you shot once or one spray.”) The way the banal, bureaucratic voice of Law interrupts witnesses’ accounts of horrific acts of violence is shocking and dehumanizing. We are reminded that memory here is not being recalled for its own sake, and those whose role is to remember are expected to dedicate their service to the system or suffer repercussions.
These interruptions make the task of recalling more difficult, and the interruptions aren’t all for clarification. Many of them are for the purpose of reprimanding the witness or the accused for not adhering to the proper form—“please direct your testimony toward the judge,” “please refrain from being so emotional,” “please limit your information to only that which is necessary for the scope of the question.” (At one point, the judge interrupts a witness’s emotional account to ask him to refrain from banging on the microphone because it is irritating.) The apparatus manages and administers order and justice, but to do so, those qualities resistant to systematization must be stricken from the record. This subtraction process, this shaving off the “excess,” is necessary for the apparatus to function. For the viewers watching these trials, it becomes obvious there is a “complexity to life which contests the court’s ability to extricate specific stories from it following trajectories of cause, knowledge, effect and culpability, and rendering all this into a written record.”7 And watching these trials it becomes clear that the means used to render law are not meant to facilitate the experience of people who come before the court. Rather, what they facilitate is the apparatus itself, charged with maintaining an unswerving route to justice.
Focused on the ends, the apparatus of Law is the organizing principle around which everything is made to bend. It points the entire process toward the outcome, imposing a force and directionality toward the ends that will be.8 (“In a strictly juridical sense: ‘Apparatus is the part of a judgment that contains the decision separate from the opinion’ …the section of a sentence that decides, or the enacting clause of a law.”9) This purposiveness is a quality or aspect common to all apparatuses, particularly pronounced in technological ones, and World Rehearsal Court taps into this when the court characters dramatically rise and exit the set, as they do at the end of each segment.10
At these points, all seven video channels begin to pan in unison slowly around the room. Each camera, unhinged from representing its character, embarks on a journey through a gymnasium, where it turns out the filming took place. A gymnasium is an interesting choice here as it is a kind of mirror reflection of the courtroom—both are public, competitive, institutional spaces regulated through rules and conventions, adjudicated by a referee and witnessed by a viewing public. (Mirrorings like this pair are common throughout World Rehearsal Court and function as a structural device in the piece.)
As the cameras pan through the gym, we see a grid of ropes and ladders covering the walls, basketball hoops hanging from standards and those coloured lines on the floor that delineate rules for different games. Film cables mimic these lines, running through the out-of-bounds areas of the set, accompanied by tape marks on the floor detailing another set of rules, one for cast and crew. All these objects in the gym move from one monitor to the next, but this movement is not seamless, as it would be if a single image had been broken up over a number of screens. Rather, breaks and ruptures of the space appear on the displays, belying the presence of multiple cameras recording from different views. Still, neither does it seem as though each camera moves independently. The militaristic pace of the pan fixes the cameras together regardless of what position or angle they hold.14 In the lock-step of the cameras, a technological apparatus emerges, revealing itself on the surface of the images as a force acting upon them, enlisting them all, moving them all, toward, inevitably toward….
The climactic moment of this pan is semantic and almost comedic: each of the cameras arrives at a different painted board located somewhere in the gym so that a solid colour field fills each screen: from left to right, blue, yellow, orange, green, pink, maroon.
Mimicking, even mocking, the computer-generated graphics so common today, at first these self-conscious colour fields seem to proclaim themselves “real” actors playing the part of CG characters. Ultimately though, television is agnostic; it does not care if the colour came from a computer or a camera—the box, after all, is a great equalizer of difference. And so the colour fields quickly lose their status. Tamed into signs they become representations, but representations of what? Perhaps the colours represent each of the court characters: not this particular judge, or that attorney, but the general roles themselves. In fact, as formal abstractions, the colours could represent any system of categorization (and thus any apparatus: a doctor’s office might use the same palette to code its patient files).
As I work occasionally with video, I inevitably think of these colours as stand-ins for their more official brethren, those specific waveforms that make up “colour bars,” the test pattern you see when a TV station goes on and off the air. Ubiquitous and functioning as law in the industry, colour bars are the means used by producers, broadcasters and consumers alike to reduce idiosyncrasies, facilitate transmission and aesthetically standardize images.15 If ever there was a sign of the televisual apparatus, colour bars are it.
The arrival of these colour fields announces the end of one and what will be the beginning of the next loop in the black box half of World Rehearsal Court. Here, in these waveforms the apparatus awaits, prefiguring the Court’s next entrance.
2. In her article “Performing the Law: Theatricality, Antitheatricality, and Legal History,” Julie Stone Peters traces a history of performance as fundamental to the myth of the founding of law.16 She begins at what some call the Beginning. Not Genesis, but Exodus, where Moses is helping to set the stage at Mount Sinai for God to make an appearance … or almost. Thunder, lightning, trumpets, smoke, fire and the quaking mountain all anticipate God’s dramatic descent from the heavens. Noting these, Peters describes the scene as a spectacular sound and light show, and so, she argues, it is through a performance mode that law comes into being.17
She demonstrates how violence is replayed and aestheticized in this scene, and in so doing, how violence serves as a reminder of past acts of violence, creating the justification for an authority through that reminder and making that authority both visible and sensible. Beyond this revelation—this visibility—she also argues that the founding of law requires an act of concealment in which, once again, a performance mode is called upon.18 Peters calls this a “counter-performance within performance”:
Just before he sends Moses to announce the upcoming show … God says to Moses: “Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee” ([Exodus] 19:9). This explanation for his appearance concealed “in a thick cloud” presents a kind of anti-theatrical economy … [it is] only visual concealment that will allow the people to hear him. This anti-theatrical economy is in fact something of an oxymoron: it is through concealment that he will appear; it is through theatre that he will perform against his own theatricalization.19
But how does theatricalization work against experiencing presence?20 One answer can be found in the very word “theatricalization,” whose suffix changes the definition of theatre into a process, and as such it describes a state of action, a doing. It is distinguished, for instance, from another transformation, the word “theatricality,” whose suffix describes a quality and therefore addresses a state of being. (Unlike these, the word “performance” does not make this distinction; it can be understood as either being or action—or both.)
In his essay “What is an Apparatus?” Giorgio Agamben explores this split between being and action. He assigns the origin to religious debates of the Gnostics, who were trying to figure out how their monotheistic religion should deal with the issue of the “Trinity”:
Their argument went something like this: “God, insofar as his being and substance is concerned, is certainly one; but as to … the way in which he administers his home, his life, and the world that he created—he is, rather, triple. Just as a good father can entrust to his son the execution of certain functions and duties without in so doing losing his power and his unity, so God entrusts to Christ the ‘economy,’ the administration and government of human history.”21
Over time, according to Agamben, theologians got used to distinguishing between “the discourse—or logos—of theology and a logos of economy."22 As a result, Action, in which he includes economy but also politics, was given no foundation in Being. He describes a split that “divides and, at the same time, articulates in God being and praxis, the nature or essence, on the one hand, and the operation through which He administers and governs the created world, on the other.”23
Agamben also suggests that this split is reproduced in us through the very process of humanization. Bureaucracies, technologies, institutions and discourses are all apparatuses through which our world is administered and governed, and through which we are “humanized.”24
In Agamben’s taxonomy of the world, there are only three classes:
on the one hand, living beings (or substances), and on the other, apparatuses in which living beings are incessantly captured. And, between these two, a third class, subjects. I call a subject that which results from the relation and, so to speak, from the relentless fight between living beings and apparatuses.25
Agamben includes in his list of apparatuses all those that take centre stage in Michel Foucault’s writing, and then he adds: “the pen, writing, literature, philosophy, agriculture, cigarettes, navigation, computers, cellular telephones and—why not—language itself, which is perhaps the most ancient of apparatuses.”26 The apparatus is
anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings.27
An apparatus “separates the living being from itself, and from its immediate relationship with its environment.”28 But Agamben suggests there are moments in our lives when this relationship is broken or interrupted. In these moments, a potential access point opens onto a being that is not divided from action.29
Interruptions in this division between being and action occur often in Judy Radul’s works, and as a result her works elicit a consciousness that reconnects the living being to its immediate environment. This is perhaps most literally staged in Describe Video, a recent video in which blind actors play sighted characters. The video uses standard film language and as such is dependent on conventions, many of which are intended to conceal the filmic apparatus in order that we see nothing more than the proverbial “window onto the world.” The shot-reverse-shot is one of these conventions, developed early on in film history to preserve spatial and temporal continuity for viewers. As the convention goes, when the first shot presents someone looking, it is followed by a second shot showing that which is looked at. (This technique is utterly naturalized today.)
In Radul’s piece, however, there is an uncanny quality to her use of the convention. Suspension of disbelief falters, and a slight break in verisimilitude occurs when a blind actor is seen “looking” at something. Her casting choice is an anti-theatrical (not to mention self-reflexive) device. To make sense of the two images, in the face of the actors’ blindness, we must admit a third party to the subject-object tryst; we must recognize that the only seeing being done here is by the camera, and in fact, everything has been staged for the camera’s sightedness and the camera’s view.30 Through a convention of concealment the cinematic apparatus appears. And as it does, we are momentarily interrupted from the division the apparatus creates, connecting us to our immediate environment, from which we are typically divided.
The various apparatuses within which the camera participates—not just cinematic: perhaps “cameratic” is a better word—have been the consistent subject of Judy Radul’s practice since she began using video. Radul’s works combine theatrical and anti-theatrical devices and through these her artwork performs against its own theatricalization. This performance is not a means to an end, a mode through which meaning is made—the establishment of an authority, whether it be God or Law or Truth—rather, meaning in her work is not found(ed) at all. This performance is just a means, the exhibition of a means being a means—“the process of making a means visible as such.”31
3. In World Rehearsal Court, viewers emerge out of the darkened cinema-like space to enter a white cube gallery installation. Dressing the walls are several photographs of varying sizes and subjects, numbers and odd phrases barely visible in white-flocked text and long ropes that flow high along the wall, then drop to the ground (recalling those in the gymnasium where the trial footage was shot). On the floor are a myriad of eclectic objects arranged on eagerly helpful plinths (a hip-height wedge nuzzles inside the crease of a hardcover book, propping its spine up for viewers; a tall post holds a paperback opened to a page at just the right height to be read32). And allowing their gaze to wander over the room are four cameras, their views displayed via live-feed to monitors—two panels of four—also positioned in the space.
As viewers walk through the gallery, a smaller room in the corner becomes visible. This room is crammed with curiosities—a sewing machine in a wheelbarrow, a taxidermied crow; colour swatches, architectural models and Plasticine busts; research photographs, drawings, floor plans and numbered lists; and, among many other things, a full-scale replica of a mirror box invented by neurologist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran as a tool to relieve phantom limb pain. Some of these objects, or ones very much like them, can be found in the installation itself, and others are referenced in the trial video testimonies. Still others are infused with the self-reflexive signs of making the work (artist’s notes, costumes for the actors, busts of the crew and models of the gallery). As such, this smaller space seems to do triple duty in the piece: a props department for the installation; an evidence locker for the trials; and a link in the network, closing the circuit between the two main spaces and the artist who made them.
But this room is not the only link between gallery and cinema: the security guard hired for the exhibition’s run to protect the equipment and make sure it is operating turns out to be a surprising connector as well. He is the same person as the actor who plays one of the security guards in the trial video. (Positioned in the background, he is particularly visible when the accused takes the stand.) In the video, the security guard is the one character not captured on a single screen; he is not a captive of the camera, held immobile by its very gaze. He is the one person permitted by the apparatus to move among the others, through their frames, even off the set, which he does occasionally. Nevertheless, the frames around the other characters are so still and so tight that it is easy to imagine they lead lives outside their frames, outside their roles in court. In the case of the security guard, however, the ease with which he wanders the controlled space of the apparatus makes it difficult to remember he is an actor with a life outside; in fact, it makes it appear as if he lives there. His job as an actual security guard in the gallery further entrenches this feeling. His specific duties in the gallery include turning the piece “on” when the exhibition opens in the morning and “off” when it closes at night. (Like colour bars, his role prefigures the viewers’ next entrance.)
The security guard’s hourly tour also makes him the primary actor for the cameras in the installation, especially when viewers, afraid of being recorded, try to hide out of the cameras’ sightlines. But there is no safe haven other than the small room in the corner. And for those thinking they too will play the part of security guard and watch everyone else on the monitors, the privilege of this view has been removed; cameras often turn toward those sitting and watching, incorporating them into the live-feed. Any initial paranoia turns out to be unfounded, since none of the images are being recorded or stored; the cameras write in ephemeral ink, sending their visions directly to the monitors, and once displayed, they’re gone: no future playback is possible.33
For the brief time the images do appear on the screens, as many as four cameras’ views can be seen at the same time. These views are all different, they are all “true” and they all conflict with one another. (For example, from one perspective, this plinth is in front of that post, but from another perspective they are reversed.) It requires a lot of work (and more spatial acuity than I have) to assimilate my view to the monitors, to try and figure out how the references in the cameras’ images relate to the actual space. (I kept projecting myself into the space so that I could see from their perspective, which is to say I kept trying to have my view instrumentalized. The cameras have a great autonomy in this piece, and they dictated to me for some time.) But because all four images are often panning, tilting and zooming in different directions, and because the images in the monitors are constantly cutting to different cameras, and so different perspectives, my own experience was one of failure. I could not keep up. (I felt that anger we get when technology rises up, points its finger at us and implies we are the ones who are incompetent.) So I ceased co-operating.
Looking down at the monitors, experiencing my own view, finally—we separated slightly, the apparatus and I—it became obvious that although the cameras have autonomy, they are also just automatons. Not only do the panels of monitors show what the cameras see, they also demonstrate how the cameras are looking—they move and then they pause, they move and then they pause. There is both a sense of randomness and intentionality to their looking: on the one hand, they gaze very directly at one of the objects in the room, but then they move again and pause, appearing ridiculous now as they stare intently at a blank piece of wall.34 The cameras do not seem to distinguish between people and other objects in the room; in fact, it is almost as if we are all there just to give the cameras something to look at.35
These are not really surveillance cameras, but neither do they seem to be documenting. Surveillance cameras do not care about their subjects; selection of the image is determined by an arbitrary organizing principle—the camera’s cone of vision. (Of course, the placement of cameras for surveillance purposes is another organizing principle, and one that is not arbitrary at all.) Nevertheless, any image taken by a surveillance camera is only deemed important retroactively. The cameras in Radul’s installation are like surveillance cameras in that they do not seem to care about their subjects; however, selection has been predetermined and some shots seem sought-after (particular or important.) This kind of selection would suggest a live documentation was taking place, except Radul’s cameras do not care deeply about what they look at the way documenting cameras do, which often lock subjects tightly in their (amorous) gaze.36
Radul’s cameras are somewhere between these poles, adopting a new, completely different position.37 This position gives the subject of the gaze more agency, but it provides this agency without subjugating the camera to it, and so the camera retains its power as well. Like Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawings, in which a set of instructions are executed by others, a computer program determines a set of actions for Radul’s cameras to perform. However, their awkward framing of objects, their irrational movements and particularly the way they frequently stare at nothing all suggest these performances are open to chance and to failure. The programming does not seem to control the outcome; as a result, the cameras in the installation are almost autopoeitic, like Jean Tinguely’s Metamatics, kinetic sculptures that generate their own images. Untethered from their purposive drive (so no longer operating “properly”)—dis-oriented, less determined, un- (or in)secure—the cameras in the installation take on a kind of Godardian playfulness and the aesthetic of an anarchist.38
With the viewer and now the cameras decoupled from the apparatus—from an authority that forces everything to serve its ends—the effect on the image is a liberation of sorts. The gallery space through the cameras’ eyes transforms in the monitors before me. Walls contract and expand; the set of relations in the scene is in constant flux; a plasticity and possibility enters the architecture of the normally rigid built environment. These images and the cameras that see them remind me of Vertov’s passion for the “kino-eye,” that technological eye that would not copy how we see, but provide us instead with a new kind of vision for the future. In the cacophony of movements and perspectives—in their own spastic excess –these cameras have become a “counter-apparatus,” entering the terrain of the Ungovernable: that which is, for Agamben, “the beginning and, at the same time, the vanishing point of every politics.”39
4. The first and last thing I saw in World Rehearsal Court was a plinth. On it was a Plexiglas sheath that contained a newspaper from the late 1800s, unfolded to a page of drawings illustrating a famous court case of the time. The spread was titled “The Close of the Belt Trial —The Usher’s Dream, and Sketches in Court.” Radul describes it: “It shows caricatures of the audience, the lawyers, the defendant—an artist accused of slander—and the many busts that were brought into court as evidence, all dreamily envisioned from the point of view of the court usher, who has fallen asleep in court.”40
This document was not presented lying down but stationed erect, facing the viewer, with the page of caricatures extending out, perpendicular to the rest of the paper. Sandwiched in the plastic sheath designed to allow the broadsheet to stand up in this fashion, the pages rested on three thin, flat boards (one for either side of the newspaper and one for the opened page). The boards reached out from the centre, well past the edges of the Plexi, then turned ninety degrees toward the floor, becoming a giant three-legged plinth.
Four feet high with long, lacquered, industrial grey lines, this leggy number had moulded itself perfectly to fit its ward. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a plinth so purposefully purposed, as if the presentational device predicted exactly what it would hold. They were virtually a single unit—the newspaper, the clear hard support and the magnificent stand so specifically designed to prop them both—symbiotically merged into a newspaper with legs. This was no ordinary plinth.
An ordinary plinth is just a glorified table, but even an ordinary table participates in a glorified history. Philosophy is littered with ideas explained using “the table” as example. It occurs as a pragmatic choice, available as the token “thing” in the rooms of even the most minimalist monks (philosophy has also been very fond of “the chair”). However, used again and again in arguments about existence, appearance, logic, structure, sensation and perception, the table has become the textbook example of examples themselves, both progenitor and archetype.
And so it is no coincidence, argues Jacques Derrida, that Karl Marx in Capital should choose the example of the table to explain the mystical character of the commodity:
here then is the apparition of a strange creature: at the same time Life, Thing, Beast, Object, Commodity, Automaton—in a word, spectre … it emancipates itself on its own initiative: all alone, autonomous and automaton, its fantastic silhouette moves on its own, free and without attachment … It appears to put itself spontaneously into motion, but it also puts others into motion, yes, it puts everything around it into motion.41
Traditionally, the table is a support and a ground for a myriad of objects; Radul’s “table,” her plinth, has transcended itself as simply a means in art. And so it is with all the means in the heterogeneous network she establishes. The way these means both facilitate and instrumentalize experience is highlighted throughout the work in an extended enquiry into the apparatus and its functions in our lives. In World Rehearsal Court, Judy Radul demonstrates (again and again) that the mystical character of the commodity is a role all apparatuses share.