The above excerpt features Judy Radul describing her performance Melt, followed by a reading of the accompanying performance text, as part of her lecture at Capilano College in 1992. The full event recording is held in The Capilano Review fonds at SFU Special Collections. Special thanks to Tony Power and Ian Song for their assistance with the archival video, and to Judy Radul for her permission to publish and excerpt from this work.
Judy Radul: Okay. I guess I’ll get out my last—I have three little images that are from a film I did that Penelope Boyton House from Berlin did of one of my poems that’s in this book that I didn’t read. And in it I developed a grotesque character—or, not really a character, she’s, she was more of an image—I didn’t do that much with her. And I used this image again in my show, my exhibition at the Western Front, and in my performance . . . So I’ll show you this image and then I’ll just go on to read my latest work.
[Shows first slide, audience laughs]
There’s three images like this, and this is, this is kind of a still from the film. And so we’ll see the next one [Gestures to change slide]. It’s kind of a very extreme protest character like that.
And in my installation in the gallery, I used this image on a big card that that was mechanically flipping over. And one side was a photograph, and the other side was a photograph on high contrast film backed by reflective Mylar, so that when the light hit it, it refracted around the room in a kind of reflected projected image. And there were also stills on a video monitor of an older woman doing sort of little clips of things that might be construed as very marginally grotesque, like eating, or just being out of place because of her age. And then in my performance, which was called Melt—I’m gonna read a couple of pages from that—I didn’t play this image ‘cause I kind of felt like . . . I don’t know, I might’ve done enough with it. And so I had a man, Andrew Wilson, who I work with, play me, in this image, so to speak, and behind him there were film loops of me doing the grotesque and he was dressed like this, doing me, and I did—I was on a walker, you know, this exercise-type walker—and I had a, this was a performance, so I had a big block of ice in front of my face that I was talking into. It had slides projected on it, and the audience didn’t see my face. And I was talking about melting. Melting the ice: that was part of the duration, part of the performance, which in the end I didn’t do that, I used a blow torch and melted through to it. But that was the sort of idea of it was playing off a lot of performance ideas about duration and using something to create a duration. And in this performance I did a male drag, in the end, I came out as a man, and actually, I’m a very convincing man. And so that’s sort of where I’m at now. Obviously, I’m not right at this moment, so . . .
I’ll just read a couple of things from that performance. And this, this is a real performance text. Some things in it kind of refer to the performance, so . . .
[the sound of her unfolding a sheet on podium to read from]
. . . and you can kind of imagine that somebody came out and introduced “me,” which was really Andrew dressed as me, and this whole film loops, and he started, and then people realized that that wasn’t me, and then, kind of, I was unveiled . . . that was . . . I’ll read a couple pages from this text.
Ladies and gentlemen, Judy-Ra-dul. A great Canadian. A funny girl. A terrible disappointment. But she has that quality, which Roselee Goldberg calls, when speaking of Laurie Anderson, “natural presence.”
Hey, how you doing? Dear diary, this is Master.
Are you serious? Great time to all drop out.
The best one yet.
She looks good. Real good. Called me an ice queen. Walk for AIDS, run for cancer. Guilty ambiguity or the world.
In this exhibition, Radul is carrying on her investigation of self-humiliation . . .
Self-humiliation? I thought it was em-pow-er-ment!
Dear diary, dear diary, it’s happening again and I don’t know how to stop it. Ladies and gentlemen, I turned myself in to the police, but they let me go because blood is a bankrupt symbol. They accused me of smearing the blood on my own anus. I am a performance artist. Please give me money so I can buy blood and semen. I like to clean. Actually, I like to file the tears I cried. We’ll trade for blood and semen. This is a comedy routine, intensely personal . . .
(and with every “intensely personal” Andrew’s part as me would come up and he would sort of do this dance, we won’t go into that)
. . . I’m good for tourism. Remember, I hurt inside.
To hear someone use the language with such smooth fluidity and incredible honesty made me, frankly, quite horny.
Durational tool, singing into a block of ice until it melts a big hole.
Aesthetically, my breath, thin ice from the forties, torch songs, so to speak. I keep going until I’ve worn a hole in the ice.
The audience chooses the song titles from a big board. Andrew yells them out. I stay on one song until a new one is chosen. Marathon Nightingale. She looks good. Real good. Emptying favourites. I’m in an echo chamber. You have to enter one at a time to see me. Fluorescence won’t rival my prominent jaw. Why do violent birds . . .
Hi, er, father, I’m explaining these bearded lady images, letting the World News at 10 into my idiosyncratic trust suggested as an improvement to my writing, intensely personal . . .
(So I’ll read another page. I kept referring to things that might happen in the performance, some of which happened and some of which never happened. Kind of played on that)
. . . The rhythm of thinking. Suckerrr . . . This one’s for the women and children. I’m nervous just before the performance. I’m nervous. Durational. That’s an understatement. This thing never ends. A conceptual performance inside a multimedia performance. Whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop. Flashing video slides, two performers running around the room, music crescendos repeatedly. Then in one instance, the performers pass in front of the live video camera and run into each other. This moment is then looped and played back to the audience over and over again, as gradually, all the other media elements decrease in rhythm and intensity, and finally are shut off. The performers have exited, and all that’s left is the recurring image of the two performers crashing into each other. I light myself on fire and then Eric counts out my artist’s fees in $10 bills while I burn. Richly impoverished. The ice is recording a vocal field and a human eyeball is frozen in the centre and will be released when it melts. Free giveaway.
Humiliation? I thought it was good business.
You look different.
I’m such a little thing, but my continued existence reassures everyone.
I’m gonna get the upper hand by doing everything they want me to do. I’ll show my ass. I’m gonna get the upper hand by doing everything they want me to do. I’ll show my ass. I’ll give it to them. I’ll do it with anyone who asks. I’ll be their patsy for all their stupid schemes. I’ll go low. I’ll get their confidence. They’ll use me for meat and decoration. I’ll make the coffee. That’s how I’ll get close to them and I’ll go into the left-hand jacket pocket and look for the dry cleaning tag, okay, then I’ll know where they do their dry cleaning, and that’s a clue, that’s a start, I’ll go there and I’ll ask a few questions, I’ll just say, I’m Mr. Smith’s secretary, and they won’t think it’s strange at all. And then I’ll go and I’ll try and get people to believe me. I’ll go to the papers, but they won’t believe me because I’ve gone so low.
Law firm? What law firm would hire you, Miss Mature? More like Miss Manure.
Everyone’s nightingale. Bit the head off my diversion.
Intensely personal . . .