A Conversation w/ Judy Jheung

A Conversation w/ Judy Jheung

The following email conversation took place in November of 2014, upon the acquisition of Rooftop_WE (2014) by Judy Jheung for active Video Out distribution.  This work will be shown as part of a Recent Acquisitions Screening at the centre in February of 2015.



Still from Rooftop_WE (2014).


Jeremy Todd, Outreach & Distribution, VIVO/Video Out:  You’ve written that the new stuff coming into distribution has “evolved from global exploration to glocal observation.”  Before I had this bit of context from you, I was thinking of nineteenth century Parisian flaneurs and contemporary urban surveillance.  Are these things related somehow to this evolution?

Judy Jheung:  Thanks for this insightful observation linking my work to Charles Baudelaire’s expression of modernity. The collections of images (footage and stills) at my disposal depict a leisurely bourgeois environment. Contemporary modernity, in terms of globalization and democratic movement through technological advancement, is somewhat parallel to eighteenth and nineteenth century industrialization (which saw the rise of the middle class, social change and economic developments — all closely linked to technological innovation).

From the outset of this proposition, through the everyday — fleeting, ephemeral experience — I have intended to portray aspects of sameness, and notions of non-place conditions in global settings. Rapid change in terms of modernity in the twenty first century is, I believe, largely due to technological change (internet use and social media coupled with aggressive corporate global development). The transformation is a collective effort.

My primary focus is to reflect on how individuals interact experientially with one another and within this new phenomena/space; more specifically, to demonstrate new possibilities against space in the age of urban modernity. With this in mind, I take into account the relationship between place and space.

For French anthropologist Marc Augé, a place signifies certain sensitivities to roots, culture and identity: to express its collective, non-personal nature. Whereas for Jesuit scholar, Michel de Certeau, space is a “frequented place”, “an intersection of moving bodies”: it is the pedestrians who transform a street (geometrically defined as a place by town planners) into a space. Space is non-specific to where individuals and groups interact and travel.

These two theoretical definitions induce a somewhat contradictory characterization, but with close inquiry, they are complementary to one another. The relationship between the two concepts is an essential element in exploring notions of sameness and difference, which help to distinguish between place and space. When places no longer signify intrinsic socio-cultural identities (due to the effects of globalization) they morph/transform into spaces where individuals collectively carry out homogenized experiences.

In Rooftop_WE, the opening of moving images depicts common scenes; a cross street intersection and an abundance of boats in water. Both signify an event that can take place anywhere in the world, or a non-place so to speak, or a space without specific cultural characteristics. As the footage keeps rolling, the rooftop emerges showing interaction between individuals as well as their interactions with the camera. As the camera pans to a nearby building, a rooftop tree (considered an urban landmark in Vancouver) is visible. This particular moment subtlety shifts the subject of the work from space to place. At the same time, brief close-up encounters in the work reveal a dynamic between being watched and watching, between the subject and the camera.

To document and capture ephemeral, everyday and ordinary moments requires the objective perspectives of a camera. I am aware of the dialogues surrounding the pervasiveness and voyeuristic nature of surveillance. Surveillance perspectives here serve as documentary, allowing subjects to perform everyday activities as narrative unfolds without interruption. Individuals are captured behaving candidly and spontaneously in public spaces.

Whether images are still or moving, they reflect authentic moments intersecting between the private and public. They can review both the distinct and non-distinct aspects of socio-cultural phenomena. These vague connections and interactions hint at narrative possibilities that are open to the interpretation and imagination of the viewer.

VO:  The multiple frames and serial-like variations from one work to the next seem very apt in relation to these ideas (particular the tensions that are explored between the generic, specific, homogeneous and singular within contemporary modern life).  Do these structural choices also come out of an interest in simultaneity — perhaps an exploration or experimentation with the possibilities of representing the present moment (or a present moment event) as a kind of fictive totality?

JJ: Contrary to the notion of a fictive totality, the work I present is a set(s) of qualitative information regarding human interactivities that occur within this new phenomena called “non-place”. On one hand, there is an attempt to maintain a factual sense of how events/activities unfold in space and time, while on the other this data is put into context by devising the presentation format. The structure generates an experiential effect through moving imagery, with or without sound.

For example, Rooftop_WE consists of three channels with each panel representing a seemingly unrelated scene to do with a single event. They are juxtaposed side-by-side for contrast. I employ an editing strategy that I think resonates with Eisenstein’s use of dialectical montage — the contrast of unrelated shots is meant to provoke associations in the viewer. Set at mixed perspectives (above ground, eye level and overhead viewpoints), the three panels are connected by a subtext, questioning the nature of surveillance. In the far left panel, viewers witness an inquisitive individual who questions what the camera sees (or what kind of images the camera operator is capturing). In the far right panel, the footage of the moving crowd is manipulated in speed, varying between fast, slow and normal. The device here mimics the act of rewinding and scrutinizing surveillance footage by slowing down and speeding up. The question is:  What do we see from this footage and how is the crowd moving through and interacting between space, objects and amongst themselves?  The middle panel features a dash of moving light in the darkening sky, high above. Though abstract, we hear the ominous sound of a helicopter scanning the actions of the crowd. The abstraction here alludes to the uneasy and mysterious presence of the helicopter. This footage sequence suggests repeated questions: How are we being watched? What do we witness?

The surveillance aspect of Rooftop_WE is not directly about surveillance studies and social effects. It’s meant to denote my dialectical position on issues of surveillance, voyeurism and documentary. There is a fine line between government surveillance and citizen surveillance (surveillance perspective). The important difference lies in how the data is used. To an extent, the premise of surveillance in Rooftop_WE may serve to justify my approach to documentary exploration — the attempt to reveal the truth(s) of everyday scenes in our modern world. What is true and what is not depends on the eye of the beholder. As we learned long ago from Kurosawa’s Rashomon, individuals can have diverse perceptions and interpretations of a single event.

In my case, I instigate a platform by collecting qualitative information and presenting it via multiple screens and serial images. By exploring the sequence of time frames within film/video editing, varied audience interpretations might generate new sets of qualitative data. This approach coincides with our current state; the pluralistic, democratic movement of our technologically saturated era. Moreover, the introduction of google glasses and mini-drones will likely strike up whole new dialogues concerning their place in these worlds of interactivity, space and place.

To sum up, Rooftop_WE reveals the gigantic scale of genericism within globalization. It is bigger than public space and social space. The fast moving crowd and helicopter sound could be footage of riots from anywhere. Social surveillance (social media, google glasses, mini-drones) does not carry the same sense of intention normally used with the word “surveillance”. That is, what we see through global media is accidental, and beyond our ability to intentionally direct. We do not look where we choose to look, or follow what we want to follow. We could be called unwilling voyeurs, because we see without being seen, whether we want to or not. Media images come from, and create, space. When, with the change of a camera angle, we collapse from place to space, perhaps greater movement is made possible from the generic back to the specific.

VO: Speaking of recent technologies in the marketplace, is it important to you what kinds of devices or machines you are using to make these works?  They seem to have a kind of “pro-sumer” look to me that is somewhat casual — perhaps willfully amateurish?  How are you considering technique or approach with the technologies you deploy?

JJ: For over a decade, I worked as a professional photographer, and on occasion as a videographer, for museum and gallery catalogues and national magazines. In order to achieve high quality publications, some of the productions required week long preparations. For my art practice, I purposely employ instant, super 8 or low-res video cameras. The motive, partly, could be the freedom I get from intensive production experiences.

Significantly, instant cameras and low-res recordings possess a unique aesthetic quality. They’re portable, spontaneous and raw. These qualities are appropriate in capturing the immediacy of the everyday.

In 2007, while participating in an artist-in-residency programme in Singapore, I stumbled across a building with abundant technological gadgets (from high-end professional equipment to low-end consumer product) and found a first generation HDD camera (for both still and video). It’s a model that reduces shaky, handheld camera movement and grainy pixelation. This pro-sumer model offered me new light into image making. Notions of the everyday remained prominent, but my attention shifted from experimental visual qualities to a more refined focus on the identity of the images, their intimacy and immediacy. I’ve still retained the portable nature of the medium, and maintain elements of the mobile aesthetics that are so entwined in my intentions with a work like Moving Passenger.

My art is often semi-autobiographical. Each project I set out to create is initiated through tangible experience and observation. Strategies I adopt to articulate these expressions vary. The medium(s) I employ could be drawing, prose, visual imagery, participatory installation, interactive media or curatorial projects. All of these possibilities might provide concise manifestations of socio-cultural concepts within the larger context of urban movement through artistic lenses. We are bombarded with technological evolution everyday. It is a subject within our daily consciousness, discourse and visual expositions.

Certainly, some popular technological innovations are designed for content consumption, and are driven by markets, though I personally do not seek out these things for consumption purposes. I use technology as a vehicle for art and content production. With the next generation of consumer products, i.e. google glasses, wireless mobile drones and mini body cameras, we anticipate the next phase of our technological embodiment: gadgets that are not limited to vision and sound, encompassing touch and bodily movement (GPS, mobile phone). There is a new paradigm in the making…

VO:  How did you first discover VIVO and what has your experience of the centre been like?

JJ: I first learned about VIVO, (AKA, Video In and Out) in the early 90’s when Kelly Marlow was the programming Director at EM/Media in Calgary and I was a recent MFA graduate returning from New York. Kelly was affiliated with VIVO prior to her appointment in Calgary. Around this time, Karen Knights, another member of VIVO, was the writer in residency at EM/Media where she conducted a series of interviews with Calgary independent producers. These interviews were vital in terms of revealing the uniqueness of each producer’s approach to video production. Karen’s writing became the essential text of EM/Media’s 25-anniversary publication (published in 2011).

In the late nineties in Toronto, I met someone from the VIVO distribution team. He encouraged me to sign up with VIVO for distribution. At this point, I already had a distribution agreement with Video Pool (1993 -1997) and Vtape (1997-2002). However, I had a video work, entitled On Hypochondriac, reflecting on the psychological anguish of dealing with medical procedures and their lingering impacts on individual health. I felt VIVO could be a suitable partner due to my understanding that the organization was engaged in more conceptual work.

Fast forward to 2011: After I produced a series of videos, under the broad title Moving Passenger, I came into contact with Sharon Bradley. She selected a few of my videos for distribution. However, one of the selected works, Composing You, required revision using a pro editing suite. Distribution for my work was put on hold until recently, when I learned of your appointment (I’ve aspired to work with you for quite some time Jeremy). My experience with VIVO has been positive and I greatly appreciate and respect how you guide distribution as a platform for artists — and also how VIVO helps form vital communities for independent producers – communities in which artists can express and negotiate difficult subject matter while evolving mediums, practices and discourse.

VO:  Can you talk about some projects in development?

JJ: I am currently in production with a location media project, entitled, Composing You_#2 (tentative title). It is an expanded version of site sound touch: Composing you (2011). As location tracking has been one of the predominant features in recent mobile phone models (Android and iPhone), the earlier project consisted of an Art App inviting participants/park goers to create unique graphic and sound compositions/animation activated by the navigation movement and speeds within seven scenic locations. The new version, Composing You_#2, takes place in Vancouver’s historical site. Graphic animations of participant movements will be viewed and broadcast with an off-site projection (with the consent of participants). The projection is a panoramic screen encompassing seven locations. Seven different graphic animations can appear simultaneously at once, generating a collaborative manifestation.

The new work is meant to celebrate collaborative and collective spirit while emphasizing the creative aspects of chance and choice. It embraces a new technological paradigm, not only of sight and sound but also the embodiment of touch and movement. It raises the reoccurring context of surveillance, watching and being watched, while providing authorship to those “being watched” (similar to social media and blogging dynamics where participants choose to be seen and to watch). Although graphics and sound in Composing You_#2 are made up of small clips of embedded data, how the animations are composed and unfold is determined by the decisions of participants while navigating their paths and speeds. The off-site audience reviews a set of qualitative information contextualized as creative property.

VO: Thank you Judy for this generous and insightful discussion of your work and ideas. It’s been a pleasure. We look forward to your next submission to Video Out.


Video Out offers video artists professional representation for rentals and sales of their moving image work. Video Out’s distribution collection features over 5000 videos, both historical and contemporary, by video artists from Canada and abroad. Video Out returns 67% of revenues generated from sales, rentals and broadcast licenses to the video producers we represent. Video Out was founded as a non-profit, artist-run distribution centre in 1980.