The many visual worlds of Jud Yalkut
By Shayna McConville
Photo credit: Tyler Lukacs
“I wanted to be a cartoonist or a scientist,” Jud Yalkut prophesized in his youth. Now, over half a century later, Yalkut is living his dream. It does not, however, involve a science laboratory or the animation studios of Disney. Yalkut funneled his early passion for technology and imagery into his career as a film and video artist, with a long-running resume of works and exhibitions at prestigious institutions including the Whitney Museum of Art, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Pompidou Center in Paris and at the University of Dayton, where his latest exhibition Visions and Sur-Realities opens Thursday, Jan. 31. Curated by Jeanne Phillipp, a professor of art history at the university, the exhibition highlights work created over the past several decades, including video art, collaborative projects, artistic inventions, audience participatory pieces and intricate cut-paper collages.
Visions and Sur-Realities is the first time many of Yalkut’s diverse works will be on view in one exhibition. “Here in our own community we have an internationally renowned filmmaker/videographer who has been actively engaged in the history of film and video since the ‘50s,” said Phillipp. “As an experimental filmmaker, Jud pioneered the interface between film and video … and has sought, through explorations in art and new technologies, to humanize the interface between human and machine interactions in installation and performances that include audience participation.”
Yalkut’s early passion for cartoons and science reflected the diverse interests of his parents. Born in the Bronx in 1938 to Benjamin and Mollie Yalkut, the Yalkuts were driven by both the creative and the analytical. His father was a pianist and dentist, and his mother was a painter and teacher. Yalkut continued his parents’ cross-discipline legacy by pursuing studies in poetry, English, math and physics at City College and McGill University. In 1956, he dropped out of school and moved to California to experience a spiritual enlightenment alongside his peers of the Beat Generation.
Yalkut reconnected with his artistic side when he returned to New York in 1959 at the age of 21. A film buff (he was already a regular to the Museum of Modern Art film screenings by the age of 12), his interest in exploring concepts, aesthetics and filmmaking took precedent. Yalkut first experimented with film when he received an 8mm camera from his father at his Bar Mitzvah. Now back in New York, he was reintroduced to 8mm when his wife, Peg, presented him with a new camera, and soon Yalkut acquired a 16mm Swiss Bolex, which allowed new options for film manipulation. He began to experiment with sound, timing and editing. “You couldn’t study this stuff anywhere,” he said. It involved self-discipline and, in Yalkut’s case, learning alongside other like-minded individuals.
Yalkut’s experimental film works from the 1960s were often inspired by collaborations with his peers. He was a member of the artist and engineering collective USCO – The Community of Us – and he began working with artists Nam June Paik, Trisha Brown, Yayoi Kusama, John Cage and many more. Through these fruitful relationships, Yalkut created many works, including the 16mm film piece “Beatles Electonique,” one of several collaborations with Nam June Paik, which will be included in a special screening as a part of the University of Dayton exhibition. The film is a collage of sound and image, representation and abstraction, derived from the live broadcast of the band’s performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Contrasting helixes flagellate against a black background, interrupted by the fleeting glimpse of a famous face singing into a microphone. The manipulated soundtrack of the musical performance, created by Kenneth Werner, reflects the visualizations of electronic impulses, signals and feeds. Media arts theorist Gene Youngblood wrote, “The result is an eerie portrait of the Beatles not as pop stars but rather as entities that exist solely in the world of electronic media.”
Film was the medium of Yalkut’s early career, as he said it “brought together visual and technical things,” and the ability to “manipulate images in visual and poetic ways.” With the introduction of television and, shortly therafter, video, Yalkut’s artistic goals opened to the exploration of these technologies and the possibilities of distortion and manipulation through their inherent traits. At the time, film was the accessible medium to document these experimentations. However, video soon evolved as a more spontaneous vehicle for the creative process. “Video presents the artist with the immediacy of image as seen while being produced … the responsiveness of the medium … can approximate a performance situation that can be recorded and preserved during actualization,” Yalkut wrote in 2002 for his exhibition Videoscapes at Miami University Art Museum.
From an interview with multimedia artist Judson Rosebush in 1975, Yalkut said, “I was very much into the McLuhanistic idea that you can isolate the effect of the media from the content of the media,” referring to Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s theories. “You get inside a television set and you film what’s going on and you transmute it through editing, superimposition and any other technique in a filmic experience. Then you take the film and put it back into video and do things that can’t be done in film. And you work back and forth through a series of generations that way. You make use of the imperfections of the medium and you become more aware of what the limits of the medium are. I use the limit of the medium to define.”
Yalkut shared his discoveries with his community of film and video artists, who met regularly to talk about their work, their experiments and newly discovered techniques. Through his practice, Yalkut soon found himself formally educating others, teaching classes in video technology at the School of Visual Arts, York College in Queens, and New York University’s Continuing Education program.
After teaching in New York for several years, Yalkut relocated to Dayton, Ohio in 1973 to establish the film and video program at Wright State University, a forward-thinking discipline not yet established in most higher education curriculums. He taught at Wright State for several years, bringing in notable film/video artists from New York to expose his students to the cutting edge of technology and content.
While at Wright State, Yalkut began to work on the Praxiloscope, an object based on an early version of moving images, which Yalkut has called movie machines, a homage to Marcel Duchamp’s kinetic works of the 1920s. “I used images I shot of abstract oscilloscopic patterns called Lissajous which are formed by juxtapositions of different electronic waveforms upon each other as the image source for my stills, hence the manufactured name ‘Praxiloscope,’” Yalkut said. The 120-degree hologram of the original device changes color, textures and images as you move around it. It was at the University of Dayton in 1981 that Yalkut displayed these works for the first time, when he collaborated with the applied physics department. These works are on display again now, 22 years later.
The experimentation with machines, objects and videos exists through the trajectory of Yalkut’s work. Phillipp said, “Jud’s work over the years in media has always been in respect to the changes in visual media technology and the transitions from one form to another. Each new available technology has challenged and inspired new visual and visionary possibilities.”
The video work “Video Tanguy” (1991) was created with the technology of the time — an early animation program — and incorporated early video game-like graphics and sounds. Abstracted anthropomorphic shapes pulled from the work of surrealist painter Yves Tanguy float and shimmy about the composition, grounded against a rhythmic landscape shifting in a palette of psychedelic, saturated color. The humor of this reinterpretation of two-dimensional work by this canonic artist, reimagined in the digital hand of Yalkut, creates a new world of depth through the moving image and a sincere homage to Tanguy and the Surrealist movement.
“Video Tanguy” will also be included in special screening of Yalkut’s work, accompanying a series of programs organized by Phillipp, which will also include a panel discussion, additional film/video screenings and lectures. “An important aspect of Yalkut’s experimental film/video exhibition program is the way the work stresses interdisciplinary and intercultural interaction in the art forms of music, dance, performance, Fluxus events and the visual arts,” she said. “The exhibitions provide historical perspectives on the history of light technologies and the moving image. Jud’s influences from Dada to Surrealism, Beat poets to psychedelic and altered realities, popular culture and mass media entertainment, diverse aspects of Buddhist practice and eco art all express social context through evolving technologies. One can find relationship between the editing of film and video montage to the collage medium. Each venue provides a unique opportunity to experience historic moments in relation to our present time.”
Alongside his work in film and video, Yalkut is also a prolific collage artist, inspired by the collage novels of early-twentieth century artist Max Ernst. Yalkut’s collages have been published as book covers, in literary journals and in poetry volumes. He describes these works as a “proto-reality,” where Victorian-era illustrations of architecture, animals, science specimens and people meld into a richly detailed other-ly world. “The collages all adhere to my principle of blending images together into a seamless whole that creates a new sense of (sur)reality, as per the title of the exhibition,” said Yalkut. In the composition “The City Quakes,” a part of the series The Voyager’s Dreambook, an owl monkey stands on broken ground and looks startled out at the viewer, as the European cityscape behind him crumbles. Panicked miniature Victorian people run through the streets and abstracted bundt-like shapes, perhaps originally a plant specimen illustration, push out of a neoclassical building. The entirety of the scene looks like a Victorian science-fiction narrative, a thread in Yalkut’s works that permit a glimpse into a strange moment in time and place.
In a career that has been marked by countless successes in technology, experimentation and the willingness to explore uncharted territories, Yalkut has succeeded in teasing out the spiritual, the resonant and the intangible of his surroundings. The core elements of science and cartoons were never abandoned; Yalkut was able to form these around his own reality.
Of the exhibition, Yalkut said, “Perhaps the greatest hope is for audiences to see that new perceptions of life and reality can be formed and applied to reality through the juxtaposition of abstract means modifying real images and forms. I see the visual and moving arts as adjunct to perceiving the world in new and exciting ways, to see new relationship and meaning engendered by the collision of images, colors and forms and to perceive that art is also a spiritual entry to inner life emerging into daily practice.”
Visions and Sur-Realities is on view from Jan. 31 through March 7 at ArtStreet, the Roesch Library and Gallery 249, at the University of Dayton, 300 College Park Dr. For more information and a complete listing of programs, visit www.udayton.edu.
Shayna V. McConville is the Cultural Arts Manager for the City of Kettering. Visit her at Rosewood Arts Centre at 2655 Olson Dr. or visit the website at rosewood.ketteringoh.org. She can be reached at ShaynaMcConville@DaytonCityPaper.com.