Becky Singleton

Art Metropole

Becky Singleton’s book-work entitled Four Dials, 1990, assembles in a single multi-sleeved case four of her “What Can I Say” dials made between 1984 and 1989. The dials look like palm-size picture-sizing wheels, each made of two cardboard circles riveted together at the center. The smaller top circle is cut through with a window and is meant to be revolved over the larger bottom wheel. The outer rim poses various rhetorical questions and the window on the inner rim selects the appropriate answer.

In Dial #2, the following questions appear: “What can I say on reaching out to grasp the Truth?” “What can I say on literally grasp-ing the Truth?” “What can I say on grasping the Truth singlehandedly?” and “What can I say on grasping the Truth with both hands?” Instructions read: “Turn the dial and see what you can say.” The answer choices are: “I’m about to grasp the Truth,” “I’ve got a hold on the Truth,” “I’ve got a hand on the Truth,” and “I’ve got a firm grip on the Truth.”

The other dials reveal a similarly dry wit. Dial #1 asks: “What can I say on flogging a dead horse?” The answer: “I’m flogging a dead horse.” Or, “What can I say on being led up the garden path?” The answer: “I’m being led up the garden path.” Every turn of the wheel brings a flat response echoing the words of a vague but leading question into the window. Each time, the experience draws the viewer into an attenuated, diminished connection between thought and action, speech and reality.

These small, handheld sculptures suggest an instrumental function, as if they were all calibrated aides to social discourse. Singleton lets the small dial stand for a sense of language as a slightly absurd, diminished, working tool. Dial #2 might suggest that some sort of “truth” is about to be caught hold of, but the only things in hand are two pieces of white typeset cardboard. There is artifice here and an insular detachment; the Dials narrow the world to their own double circumference. They paint a picture of speech as something diligently calculated. This pathetic inadequacy tokens a hugely scaled alienation, a systematic dysfunction of subjective contact. Much about speech, language and the world (let alone grasping the Truth) lies outside the absurd, concentric focus of these devices.

The Dials underscore preoccupations with the machine of language. Instruments of measurement are parodied here as crude, nervous tools soothing a sense of insecurity. Singleton’s sizing wheels seem to joke with such pretentions, with our smug linguistic competence, revealing a restlessness at the edges.

Richard Rhodes