New York

Beryl Korot, Text and Commentary (detail), 1976–77, five-channel black-and-white video (30 minutes), weavings, drawings. Installation View.

Beryl Korot, Text and Commentary (detail), 1976–77, five-channel black-and-white video (30 minutes), weavings, drawings. Installation View.

Beryl Korot

Beryl Korot, Text and Commentary (detail), 1976–77, five-channel black-and-white video (30 minutes), weavings, drawings. Installation View.

Nearly forty years ago, Beryl Korot began a long-term, ongoing affair with three seemingly unrelated media: textile, print, and video. At the time, she was an editor of the seminal Radical Software, a magazine that she cofounded, and was involved with producing some of the first multichannel video installations, such as Dachau, 1974.

In her 1978 essay “Video and the Loom,” Korot notes the homology among television’s interlaced signal, the loom’s systematic encoding of pattern or image into cloth, and the way in which language is printed: All happen line by line. Likening woven elements to linguistic components—individual letters and words—has formed the basis for her art. Poetry, too, has played a prominent role. (Perhaps Guattari was right when he argued that “poetry should be prescribed like vitamins”: “Careful now,” he wrote, “you’d feel better if you took some poetry.”) For 2008’s Florence, one of three works in Korot’s recent show at bitforms gallery, she isolates words from various writings by Florence Nightingale, allowing them to approximate a concrete poem insofar as they take on an object-ness unrelated to their role in generating meaning or sense.

The main event at bitforms was the video installation Text and Commentary, 1976–77. Originally exhibited at Leo Castelli in 1977, the work was inspired by the legacy of the Jacquard loom and its impact on Charles Babbage’s punch card, which in turn led to the invention of the computer. Five monitors embedded in a freestanding wall display passing scenes of Korot weaving textiles on a loom, ranging from isolated close-ups of hands tying strings on a bar and feet pressing pedals to overhead views that reveal warp and weft. Throughout the thirty-three-minute loop, the screens turn on and off; the mesmerizing tempo (and pounding of the wooden beater on the thread) mimics the loom’s repetitive motion. The installation also includes materials that deconstruct, reiterate, and reify the videos’ production: a score of pictographic and temporal notations breaking down the work shot by shot (more or less instructions for re-creating the piece), five pencil drawings of the weavings with dimensions that approximate the 3:4 ratio of the monitors, and the five black, white, and gray woven textiles suspended from the ceiling.

An amalgamation of various genres—post-Minimalism, Process art, Pattern and Decoration—Text and Commentary has not yet been considered a key Conceptual work, though it should be, given its capacious reflection on the limits and capabilities of language and seriality. Of course, text and textiles have long been entwined. As Korot recently wrote, “Text (textus) and weave (texto) share the same Latin root. Text is a tissue or fabric woven of many threads. It is a web, texture, structure, a thought, something that can be built, raveled, and unraveled.” Throughout the piece, the camera’s address to the loom in various shots—from documenting the process of weaving to the transition of pattern—builds a frame for a poem of sorts, transitioning from verbal to nonverbal communication (or from sense to abstraction) as it unfolds across the channels.

A final video on view, Yellow Water Taxi, 2003, depicts five ferries slowly moving back and forth against a marine-blue grid. Built with scans of linen textiles, Photoshop manipulation, and footage rendered with After Effects, the humble video resonates with Text and Commentary and Florence through its emphasis of patterns and process. Korot made the work in the wake of 9/11, after observing taxis ferrying passengers on the Hudson River between New Jersey and New York. With no text, or any kind of language, it also has rhythm—and it too could resemble a poem.

Lauren O’Neill-Butler