Looky Looky

in collaboration with Thomas Mader
HD video, color, 6 minutes 44 seconds
September 2018

To Point a Naked Finger
Organized by Chief Curator Cathleen Chaffee
Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Buffalo, NY USA
26 January - 19 May 2019

Video description:

In American Sign Language (ASL) there is a small group of signs that function without the use of hands, yet are considered fully valid signs. These so-called non-manual signs consist of facial expressions, head and shoulder movements and mouthing. The non-manual sign "Looky Looky" is used to alert a person to a specific situation happening in close vicinity. Often it is used to talk about a third person without them noticing that they are being talked about.

In their work by the same name, ASL native speaker Kim and ASL learner Mader deal with a variety of looky-looky situations, relying on purely non-manual signs. The challenge for Mader is to initiate different situations with the same sign. This requires not only situational understanding but also precise control of facial expression, which, to that degree, is not necessarily required for spoken languages.

While Mader struggles to introduce the situation correctly, Kim answers in a natural and eloquent way. Using a deliberately limited set of non-manual signs, she clarifies the context of conversation, illustrates once again the vast situational applicability of these specific signs, and highlights the difference in skill sets between native speakers and learners.

The subtitles that complete the work consist of two parts. On the one hand the non-manual signs used as loanwords (loosely known as “deaf English”), and on the other hand short sentences. The captions illustrate their often severely limited format, which makes it difficult to grasp depicted scenes in purely textual terms.

Photo courtesy the artists (screenshots)
Image courtesy of Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Photography by Tom Loonan and Brenda Biegert