Gary Hill

November 1997

The author:

Gary Hill, born in 1951 in Santa Monica, California, started his work in videographic media in 1973 in the city of New York. Since then he has produced a great number of installations and single channel pieces, some of which are considered to be among the most significant works in videographic creation. His first tapes explored the formal characteristics inherent to the medium itself, at that time in its infancy, especially the integrated use of audio and video. His first works on the interaction of sound, image and language date from the end of the 70’s and the early 80’s. These include pieces like Surroundings (1970), Around & About (1980) and especially Primarily Speaking (1981-83), a single channel version of the installation of the same name in which Hill proposes a complex binocular construction from which a series of thematic variations dealt with in Around & About branch out: the social and political implications of media. From 1984 to 85 he resided in Japan and made URA ARU (the backside exists), a tape in which evocative acoustic palindromes are composed through the inversion of Japanese words. In 1988 he finished Incidence of Catastrophe, unique among his works for its narrative character. In 1990 he produced the series And Sat Down Beside Her for the Galerie des Archives and, in the same year, Beacon (Two Versions of the Imaginary), in Amsterdam. Since then Hill has continued to dedicate himself almost exclusively to video installation, including his work in numerous exhibits like Metropolis, Doubletake, Documenta 9 and all of the bienales of the Whitney Museum of American Art since 1981.

Site/Recite (a prologue). 4', 1989. USA.

Site/Recite is a piece conceived as a prologue to Which Tree, an interactive installation which introduces its spectators into a netwrok of interconnected points, giving them the opportunity to lose themselves in a forest of images and words, discovering the “texts” of their own mental patterns. With extraordinary precision, Site/Recite shows us series of detailed, macroscopic images such as bones, butterfy wings, eggshells, the skulls of small animuls, etc. This taxonomy of dispossesion is superimposed over the narration, situated just at the limit between self-conscious semantics and visual experience.

Incidence of Catastrophe. 44', 1987-1988. USA.

This piece is based on a videographic reading of Thomas the Obscure, the novel by Maurice Blanchot, which Hill uses as a starting point in order to reflect on the relationship between language and the subject, the precariousness of this subject face to face with the possibility of being absorbed by its own linguistic formulation, and the disappearance of the individual beneath the abrasive power of language, perceived as an unstoppable force which swallows words and erodes limits. The different levels of self-perception and of one´s relationship with the exterior occur during all of the piece, and the fiction reflected in the mirror of language alternates with the spontaneity of the elements. These appear in the video represented by images of an intense current of water which washes away and dilutes the words, just as in the spectacular image from the literary work in which Thomas submerges himself convulsively. Thomas, played by Hill himself, is an obsessive reader, tormented by his condition, which leads him to an end which is nothing less than the collapse of order, a progressive descent which carries him toward the labyrinth of language. From here on, the end constitutes a drowning in the interior of his own consciousness, the passing of an intellectual object, represented by the man, collapsed over his own excrement in a fetal position, making meaningless noises, with a pure and indifferent expression, framed by the pages which will inevitably carry him off in utter drift.

  • Gary Hill