Gary Hill's videoart exhibition and workshop
This year, the MediaForum is planning to give the Moscow audience a most thorough introduction to the oeuvre of Gary Hill — one of the most renowned American video artists, one of the pillars who shaped the video-art of today as we know it.
20 June, Sunday
Garage Center for Contemporary Culture:
20:00 — A selection of Gary Hill's most famous video works and his workshop
21 June, Monday
Garage Center for Contemporary Culture:
20.00 — Gary Hill exhibition opening
Gary Hill’s place in the pantheon of contemporary video art is attested to by his many awards and exhibitions — a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1995; participation at the Documenta IX in Kassel; solo exhibitions at MOMA in New York; frequent participation at biennales at the Whitney Museum; exhibitions at the Pompidou Centre in Paris; and many other prestigious awards and grants.
This year Media Forum and GMG Gallery decided to launch an initiative to introduce the classics of contemporary art to the Moscow public, and Hill’s exhibition is one of those projects.
Hill’s early video art works researched the synthesized image, which was made with experimental video equipment, capturing objects in such a way that their perception conflicts with post-minimalist or conceptual postulates, for example, Hole in the Wall, (1974). Later, Hill took an interest in contemporary poetry, and text began to play a central role in his work and in the relation between image, rhythm, and the sound narrative, such as Surroundings, (1979), as well as Around and About, (1980).
Maurice Blanchot’s idea that language influences phenomenological experience is reflected in Hill’s work. His more recent works such as Viewer, (1996), and Blindspot, (2003), we see that the person is the hero. The artist is interested in the relationship between the viewer and the hero, which is signified by emotions and signs produced with the help of video equipment. Here, we see the artist turn to the theme of the "Other", relying on the texts of the philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, which has been used often in contemporary art. The video portraits of people began to touch the human and emotional factor, and are subjected to dialectical analysis of people on both sides of the screen.
The main theme of Hill’s oeuvre is researching the relationship between word, sound, and the electronic image. In essence, Hill’s work is based on structural analysis and deals with the problems of the essence of text. Nevertheless, text is mostly dealt with in a post-modern way, as a way to depict the surrounding world. The video image separates the subject reality into its semantic and material components. Hill shows the divergence between the spoken word, the visible subject and the present reality of this subject, which actually has little in common, and are tied together only in human consciousness.
The formal perfection of his complex multichannel video installations speaks about the author’s research in the figurative world of the visible subject environment and its conflict with human communications.
GMG Gallery will show Hill’s most significant works, which were chosen mostly because of their educational use for the Moscow public.
Hill’s most famous and most "total" installation is Wall Piece, (2000). In this single-channel installation the author rhythmically hits his body against a black wall as the moments of impact are lit by flashes from a strobe light, until finally the video image disappears under this aggressive light. The sound of the body beating against the wall alternates with a story about aging spoken by the author: « I go, looking at how I go … »
The next well-known work is Viewer — a complex synchronized installation from five screens merged together, and one of his largest works. It shows a line of people of various sizes and ages. They are the same height as the viewers and stand directly in front, not moving while contemplating each other. Thus, the main theme of the work is created — the video image on the screen is looking at and analyzing the viewer at the very same moment when the viewer is looking at and analyzing the image on the screen.
Hill captures the moment when passive contemplation changes into individual activity. The confrontation of contemplators (spectators on the screens, and the real spectators) begins from the moment of adaptation when people at an exhibition gradually start to look in the eyes of the heroes. Logic and sight, which supposedly can attain everything, create the world on the basis of existing information, pondering and creating for itself an objective picture of the world, but they begin to digest themselves and to be lost in an effort at self-analysis. This is the ideal form without a narrative, and with the story excluded.
Any content can be placed in this field of tension between the observers and the observable, but Hill consciously reduces any superfluous meaning, concentrating only on the most complicated details and on the phenomenon of spectator perception; the glance being a way to receive information.
Two of his video works are secrets that even the employees of GMG Gallery don’t yet know anything about. One of the works has never been seen before and most likely will be a world premier made especially for Moscow.
GMG Gallery is one of the youngest galleries on the Moscow art scene, but in its three years it has shown projects by Yoko Ono, Bill Fontana, Thomas Joshua Cooper, as well as exhibitions of the classics of Moscow conceptualism, and important Russian and western young artists who participate in the most progressive art forums in the world.
A showing of Gary Hill’s works, as well as his master class, will be on June 20 at 20.00 at the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture.
Around & About
Around & About, 1980
Video (color, sound)
U-matic; 4:45 min.
Two color video cameras, Dave Jones prototype modules (keyer, analog switches, color field generator, output amplifier), microphone and U-matic videotape edit/recorder
“In 1979-80, I was teaching in the Media Studies Department at the State University of New York at Buffalo, filling in for Woody and Steina Vasulka, who had left for Santa Fe. Midway in the year I abruptly had to leave my apartment and move into my office—a relatively small space with a desk, a couple of chalkboards, a couch, plus everything I owned, which was mostly media equipment. About all I could do was work, if only to keep from feeling claustrophobic (moving things around seemed to make the space bigger). Around & About came out of a ‘what if’ scenario. What if I were to cut images to every syllable of a spoken text? (A way to keep me busy?) A daunting task in the time of U-matic machines and sloppy controllers. I did it all manually, hitting the edit button for every syllable. With each rewind I would listen and anticipate the coming syllable, learning as I went along to adjust for delayed reaction. I learned quickly—every ‘mistake’ was a step forward and one or more back. Rather quickly I wrote—I could almost say scribbled—a text, driven by a personal relationship breakup, yet, more to the point, directed to an abstract other; that is, someone a viewer could identify with. Rather than separately recording and collecting images, I set the cameras up ‘live’ for each edit/syllable of the entire text, constructing it linearly from beginning to end. I limited myself to images of the room, mostly unmemorable moments of walls, furniture, and whatever else was lying around. It didn’t really matter; it was more about change and keeping the viewer occupied while I spoke. The speech was ‘automating’ the event, making whatever happened happen, at times drawing the view off the screen to the hypothetical space outside the box.”
Happenstance (part one of many parts), 1982 – 83
Video (black-and-white, stereo sound)
U-matic; 6:30 minutes
The opening sequence of this black-and-white work shows the square, circle and triangle as the basic elements of the formal repertoire. They are joined by letters and words, whose configuration suggests the shape of the triangle. Simultaneously sounds are linked to the visual elements: a bass drum to the square, crash cymbal to the circle and a kind of ‘twang’ sound to the triangle. After first concretizing themselves, amorphous electronic forms (almost like reading the stars, a bird, a fish, a snake and a frog seem to appear if for only moments) become lost in abstract structures as individual words and sentences play counter point. The interplay between language and image builds to a text filled page: “vanishing points” which shifts down the page into “points vanishing.” The letters, which initially morph to a pyramid, now turn into the humus from which grows a letter tree whose leaves fall to the ground as characters, partially forming words there. Hill is creating a kind of choreography of thought, which as already seen in Videograms (GHCR 43) – gives rise to an area of tension between the images and the spoken or written texts. At the textual level, he addresses the ephemerality of linguistic meanings inside the ‘nature’ of language. Musical and sound elements underscore the character of the individual passages and the complex intertextuality of the work.
Gary Hill: Selected Works and catalogue raisonné. (Wolfsburg: Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, 2002), GHCR 46, pp. 102 – 104.
Why Do Things Get in a Muddle? (Come on Petunia), 1984
Video (color, stereo sound)
2-inch reel-to-reel; 32:00 min.
This tape is the first of Hill’s works for which he deliberately wrote a screenplay. The title defines the piece’s starting point: Alice in Wonderland asks her omniscient father why things get in a muddle. They then talk on a metalinguistic level (i.e. about language using language). A glimpse through the looking glass reveals an inversion of the customary order of things. The father ingests the smoke from his pipe, Alice does not so much blink her eyelids momentarily open as stare wide-eyed, and the playing cards fall out of the air in an orderly manner into the girl’s hand. The language of the two protagonists is strangely slurred and partially incomprehensible. Gradually the reason for these phenomena becomes clear. Almost all the passages are being played and spoken backwards, and the tape can likewise be played backwards, with the result that at first sight the action appears plausible. This also explains why at second glance the movements of the protagonists’ bodies look strangely mechanical. Hill made phonetic notes of the texts spoken backwards by Alice and her father. At the end of the tape, when Alice is standing in front of the looking glass, the letters of the subtitle (“Come on Petunia”) logically regroup as “once upon a time.”
Gary Hill: Selected Works and catalogue raisonné. (Wolfsburg: Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, 2002), GHCR 50, pp. 113 – 115.
Incidence of Catastrophe, 1987 – 88
Video (color, stereo sound)
Inspired by the novel Thomas the Obscure by Maurice Blanchot wherein the protagonist of the novel is the reader of the novel he is in (who may well be Blanchot himself). In the video, Thomas the protagonist is played by Hill which confounds the self-reflexive nature of the book’s relationships all the more, making the video something of a “transcreation.” The “reader” begins in the liquidity of the text almost as if he were waking from drowning. Images of the sea ravishing the shore – small cliffs of sand eroding and collapsing – are inter-cut with extreme close-ups of text and the texture of the page and book itself being flooded with ocean waves. In scene after scene the reader attempts to re-enter the book only to find himself a part of intense dreams and hallucinations. Thomas/Hill reads the book, when, suddenly, he feels he is being watched by the words. The character then experiences the book as a forest of words he is fighting through. Another “chapter” finds him alone in his room at night, overcome by a strange illness, in which the vision of the text has him vomiting violently. The text infiltrates the reader’s entire experience. Thinking he is still capable of functioning socially, the character finds himself at dinner with a group of hotel guests. Their conversation turns into isolated words that, like the sand, erode and wash away with seemingly all possibilities of meaning. The final scene shows the reader in the form of Hill physically and mentally destroyed. Cowering naked in the fetal position, he lies in his own excrement on a white-tiled floor, babbling unintelligible sounds. The pages of the book have grown into monumental walls with colossal letters that menacingly surround and imprison the naked body.
Gary Hill: Selected Works and catalogue raisonné. (Wolfsburg: Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, 2002), GHCR 59, pp. 130 – 132.
Mediations (towards a remake of Soundings), 1979 / 1986
Video (color, stereo sound)
Color video camera/recorder, two microphones, audio mixer, speaker and sand
“The beginning of a remake of an earlier work [Soundings, 1979] in which I wanted to extend the reflexivity of each text in relation to the interaction between different physical substances—in this case, sand—and the speaker cone. A loudspeaker fills the screen and I begin to speak, referring to the speaker itself. This is followed by more declarations of what I am doing, ‘…a hand enters the picture….’ A hand filled with sand enters the picture and slowly releases it into the loudspeaker’s cone. Every nuance of speech vibrates the speaker’s cone (or membrane), bouncing the grains of sand into the air. The more I speak about what is happening, the more it changes—or feeds back into—the movement and patterns of the sand. At times the grain of the voice seemingly merges with what is experienced as ‘sand.’ The hand allows more and more sand to trickle onto the loudspeaker until the cone is no longer visible. The timbre of the voice crackles and is radically muffled. When the speaker is completely buried, the voice sounds distant but remarkably clear.”
Full Circle, 1978 [former title: Ring Modulation]
Video (color, sound)
U-matic; 3:25 min.
In this work, the audio-visual dialogue that was a central concern of Hill’s videos in the late 1970’s is articulated with particular succinctness. Here the artist explores linguistic and electronic phenomena by linking them to the materiality of things. The image plane is divided into three sections. In the lower half, we see a close-up of two hands that are forming a circle out of a metal rod. The upper half of the screen is vertically divided into two parts. On the right, the outlines of the person bending the rod can be made out from an electronically altered black-and-white video image. On the left, a green beam appears in a black field (screen of an oscilloscope). The work begins with the artist making a droning sound with his voice that changes the green beam into a wavering circle. The steadier the sound made by Hill, the steadier the circle becomes. As he expends energy to bend the rod to mimic the circle emitted by the green beam, his droning voice becomes full of tension, rising and falling in pitch as he bends the rod. Consequently the electronic circle vibrates, pulsates, rotates, and collapses with the straining voice. Once the rod has been bent into a circle on the black surface, Hill steadies himself before the object and emits several sustained droning sounds, which causes an increasingly stable circle to be emitted. The copper-coated metal rod could be viewed as having an alchemical relationship to the green phosphor signal emitted by the oscilloscope, thus making the work into a kind of ritual performance. Further, the rod used is the same material Hill used in his early sculpture constructions; therefore the title Full Circle might also refer to a momentary return to the physical object.
Gary Hill: Selected Works and catalogue raisonné. (Wolfsburg: Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, 2002), GHCR 29, pp. 75 – 76.
Tale Enclosure, 1985
Video (color, stereo sound)
U-matic; 5:30 min.
Tale Enclosure begins with a black background into which individual words are first inserted and then disappear: “Once upon a time certain beings arose only as they spoke…” As the text continues, the voices and close-up images of two men come into play. During the recording, the performers were able both to observe themselves on a monitor as they responded to a continuously changing image of themselves and to modulate the image with various body and facial gestures. At times the image plane fills with rapid hand movements that George Quasha calls “somamudra.” Owing to the speed of the movements, some of the shots are necessarily blurred, taking on the look of fire. The voices build upon one another, rising and falling in volume and pitch, sometimes in unison, other times in ‘conversation’ in a seeming attempt to track down the primary roots of language. Hill’s camera roots out a bodily surface in which this evolving language can be written. The work was recorded at the Stained Glass Studio in Barrytown, New York, where Why Do Things Get in a Muddle? (GHCR 50) was also taped.
Gary Hill: Selected Works and catalogue raisonné. (Wolfsburg: Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, 2002), GHCR 51, pp. 116 - 117.
Site Recite (a prologue), 1989
Video (color, stereo sound)
U-matic SP; 4:00 min.
Appearing as a hazy horizon laden with strange objects, the scene comprises bones, skulls of small mammals, butterflies, nuts, and other botanical “finds” spread out on a round table. These are objects of the kind that one might collect on a nature trail in a forest—but also shells and crumpled notes. They are relics that suggest the cycle of life in a way familiar to us from vanitas still life painting and natural history collections. The camera moves around the table, picking out objects which, because of the shallow depth of focus, stand out one after another from the panorama of the jumbled collection. A bird’s skull, a piece of bark, or a crystal appear needle-sharp in the picture, whereupon the focus changes and the contours of a shell emerge from the nebulous background. In this way the camera discloses the transient beauty of the items one after the other, capturing the beauty of each for a fraction of a second before focusing on the next object. This precise focusing/unfocusing continues for the duration of the work, while a narrator explores his momentary state of consciousness and relationship with the world, verbalizing his own thoughts as transient objects in an ontologically focused vanitas of mind. The rhythmic vocalized syllabics synchronize with the focusing and blurring of the image. And the final tableau places the viewer inside the mouth of the speaker looking out. Just as the narrator opens his mouth and speaks, light enters the speaking cavity, the tongue moves, and the teeth masticate the last words of the work: “imagining the brain closer than the eyes.”
“A prologue to Which Tree, an unrealized interactive videodisc that later morphed into Withershins. Using a track and dolly system, the camera was set at table top level from where thirteen circular tracking shots were made, each at a set focal point across the table. Additionally, the camera was ‘locked down’ at sixty-four points equal distance around the track from where the camera was rack focused through an extreme shallow depth of field. The thirteen rings and sixty-four points create the possibility of eight hundred thirty-two ‘match points’ toward seamlessly editing the rings and intersections together, as if one camera in continuous motion. The initial idea was to have the viewer/participant navigate a circular two-dimensional map representing the description given above—thirteen concentric circles with sixty-four intersecting diameters. As one walked the pathways, a spoken text would be heard spatially in relation to one’s location and change as one continued through the path. The prologue/text was produced as a representation of a single walk suggesting a myriad of other ‘walks’ and other ‘texts.’”