Critics’ Picks

Pati Hill, Section of Corset, 1976, black-and-white photocopy, 9 x 6".

New York

Pati Hill

Essex Street
55 Hester Street
September 8 - October 21

In the early 1970s, Pati Hill (1921–2014) began using a photocopier to create life-size images of mundane objects that together call to mind the song “My Favorite Things” by those famous Teutonic Singvögel, the von Trapp family: a rumpled brown paper bag, a box tied with twine, a seashell, spools of thread, and a frayed shirtsleeve. Hill’s chosen medium simultaneously evokes the drudgery of adult administrative duties and the messy thrills of high-school collages and punk zines. But her ambitious spirit was decidedly youthful: In 1980, at almost sixty years old, she moved to Paris, intent on “photocopying Versailles.” She succeeded in copying almost everything there, from the royal palace’s cobblestones to its pear trees.

Hill’s use of the photocopier capitalized on the machine’s ability to flatten images, with unexpectedly dramatic effects. The selections in this exhibition, such as Untitled (striped rag) and Untitled (sardine tin), both 1977–79, depict the titular objects as if they are floating in space, untethered. Per the exhibition’s title, “How Something Can Have Been At One Time And In One Place And Nowhere Else Ever Again,” these items are typically relegated to the realms of the domestic before being discarded and forgotten. The fifteen different shapes a scarf can make (Understanding Your Chinese Scarf, 1983) are not exactly the stuff of history—but perhaps of personal memory instead, in which quotidian events and material ephemera take on symbolic status with the distortions and dilations of time. Hill’s pictures foreground the objects that often go unexamined, reminding us that the archives of daily life are sometimes hiding in plain sight.