Gary Hill

Stedelijk van Abbemuseum

At the last Documenta, Gary Hill’s installation was one of the few works that appealed to a wide audience. In a long, narrow space, figures moving toward the viewer were projected with the slow, sometimes halting movement of people of various ages. Hill adressed the question of perception in two ways: the viewer saw himself confronted with his own activity (passing by images); and in going toward the exit, after his eyes were accustomed to the darkness, the other people in the space also became part of the work. The equipment also played a dual role: on the one hand video screens projected images, on the other they illuminated objects in their midst. In Hill’s work technology is almost always concealed or transformed into sculptural objects and is simultaneously the light source and the origin of the images.

I Believe It Is an Image in Light of the Other, 1991–92, consisted of seven tubes hanging from the ceiling, into which video screens had been installed. The projection (and therefore the light) fell onto open books so brightly that one could speak of “recognition.” But the books were props, turned around, opened, stacked, but blank. They became surfaces for the projection of a slowly turning naked body, (unreadable) text, and a chair that started off being minute and, through computer animation, increased in size. Another projection was very literal: it showed a mouth being touched by fingers. The association to language was clear: the image of the body evoked textual bodies and the chair a place to read, yet, for Hill, language, alphabet, book, image all exclude readability. Finally, Hill seems more interested in the visual than the written.

In the accompanying text, Martin Heidegger is mentioned though this is not necessarily enlightening: is it a reference to Heidegger’s definition of art as “putting truth to work,” which would set up an opposition between art and technology? The technical side of the work is barely visible here. Some Times Things, 1992, consisted of nine tubes placed on the floor. The front side was filled with video screens, the rear with loudspeakers. At least four of these loudspeakers filled the room with a mumbling commentary that could be understood even if you knelt in front of them. In a few repetitive sentences, descriptions of the objects were given that corresponded on a linguistic level to the image: matter-of-fact descriptions that lacked any associative power. This is very far from Heidegger. On the wall, at approximately knee level, black and white computer-animated projections of everyday objects turned. The images were so small that the dot structure was no longer visible. Because they were so small and low, and packed into something other than a technological framework, this installation seemed quite sculptural in character.

Hill’s installations move between two and three-dimensionality. Language, text, image, and movement seem almost cute: everything is so small and low. These proportions seem to renounce the technological. The viewer, in order to reflect on the perceptual process, must ignore the technical process. The light between image and object: a literal reading might be the Other in the light of the video screen.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.