Susan Hiller


Susan Hiller, Homage to Marcel Duchamp: Auras, 2008, fifty color archival dry prints, each 12 x 12", overall 12 1/2 x 12 1/2'.

London-based artist Susan Hiller is known for her innovative media works, many of which incorporate elements of anthropology and psychoanalysis. One recent strain of her practice involves artworks that pay tribute to other artists whose works reveal an influence of occult or paranormal ideas, such as her ongoing Homage to Marcel Duchamp: Auras, 2008–, a collection of aura photographs, sourced online and digitally modified; the work is inspired by Duchamp’s Portrait of Dr. Dumouchel, 1910, which shows the sitter surrounded by colorful emanations. Here, she speaks about the aura works included in her current exhibition, “Susan Hiller: Paraconceptual,” on view at Lisson Gallery in New York. The show, which features a range of pieces made between the 1970s and the present, runs from April 28 through June 10, 2017.

I LIKE TO STAND IN THE MIDST of the whirlwind, and show what’s out there and what’s denied. For the most part, the artists in my homage pieces—such as Gertrude Stein, Marcel Duchamp, and Joseph Beuys—did not emphasize that their work carried forward a whole tradition of occult knowledge, but they referred to it and they used it, even when denying it. When Duchamp made his painting of Dr. Dumouchel, he didn’t talk about clairvoyance or ancient beliefs in auras. He adopted the idea as a painting device. I picked up on that and have contextualized it within our contemporary world, where more and more people are attracted to this kind of reality. I know our culture is in denial about a lot of things. Our hard-wiring as human beings probably prevents us from knowing a great deal about what is real, and each language also sets limits. But every once in a while people experience breakthroughs.

My approach to all this is political. The politics has to do with a conviction that it’s only in moments of liminality that anything new can come into being. Whether it’s an idea, a political action, an invention—it originates where we function creatively. This is of course very important in art practice but also socially and politically.

The desire to record and capture auras has two kinds of advocates. There are clairvoyants, who say they see colored emanations around people, from which they can tell the health, temperament, and well-being of the person according to the hues, brightness, or strength of the aura. And there is also the work of scientists from the nineteenth century onward, which has led to today’s specialized aura cameras. These don’t actually photograph auras, but they use computers to translate the electricity from a person’s hands into unique colored patterns around their portrait.

I am interested in demonstrating the connections among supposedly unique “genius” artists, and I am also interested in mapping out networks of the many people who are participants in the same kind of work but don’t situate it within the discourse of art. For example: Not all the people who post their aura pictures online want to be acknowledged as artists, but they do want to have those pictures seen. It’s interesting that the subject dissolves in a cloud of colored light. On the one hand, the image has a history, and on the other, it is enigmatically definitive of how we see ourselves in the digital age. You know, we are pixels; we’re light.

— As told to Allison Young

Edgar Heap of Birds, Genocide and Democracy, 2016, ink on paper, 15 x 22” each.

For over forty years, Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds has produced works that antagonize indigenous oppression and foreground his Cheyenne heritage. In recent monoprints, Heap of Birds merges political songs and anthems with his own writings—RED SKIN BOUNTY TIS OF THEE, reads one print in Genocide and Democracy, 2016, a piece he discusses below. That work is featured in “Reconstitution” at LAXART in Los Angeles, an exhibition that looks at the enduring legacy of identity politics and is curated by Catherine Taft and Hamza Walker. The show is on view through May 27, 2017.

I’VE BEEN MAKING MONOPRINTS like these for about fifteen years or so. I started printing them in Santa Fe with Michael McCabe, a master Navajo printer. He showed me a process where you paint backward on clear glass with a clear liquid. The result feels a little elusive, but I like it, because it’s different than my public art, which is more in your face with bold text. With these new monoprints, I never know what’s going to happen because of the liquid. Recently with Genocide and Democracy I started using solvents too, dissolving the letters even more.

It has been found that perhaps one hundred million indigenous lives were lost, throughout the Americas, due to so-called “contact” with Euro colonizers. Today countless tribal communities struggle to recover from genocide caused by war, violence, disease, loss of food sources, and encroachment of urban society upon the sacred Native medicine and natural world.

I began making these prints during the election. They illuminate the profound lack of electoral standing indigenous communities hold in democratic systems because of depleted population numbers and broadly dispersed demographics that span across many states and provinces, often from forced removal.

In some ways the prints in Genocide and Democracy look like they’re coming out of some bloody, violent event—blood is pooling on them, and there’s a violence implied by the words. I write texts but I also edit other documents, like the Declaration of Independence, which, if you just cut it down in a particular way, gives you the truth of a nation. It’s a racist document, with its talk of the savage Indians and so forth. I also found lines in songs like “God Bless America” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” that show the hypocrisy of justice, health care, sovereignty, and education in America and just put them together.

I like NBA basketball; I’m an Oklahoma City Thunder fan. So everyone sings “The Star-Spangled Banner” before each game and they put a hand on their heart. There’s a unified moral celebration, and prayers are offered. When you take that rubric and then pair it with the genocide and violence, I think that’s where you might have a flashpoint of recognition.

Excerpt from Edgar Heap of Birds’ interview for 500 Words.

I had to speak at a funeral on the reservation where I live just the other day. Death there is constant. Some of it is self-inflicted, but a lot of it is just based on problems on the reservation. And it’s not getting any better. There’s so much disenchantment there now—ill health from bad food provided by the government. It’s all sugar, salt, and processed—foods that will kill you. They give it away for free and then you get a horrible disease like diabetes from it.

My wife is Navajo, so we’re between the Cheyenne and Navajo Nations, traveling back and forth all the time. And her nation is really suffering too; they tested bombs in Nevada and the fallout came within the range of their reservation and dropped like rain—all these black particles gave everybody cancer. All the uranium mines there too. There’s just all of this tragedy and it’s not even like America has a blind eye to it, because Native people just aren’t visible in the US.

I was proud of how the tribes came together for the Dakota Access Pipeline protest, but I didn’t get too involved because I don’t with the buzzword things. We have a joke: “We’re Indian every day.” So that’s how I look at it, from the tribal standpoint. We did this activism before, we do it now, and we’ll do it later. People can get political when there’s a cause, sometimes a celebrity cause. But I wish they had kept going—there was a wonderful momentum. And I hope it channels into more activism and engages more non-Native communities. Because it was inclusive and that’s the way Native people are; we appreciate help. So it was wonderful in many ways, but the violent way it ended and how pushy it became was simply awful. Though I saw it coming when Obama left office.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Joe Goode


Joe Goode, Milk Bottle Painting 229, 2015, acrylic on board with milk bottle, 42 x 42".

Joe Goode’s deadpan images of milk bottles, suburban homes, open skies, forest fires, water, and smog are included in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Menil Collection in Houston; the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC; the Whitney Museum of American Art; and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Goode has worked in Los Angeles since the 1960s; his latest exhibition, “Old Ideas with New Solutions,” features recent paintings from several series he has been working on over the past half-century. The show opened on his eightieth birthday and is on view at Kohn Gallery in LA through May 13, 2017.

I WAS ALWAYS AWARE THAT MY WORK WASN’T POP. And Walter Hopps knew it too, even though he included me in the Pasadena Art Museum’s “New Painting of Common Objects” in 1962. I had the attitude of, I don’t care where you show me as long as you show me. It’s not very often I choose to revisit a series I’ve done before. On the occasions that I’ve done it, it was because I just felt that I really had a new way of seeing it. A good example would be the “Milk Bottle” paintings I started in the 1960s. First of all, the bottles sat on the floor in front of a canvas to look as though they came out of the canvas. And in this show, there are dark paintings with the bottles attached to them. I’ve always dealt with images that you could see through—usually glass, skies, clouds, or water. The “House” series from the 1960s was when I was just formulating this idea of being able to look through things. When you see a house or go by one of these very normal suburban homes, you instinctively know what’s inside it because you’ve been in a thousand of them. And that’s what really triggered this idea I had—even though you couldn’t see through something, on some level you knew what was inside.

One of the great things about Los Angeles is that it’s so open and it’s always been that way. I think that’s because of the geography, where everything’s spread out. Anybody could do anything here and it’s one of the very few cities where a person can do something that would normally offend you but you can just pick up and move. You don’t have to live with it. There’s a freedom here that’s been here since I first came, at least, and I don’t think it’s changed. People who don’t live here—they think of a large town, and it’s a large small town, is what it is. The people that came out here and gained recognition in the 1960s, one of the things that I think we all had in common—which was different from places like New York or Europe—was that each of us was working with vastly different imagery compared with artists in other places. I think that really singled this area out, and, in a way, it could have really inhibited it as well, but it didn’t, because of the right people like Philip Leider and John Coplans. Leider was from Northern California and John Coplans was from London, and so for those guys to come here, along with Walter Hopps and others, they were the ones that really put this place on the map. It wasn’t the artists, you know, because we were already working here and we were just the cards that they had to deal with. But they were the guys that did it. There’re plenty of places in the world with good artists that don’t have this happening. I think it was partially luck and partially circumstances, but if those things hadn’t merged together, I’m not saying people here wouldn’t have been recognized, because I think they would, but it would have been in an entirely different way.

— As told to David Muenzer



Cover of Arca's Arca (2017).

Like those IDM experimentalists who twiddled knobs and soft synths before him, millennial electronic prodigy Alejandro Ghersi (aka Arca) has succeeded in widening a sonic landscape and pushing it to its very digital limits. His skittering collages of pitched vocals, short piano phrases, and symphonic interludes reliably mesmerize fans and critics alike. On the occasion of Arca’s third album, the Venezuelan composer-producer and current Bj÷rk collaborator discusses the roots of his alias, childhood memories of life in Venezuela, and general ideas behind his music. XL Recordings released Arca on April 7, 2017.

MY FIRST PRIORITY in coming up with what to call myself was that I wanted a word that didn’t have a popular meaning, a definition, or an association that would make it easy to understand my music. It still makes me smile that people are scratching their heads about this word. I like that in Spanish it means a chest or strongbox in which you could store things—an empty space that could be filled with something that could be protected. That resonated with me. It was a word I could define through my music, through years of putting stuff out. Another important thing is the way it sounds. That’s probably the deepest level of meaning for me—and it’s something I can’t really define. We can try to know what makes it sound nice: maybe because it begins and ends with the same vowel or because it’s short. I like that it has an r in it as well, because in Spanish it would be pronounced “Arrrrrrca.”

The central inspiration for me, and the one that is hardest to unpack, is the Latin American woman. My mother and my grandmother. There is a fire to the women in my family. There is a fire to Latin American women: the strength of their convictions and the fact that the women run the family. No matter how patriarchal the society becomes, it is really the woman behind the curtain who pulls the strings and has a deeper understanding of how circumstances will play out psychologically—an intuition of what someone is thinking or about what is going to happen. In that sense, I very playfully and lovingly like to think of the Latin American woman as a kind of witch, especially some Latin American women keeping older values. To me that is a beautiful archetype. And it has affected me very much, because I sometimes feel like I admire or relate more to the women in my family than to the men.

Music video for Arca’s “Reverie,” from his album Arca (2017).

I knew from such an early age that I was gay, and I was just hoping it was a phase. I learned what things to do and what things not to do. One of my most formative memories is forcing my family to watch me dance and sing. I would assemble my whole family during big gatherings, like thirteen people sitting in chairs, and I would come out and dance for them. I can remember forcing my family to watch me dance to Madonna’s album Erotica. After the first two dances people were in tears and laughing. By the third time I performed, my uncles and grandfather would start huffing and puffing and saying that it wasn’t right. I didn’t understand why. I think I was precocious enough that I understood I wasn’t supposed to do that. But I performed it anyway. After some years passed, I had an uncle who would always tease me and say, “I have the videos of you dancing. You want me to play them for everyone?” I would get so upset, because it was almost as if those tapes were threatening my survival. That was a time in my life when I was reshuffling a lot of the tectonic plates of my identity and my relationship to others. I had so much that I wanted to express. I loved Aphex Twin and online role-playing games. I taught myself how to use recording software and how to sing on a Radio Shack microphone. A lot of the emotional violence playing out in my family during my childhood and teenager years made me want to escape. I was so lucky that I loved music enough that it is what I escaped in to. I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences. I loved the fact that I went through all of that.

The first album, Xen, was a necessary excursion inward, into myself. Mutant, the second album, is a response to it and is more extroverted. I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way for me to grow is in a very self-forgiving way—to take a risk, and in response to how that record pans out, take a risk in the opposite way. I don’t think a positive charge is the truth, and I don’t think the negative charge is the truth. It’s the flipping between the two charges that can give you a brief glimpse into truth. I know it sounds very philosophical, but there’s a humility in thinking about it like that. So if Xen is a negative charge, then Mutant must be a positive charge. And what comes after it is the result of me recalibrating. On this record, I found that there was a part of me, specifically a kind of sadness I carry with me, which required me to use my voice to commune with. But I only made sense of this in hindsight. It was more of an ongoing cue from my instincts that I decided to embrace and steep in.

I can’t think of a better way to explain this than a Bj÷rk lyric, actually. She says, “Nuance makes heat.” I think that encapsulates life on a personal, day-to-day level for me: the capacity to observe deeper, to zoom in and see the contradictions in a person as something beautiful and conducive to survival in the world.

— As told to Erik Morse

Vinyl Terror & Horror, Off Track (detail), 2016–17, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Berlin-based Danish duo Vinyl Terror & HorrorGreta Christensen and Camilla S°rensen—are currently participating in the exhibition “Anger,” along with artists Martin Erik Andersen and RenÚ Schmidt, at the Horsens Kunstmuseum in Horsens, Denmark. For their installation Off Track, 2016–17, they present an untidy array of sounds and objects, which they discuss here. The show is on view through May 28, 2017.

OUR APPROACH synchronizes well with the theme of this exhibition. We often work with ideas of destruction, violence, fear, and anger, which are usually expressed in a materially dark and humorous way. We began working with sculpture and then we both started wanting to play and make music. Using sound is a way of producing a metaspace that responds to a more emotional center of the brain. A part of our practice is playing live concerts. Whereas the installations are more composed, when we perform, there’s just stacks of modified or broken vinyl, various record players, and us.

For this show, Camilla cut up various LPs of violin recordings and worked with violinist George Kentros, who transcribed it into notes and played the resultant piece. That has been made into a vinyl record, for which Greta shot out the center hole with a .308 caliber gun from a distance of 150 feet. She took shooting lessons for a year to perfect this task. Other elements of the installation include two speakers crashing into each other on a fifteen-foot semicircular track, and a robotic broom hammering the underside of a turntable mounted near the ceiling, making the needle skip on a record. Another turntable revolves by itself, playing a stationary record damaged by gunshot holes. A twenty-eight-second video loop shows Hetna Regitze Bruun singing opera while being repeatedly shoved in the back, in time with a revolving record.

Our installations appear to be on the edge of collapse—the objects have changed from having high fidelity to almost breaking down. We also built a speaker that seems to fall apart and then reassemble itself, and record players that are cut in half but still function. It’s rare that we use speakers that don’t have something that’s been changed on them. Every speaker has its own sound related to what it is doing. For instance, a speaker mounted in the ceiling plays the sound of water dripping, as a motor slowly lowers the unit down toward the floor. Another speaker moves underneath the floor playing the sound of footsteps. Often the speakers represent the presence of a body or specific activity. Isolated from the installation, these individual sculptures make little sense, but within the show they all play their role in a composed narrative where bits of horror movie sound sequences, opera, German Schlager, and Swedish folk music contrast with their slapstick construction and stripped-down aesthetic.

There are lots of references to horror movies in our works, but the sounds from them—creaking doors, footsteps, raindrops—are often combined with samples from records, which might be visibly playing. We never reference a specific movie but want to just give a feeling of a story being told. And this is why we try to use as little as possible to illustrate the sound so that you are transported somewhere else in your imagination. The sounds build up expectations of what’s going to happen, increasing a sense of tension as if your worst nightmare could be around the corner.

— As told to Mark Harris

Vanessa Place, 2013. Photo: Patrick Greaney.

Vanessa Place is a writer, artist, and criminal defense attorney who currently lives and works in Los Angeles. Her 2010 book The Guilt Project: Rape, Morality, and Law critically examined the laws and punitive measures currently employed in the US regarding sex crimes, in addition to proposing that we expand our conception of “rape culture” into an understanding of culture broadly. She has for the past year been touring a recent work, a set of rape jokes, If I Wanted Your Opinion, I’d Remove the Duct Tape, 2016–, which she performed most recently in the Nu Performance Festival in Tallinn, Estonia, and at the Swiss Institute in New York.

ONE OF THE THINGS THAT INTERESTS ME A GREAT DEAL WHEN I WORK WITH SOUND, especially sound installations, is thinking about the bodies that are receiving it. A lot of sound art seems to envision an empty gallery and people standing there, ideally situated, as opposed to thinking of them as more liquid sculptures. The rape-jokes piece was initially supposed to be in a group show in LA—I was canceled after some of the other artists complained—but I was looking forward to how it would have played in a very long corridor, which, as you walked through it, would have triggered the jokes. The jokes would always be following you, starting a few seconds after you passed a motion sensor. And then the more people that would be there, the more the jokes would pile up on each other. But if you stood still and didn’t move, they would stop. You have to run away or freeze, which are the two favorite choices when confronted with a traumatic situation. When you introduce a figure, the body of the performer or the artist, what ends up happening is that everything is subject to interpellation through that body, and what that body signifies. And rightly so. If it’s a book, you can close it at any given moment. It’s hard to stop listening to something. We can’t close our eyes—so to speak—to sound. Sound behaves sculpturally.

The structure of a joke, according to Freud, is that it is a sudden discharge of repression, often sexual, often kind of obscene. And so, in that way, the joke itself ends up being structured, or ends up having the same structure, as a rape—a violent discharge of repressed sexuality. During an event once, I said something along the lines of, “We can assume that a certain percentage of people in the room have been the victims of sexual violence…” But then I added, “…and the perpetrators.” Statistically speaking, it’s true. And another bit of violence. The history of the joke and the tradition of jokes have always been wrapped up with questions of power. But at this moment when people—especially on the left, which includes many people in arts communities—are feeling embattled and less powerful, or with less hope, let’s say, which is another form of power in a sense, the idea of the joke becomes more useful. Something that occurred to me is that Conceptualism in writing has always come to the fore in times of apparent but degenerate totalitarianism. In Chile, it was during the 1970s under Pinochet, and Moscow during the same period—it’s usually right before things fall apart.

Our culture is rape culture. Our culture is racist culture. I don’t know if the United States, for example, could exist without racism. It certainly hasn’t been able to historically—sometimes the heat is turned up, sometimes turned down, but there’s always a certain simmering. We’ve created these internal divides and we seem to like our internal divides. When you see people saying, “We’re all immigrants,” you immediately know that we are not all immigrants—some of us were refugees, some of us were chattel. The thing with rape culture is that rape is like winning the bad-luck lottery. There are things you can do to improve your chances and there are things you can do to reduce your chances, but we’re all in the lottery. Rape is actually a judgment about something—it’s a verdict. You’re convicted of rape. Rape isn’t a thing, so to speak, but a frame. And an encounter, like a joke.

Vanessa Place performs If I Wanted Your Opinion, I’d Remove the Duct Tape, 2016–, for 500 Words.

One of the things that aesthetics can do is conjure that encounter, where in some ways, the stakes are very low. Nobody’s going to end up dead in a ditch; a rape joke isn’t a rape. But in another sense the stakes end up being very high, because it’s a confrontation with oneself all the time, and what I’ve found with my practice is people often react very angrily to being put in that position, no matter how much discourse there is around the audience’s or the viewer’s being responsible for the interpretation of a work. They—we—want frames. Instead, I make traps and stand in them and wave, and often get caught, but that’s part of standing in a trap. To me, that’s more illuminating than acting as if I could stand outside of the trap, or fashion the frame. We all have our own traps, which we bait with what we like and which are baited with things we like. If we could agree on our complicity, then there might be a possibility of having a different kind of conversation. There’s a fantasy of possible purity, or exculpation, which is even worse. Violence isn’t going anywhere, and it’s very useful in many respects, psychically as well as physically. And given that that’s part of our repertoire, how do we want to deploy it?

I don’t like work that really just confirms, generally speaking, what I thought before I saw it. To be affirmed that I’m right is the place that one occupies anyway, and then it’s just a question of where you’re going to have dinner after. But to be confronted by the possibility that I’m wrong, or the possibility that I need to rethink things—that’s very upsetting. It seems we’re living in a time when it’s simply a war of affect. People just bring their affect to the table—you bring yours and I bring mine, and we have an affect face-off. The difficulty becomes that, as I heard a woman say much to my horror, although I think she’s right, “All I have are my feelings.” Feelings don’t change—we just add more evidence to support them.

I once said my work is giving people what they didn’t know they didn’t want, but now they do. It’s the cruel gift of giving the thing they did not want to see or hear. Maybe, deep down, I just like people and want to make them happy.

— As told to Paige K. Bradley