Susan Hiller’s latest exhibition at Lisson Gallery is her first solo show since 2011. Occupying both gallery locations on Bell Street, the exhibition purports to group the artist’s practice into four key themes which permeate her work: transformation, the unconscious, belief systems and the notion of artist as collector. Not quite following the structure or consecutiveness of a retrospective, the works range from 1969 to 2015 and manifest as paradigms of Hiller’s specific concerns and methodologies.
Dominating the spaces are three major video installations which explore Hiller’s fascination with the paranormal. First realised in 1997, ‘Wild Talents’ incorporates two wall-sized projections and a small TV monitor perched on a chair, shrouded in a ring of votive lights. The small TV set displays remnants of a documentary film about children with occult powers, which is physically dwarfed by its fictional counterpart: fragments from American and European films, enlarged on the adjacent walls. Some clips are recognisable - Brian de Palma’s ‘Carrie’, Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’. Others are not instantly placeable in the cannon of filmmaking but the images of young, angelic children surprised by their own supernatural capabilities are archetypal.
Hiller’s juxtaposition of the fictional and “real” exposes a (hypo)critical ratio of representations of the paranormal. The horror film genre is saturated with profane and religious spiritual encounters, which, here, Hiller has mined to a pervasive, demonic effect. Her placement of a grainy, documentary film on an antiquated TV set, engulfed by Hollywood interpretations of the occult, highlights our simultaneous obsession with and rejection of the possibility of supernatural encounters. It is embraced and celebrated in the mythical, yet dismissed and shunned in any potential account of the “real”; we pretend not to hear the latter while queuing for the former.
The four strands in this exhibition are so closely interwoven, they are almost inextricable from one another. While ‘Wild Talents’ showcases Hiller’s interest in the paranormal, it also demonstrates her preoccupation with the unconscious, belief systems and rituals - ideas which fluctuate and filter into the majority of her works, such as ‘Emergency Case: Homage to Joseph Beuys’. Since 1969, Hiller has collected water from holy wells and sacred springs. She decants these samples into small glass medicine bottles, which are they displayed in antique, wooden first aid boxes. This use of the “display case”, lined with black felt is a direct reference to Beuys’ signature materials and modes of presentation. The work is both reverential and critical of Beuys’ mythology, and his proposed sacramentalisation of utilitarian objects, further querying faith in the healing power of things.
Hiller’s practice is relentlessly diverse in her use of materials. The exhibition encompasses sculpture, video, furniture, found objects, printing, photography, neon, drawing and painting. It is also dense with academia, research and collecting; Hiller is artist, theorist, curator and collector. The range of works on view at Lisson Gallery manage to emphasise the extensive nature of her output, while consolidating her characteristic processes and aesthetic systems. Psychologically charged and all encompassing, Hiller’s work continues to reveal the unconscious of our culture: beautiful, deceptively structured and terrifying.