Susan Hiller review by Freddy Syborn
Automatic writing is a nebulous thing. Separated from its spiritual dimensions (or even the extraterrestrial - a Frenchwoman claimed to channel brainwaves from Martians in an ‘alien’ language suspiciously similar to phonetic French), it’s best understood as an ideomotor effect. Crying - another ideomotor effect - is a good analogy. We cry when our bodies tell us to. Being able to cry at will is an art.
Susan Hiller explores contained miracles and their legitimacy at the Timothy Taylor Gallery. Her first piece, Home Nursing, expresses an absurd hope. It’s made up of wooden boxes with variations of ‘Home First Aid’ written on each in heavy, interwar lettering. They are full of bottles of holy water. These bottles (as exotic as the boxes are domestic) are sourced from Egypt, Italy, India, a world-compassing quest whose end is domesticity. The hope: if the bottles are full, no one at home ever gets ill. Either that, or the sick are rejecting the only cure offered them, one derived not from reason but from faith, an inherited feeling.
Hiller’s next three pieces, dedicated to Georges Bataille, explore a ‘Modernist ideal of purity’. This purity is unclean-cut. Like Bataille’s ‘sumptuous’ woman juxtaposed against ‘squalid, unlikely places’, Hiller’s pictures are layered with torn decoration. Vein-like lines suggest leaves held against the sun or cities, drawn from the air, in defiance of the black grid system imposed on them. Heart prints change the perspective: we are now looking at the old, shabby wallpaper lining living rooms. On top of that, more lines: of earth, of skin. Hiller makes us feel that, against an enclosure of the crudest patterning, vertiginous life - whether illusory or conscious, automatic or artificial - will escape containment.
Small things with miraculous powers arouse our suspicions, whether bottles of holy water or digital cameras. So do people who rework information found on the internet. I did that in the introduction - it’s all on Wikipedia - and Hiller does it by processing images found online through her camera to reproduce what came through thin air. Automatic art. In her pictures for Duchamp, ethereal, artificial faces echo the fairies Victorians liked to photograph. In her pictures for Klein, people appear to be levitating in boxy rooms, backdropped by wallpaper similar to that used in the Bataille series. And in both, the hoax is not a lie. It is a performance and can be felt honestly.
One photo embodies the tension between spiritual experience and ideomotor function. A woman levitates off a bed towards the single, bare bulb of a bedroom. Her legs open, breasts and belly leading the arc, she looks like she is giving herself to the light, though that light is artificial and small and finite. Is the picture legitimate’ Where does it come from’ Who took it’ It’s blown up beyond clarity, the picture’s quality insufficient to survive such scrutiny. It’s in black and white. An irony. But it’s also beautiful. Is this beauty doctored’ If it is, it’s in the sense that holy water can doctor the dying.
Timothy Taylor Gallery, 15 Carlos Place, London, W1K 2EX
Susan Hiller: An Ongoing Investigation
Title : Timothy Gallery Susan Hiller, Home Nursing Homage to Joseph Beuys
Title : Timothy Taylor Gallery, Susan Hiller, Homage to Marcel Duchamp Aura (Pink Woman)
Title : Timothy Taylor Gallery, Susan Hiller, Homage to Yves Klein; Levitation (Man)
Title : Timothy Taylor Gallery, Susan Hiller, Homage to Yves Klein Levitation (Woman)
Title : Timothy Taylor Gallery, Susan Hiller, Homage to Marcel Duchamp Aura (Purple Man) , 2011
Title : Timothy Taylor Gallery Susan Hiller, Home Nursing Homage to Joseph Beuys
Susan Hiller review by Freddy Syborn