Gary Hill’s text beat boom hum cacophony at Slought

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Gary Hill touched down in Philadelphia last week to install his show at Slought and to participate in a panel at the opening with poets/artists George Quasha and Charles Stein, who are buddies of his.  The two have just published a book about Hill, An Art of Limina:  Gary Hill’s Works and Writing (2009, Ediciones Poligrafa), and the mighty tome was on display (and for sale) in the gallery.

Gary HIll, one of the video works focused on language and words and books at Slought.
Gary HIll, one of the video works focused on language and words and books at Slought.

 

Panel discussion at Slought. L-R in front, Charles Stein, Gary Hill, George Quasha. Rear, Aaron Levy, Osvaldo Romberg
Panel discussion at Slought. L-R in front, Charles Stein, Gary Hill, George Quasha. Rear, Aaron Levy, Osvaldo Romberg

The Seattle-based Hill (b. 1951) is an established big gun in video art, whose work is widely shown around the world.  He’s a 1998 MacArthur genius award recipient and his works — while conceptual — deal with language and the body in a mostly non-narrative but people-focused way.

Gary Hill, video piece in which he pushes his body against a glass wall. The audio hums at an alarming decibel level.
Gary Hill, video piece in which he pushes his body against a glass wall. The audio hums at an alarming decibel level.

The work that greets you in the darkened front gallery is a multi-channel video projection whose audio is a bone-rattling hum so loud and unnerving I ran out of the gallery several times for relief ( I was not alone).  This piece — whose images were close-up shots of the artist’s body parts straining against a glass wall — lives where language doesn’t often go, the fear/anxiety zone experienced in the body.  The work communicated nicely, without words.

The show — with works from the ’80s through the present — is beautifully installed, making use of the two vault spaces to show projected videos that would either upstage others in the exhibit or that need quiet space to digest.  Pacemaker alert:  Wall Piece (2000), which involves a strobe light that flashes to coincide with a video of the artist as he jumps against a wall and says a word, is another piece with a visceral impact on your body.  While the work has pizzazz and is quite likeable, its connection to language seems almost extraneous and what it most reminded me of is a child’s jump rope song where the words are tacked on to the act of jumping rope but seemingly have no meaning.  The impact of the piece does not lie in the words but in its visual spectacle.  See video here.

Gary Hill and Charles Stein at dinner doing some language games.
Gary Hill and Charles Stein at dinner doing some language games.

Remarks on Color (1994), which is not in the show, depicts the artist’s young daughter as she struggles to read from Wittgenstein, a text she clearly does not understand.  Many of the pieces at Slought — like Remarks on Color — deal with word comprehension, obfuscation and communication.  They all imply discomfort inflicted on the body by language.  (If you’ve ever been yelled at you will immediately “get” the connection between body and language.)

The artist, who seems a charming sort, showed himself to be a beatnik-rapper guy when, at dinner after the opening, he broke into a sing-song nonsense verse accompanied by everyone’s hands clapping.  It was endearing if not comprehensible–and very in keeping with what was in the gallery a block away.  See video here.

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gary hill, slought foundation

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