Gary Hill

Born: 1951, Santa Monica (California)
Video Art

Gary Hill was born in Santa Monica in California in 1951. He moved to New York in the 1970s and began to work in video art. The artist currently lives and works in Seattle.

Gary developed the concept of the linguistic foundation of an image, whereby the audio series is often the most important part of the work. The Soundings video shows only a loudspeaker and a voice reading a text about a voice. A hand appears and begins to pour sand onto the speaker. The grains move up and down, following the vibrations of the sound waves. As the amount of sand grows, we begin to hear the “voice” of the sand itself – rustling and interference. When the sand completely drowns out the loudspeaker, the sound of both the sand and the human voice dies away. The noise becomes not so much audible, as visible, thanks to the vibrating surface. The weak audibility generates chance anagrams, so that “sound barriers” becomes “sound warriors.”

The Primary video shows lips pronouncing the names of the three main colours used to create a television image – “red, blue, green” – while the picture changes colour in line with the words.

In the 1970s, Gary collaborated with George Quasha and Charles Stein, two poets and writers who starred in his videos. Together with Hill, they engaged in linguistic research. In Figuring Grounds, Quasha and Stein look each other straight in the eye, speaking in a “proto-language” of super-emotional interjections and cries – the same way that humans no doubt interacted at the dawn of civilisation, before the development of words. Their gibberish creates audio images of the world, both modern and primeval – dogs barking, the sound of gunfire, monkeys laughing, the roar of a racing car. This recalls the theories of Russian Futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov on the independent significance of the building blocks of our language – letters and sounds.

Gary works with language and the outlooks of children. In Why Do Things Get in a Muddle?, father and daughter engage in a philosophical conversation reminiscent of the paradoxes from Alice in Wonderland. In Remarks on Color, the artist’s young daughter reads Wittgenstein’s theory of language games. Mispronouncing complex words, she conjures up neologisms and new metaphors. What seems chaotic to one person can become a new order for another. A muddle might be “gunk in the head”, but this gunk can be extremely nutritious.

In 2009, Gary Hill contributed to the VIDENIE exhibition of video art at the PERMM (Perm Museum of Contemporary Art). He showed Two Folds, which is a combination of the language of gestures and speech. While gestures are commonly used to commentate our speech, here everything is the other way around: the artist focuses on the hands and their actions. The rhythm of the movements and sounds creates a meditative impression. Two Folds recalls Hill’s early video Tale Enclosure, created in collaboration with Quasha and Stein, where the hands of the actors “talk,” sometimes moving so quickly that they become indiscernible, like tongues of fire. The alternative name for this work, Somamudra, is a reference to Buddhist practice – the ritual language of gestures.

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