Friday, 18 March 2011

Susan Hiller

Susan Hiller, a highly influential american artist who is known for her innovative use of ignored or overlooked aspects of our culture, currently has her largest exhibition to date at Tate Britain. The exhibition is in complete contrast to the other, 'Watercolour' exhibition also on display as it is not exactly what I would call aesthetically pleasing but instead is quite challenging and ambiguous.

The artist, much to my liking, uses materials which are generally considered unimportant such as old seaside postcards and utilizes them in a way which balances the familiar with the unexplained, hence inviting us to participate in the creation of meaning. Her almost obsessive collecting and documenting reminded me of the nature of our pop-up projects. Her practice also bizzarely incorporates subconscious processes such as dreaming, reverie, automatic writing and improvised vocalisations.

As a lover of the ocean, I was enthralled by 'Dedicated to the Unknown Artists'. It is a huge collection of painted, photographed or hand tinted postcards collected from British seaside towns captioned 'rough sea'. Hiller has meticulously arranged and grouped the postcards into different types of image and has even used charts to add further documentation. Playing on the idea that the British have a famous fascination with the weather is an important message. Her organisation also allows her to be seen as a curator, presenting an exhibition of these overlooked cultural materials.

Hiller's clever use of recycled materials reminded me somewhat of the Orzoco exhibition at Tate modern. 'Work in Progress, Tuesday', 1980 was a visually stunning sculpture made of unravelled canvas threads knotted and twisted. After my macrame workshop and technical blocks in knit and weave, I am particularly interested in constructing a fabric and am always eager to use alternative media. This clever use of old canvas threads is both original and resourceful.

Aside from their visual appearance, the message behind some of the works is often deep and profound. 'Monument', pictured below, was prompted by Hiller's discovery of a neglected Victorian monument to civilian heroes in a little-known park in the City of London. The haunting soundtrack the viewer must listen to when perched on the bench makes you become an active participant in the work. The haunting voice and repetitive words you hear hint at the idea that the dead can speak to us. I found the whole experience rather unsettling.

'From the Freud Museum', an anthology of collected materials- personal mementos, private relics and talismans evoked the display of an anthropological museum and was far more to my taste. Each box contained shards of memory archived in instinctive combinations of meaning. Though certain narratives linking the object, images and texts are suggested a significant amount of freedom is denoted to the audience to come up with their own interpretations.

As a language enthusiast, my favourite work has to be 'The Last Silent Movie'. Hiller presents the recordings of the last speakers of extinct or endangered languages. Buried in archives for years, these recordings have been given a voice again by the artist. Accompanying etchings are based on oscilloscope traces of the voices on the soundtrack.

Overall the exhibition was extremely interactive and engaging. Certain works were profound and presented thought provoking messages, however I personally found some too conceptual and far-fetched.

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