My contribution began as a review of Susan Hiller’s THE PROVISIONAL TEXTURE OF REALITY: SELECTED TALKS AND TEXTS 1977-2007 (JRP Ringier, 2008), edited by Alexandra Kokoli. Particular in the context of much contemporary interest in text- based artistic practice and performance lectures, I was interested in Hiller’s insistence throughout the book that her talks and writings are not artistic work.
I wanted to unfold some of the implications and assumptions in this decision, one which seemed particularly curious in a practice unfolding through a challenging of existing boundaries and, often, a focus on written text of various kinds.
Some sense of the contradications involved can be seen by placing Hiller’s observation “If talking and thinking were sufficient, and working with ideas was enough, why make art?” alongside an explanation of her no-art thought and writing that can only conceive of them through metaphors of artistic process and production:
In a way, this is a collection of detours around the subject, circling in on it. It’s like a drawing, where the negative space is as important as the marks, and where individual marks don’t mean much on their own. In the process, I’ve found my lines of thought converging or overlapping to define a tentative shape that may represent a sighting or wish for something that will emerge more clearly in the future.
Re-reading the essay now I am also struck by how this relates to the book form. Hiller has made numerous book works throughout her career, but her practice has also remained relatively resistent to a satisfying monographic treatment.
Kokoli’s collection and, particularly, the earlier THINKING ABOUT ART: CONVERSATIONS WITH SUSAN HILLER edited by Barbara Einzig (Manchester University Press, 1996), remain, I think, the best book-based ways of approaching Hiller’s practice.
An indication of the essay’s stance and language can be seen in the following extract:
This essay, then, explores a reading where these conversations, statements, transcripts, notes, and written lectures are not separate from art-production, becoming more than a supplementary, ontological preoccupation. One consequence of such a “detoured reading” is to become unsure of the spatial metaphors and language by which an artistic practice is understood.
Texts acquire uncertain status, individually and as a whole. I suspect Hiller’s recurring preoccupations – including psychic phenomena and ethnography- may offer up different meanings and insights when the work she produces to explore them is not positioned on one side or the other of an art-not art divide.
Re-framed, too, are questions of what legitimizes these texts. Of course, Hiller’s status as an established artist prompts the invitations in response to which most of these texts are produced. Yet Hiller’s way of responding often evokes different kinds of knowledge: the artist working with questions arising from their own practice alongside a scholarly focus on context and historiography.
Does status accrued as the former legitmize reflections in the guise of the latter, or instigate a particular artist-scholar practice? Are we to gain reassurance from Hiller’s “former-anthroplogist” status? If, as Hiller would seem to prefer, we foreground a particularly artist-led perspective, then what does that mean for texts that are denied a position in Hiller’s catalogue of art production?
An initial strategy for thinking through these questions might be to think of Hiller as an oral storyteller. What links these texts – and differentiates them from the majority of her art production – is the direct physical presence and voice of Hiller herself, weaving variations on familiar themes, often – like the artist herself – known to their audience, with a meta-structure connecting (art) history with the individual (Hiller’s practice).
Note, too, that Hiller rarely strays from a conventional, expository prose style, with an absence throughout the book of the process notes, fragments, doodles, as well as unconventional grammatical or structural devices, that often figure in “artists’ writings”, both those construed as art works – Sue Tompkins’ texts, for example – or those positioned as in proximity to rather than being the art work – a non-definite distinction but one evident in recent art-writing journals such as The Mock and other superstitions and Material.
Fillip #11 features contributions from: Lawrence Rinder, Haris Epaminonda & Jacob Fabricius, Arni Haraldsson, Keith Bormuth, Alex Kitnick, Jamie Hilder, David Berridge, Michalis Pichler, Milena Tomic, Renato Rodrigues da Silva, Gabrielle Moser, Antonia Hirsch, Aaron Peck, Kim Dhillon, Kate Armstrong, Liz Park.