Mallarmé concludes in his poem that has been characterized as the
first poem of virtuality, or "virtuality avant la lettre " -- "All Thought
emits a Throw of the dice." Yet this would not be a Pascalian wager with
pre-established categories, but of infinitely expandable chaosmodic foldings.
As Guattari acknowledges, much of the "new aesthetic paradigm" is consonant
with Marcel Duchamp's observation many years ago that "art is a road which
leads toward regions that are no longer governed by time and space."
Hill extrapolates with a philosopher or scientist's precision and a poet's passion and sense of mission the myriad liminal pathways among body and mind, in a form only his manipulation of various video technologies affords; in works like HanD HearD (1995-6) or Tall Ships (1995) Hill provokes and in fact requires a veritable satori on the part of the viewer for the works' existence, not just their comprehension. His work from its earliest inception has treated themes of the body, language, perception, the limits and gaps and stutters inherent in subjectivity. He has also pursued the peculiar qualities of sound and video technology, cataloging various aporias of comprehension and experience. Although Hill has at times been accused of attempting to reconstitute a unitary
self or regaina vision of 'organic uniqueness to the individual self even
as it aims for the "universal"' (ii),
his most recent works show such an interpretation to be scarcely applicable.
In Marking Time (1998) the viewer is drawn into Hill's staccato bursts of
imagery and phrasing as the artist kneads different body parts close-up
in a disturbing mise-en-scene of psychological and physical breakdown
and collapse. In the past, Hill has used texts from Wittgenstein, Heidegger,
and Blanchot. But in works like Marking Time and Reflex Chamber
(1996) the text is Hill's own, dramatically personalizing these dilemmas
of presence and absence, of vision and blindness, of communication and aphasia.
Reflex Chamber, which takes place in a darkened fifteen square foot
room, is paradoxically a kind of virtual space even though, given the time-frequencies
and intensity of the sound and light, it can only be apprehended physically.
Various quotidian scenes are projected onto a small ceiling mirror and reflected
onto a table, images which are only partially illuminated in the darkness
and then completely whited-out by strobe lights blasting during an eleven-minute
loop. Hill's voice is low and subdued, although the tape is played at very
high volume. The experience of Reflex Chamber has been likened to that of
an epileptic seizure (19).
Just as the room alternates between pitch darkness and a blinding strobe, the words in Hill's text are likewise aposiopeptic -- stretched, distended, broken and spasmodic, there are gaps not only between words but within words themselves as Hill's digitally reprocessed voice is broken down into fragments, producing an "electronic stutter"(20). Reflex Chamber may abolish or at least hold in abeyance the process of making sense of experience as one focuses on the cycles of light and noise, sound and image in the absence of any other solid perceptual ground, temporarily freezing one's senses and deflecting any conscious intentionality; unlike VR which often artificially recreates reassuring "real" forms from the ordinary phenomenal world, Reflex Chamber carries out an opposite operation -- it virtualizes the "self" and its perception. As Hill has stated "To be transfixed is no longer an option. I am in a way blind. I live time through a succession of pictures I've known since when" (21). Much as in his earlier Disturbance (among the jars) (1988) the viewer experiences a catastrophe that is its own inversion, "the destruction and emergence of individuality at the same point" where not only the individual, but the possibility of narrative and
as well both emerge and disappear in the same space; this is an artistic
experience as event horizon.(22)
An installation work like Dervish (1993-5) for example again reveals an "incidence of catastrophe" where the artists intentionality is released or obliterated delivering to us in Deleuzian terms a cut across plane immanence. Dervish, with other works 1997 Midnight Crossing approaches whathas been called Artaud-compatible electronic "theatre of cruelty." (23). Hill claimed his concerns are not so much deconstruction fragmented body as Artaud since "the actual making occurs cybernetic feedback environment cameras, monitors, and signal flow; it's me and this media." (24) Works like Midnight Crossing and Dervish would appear to constitute Guattari "decisive threshold where the autopoiesis processes becomes clear, self-affirming and autonomous. A work like Dervish, for instance, has been characterized as a "self-catastrophizing" beacon."(24)
Works like Dervish, with its mirrors spreading images with lightning-like repetition and speed from panning, strobe-modified video projectors in a large, darkened chamber, is in another sense a homeopathic strategy; the artist's intentionality is obliterated, and forces and elements are loosed and allowed to
and circulate in an autonomous manner, yet this breakdown of the nervous
system's limits and the rational, calculating mind opens up the frame of
perception beyond the often self-fufilling solipsism that the world can
be reduced to a media-based representation of it. Dervish is another
"incidence of catastrophe" which uses technology to open a slit in the cover
of our post-Platonic cave. As George Quasha and Charles Stein have remarked,
this "forbidding circle" of the "Panning god-machine" implodes one's experience
in a manner like that of a "virtual Kleinian form that would fold what only
happens in a fourth dimension back into the other three"(25).
Paradoxically this enclosed panorama brings the outside, "real" world back
into the circle as a communicating and communicable ecosystem; this action,
Quasha and Stein reminds us, is not so dissimiliar from the "circle" which
becomes the "mandala" of Tibetan art, that is, a flattened, symbolic map
of a multidimensional reality.
In Heidegger's essay "Art and Space" (1969) the philosopher defined space as a "clearing-away" that "brings forth the free, the openness for man's settling and dwelling."(26) Yet the estrangement proffered through Hill's work is barely reconciled with talk of dwelling,
belonging-together characteristic of Heidegger after the kehre, or
turn. Hill's work pulls one not towards dwelling or homelessness or indifference
(these options that Heidegger lays out in this essay), but rather toward
a vivid confrontation and perceptual readjustment. Here, a naively mapped
fanstasmatic body is no sure substrate either (as it perhaps has mistakenly
been for numerous artists especially in the early '90s). It has been remarked
how much of Hill's work, though in many respects based on the body as foil,
as identification, as screen for feedback or textual implication, provides
little for corporeality to hang onto. In a work like Between the Cinema
and a Hard Place (1991) the text, a re-worked version of Heidegger's
"The Nature of Language," loses its ability to order the extremely rapid
and fragmented visual imagery splayed forth on the 23 different monitors
after its eight minute sequence is up and its wearing repetition and estrangement
begins to show. Such a work, Karlheinz Lüdeking has remarked, "actually
demands so little of our corporeal abilities that it seems safe to assume
that even a disembodied brain deprived of everything but its sensory organs
will not miss anything of significance,"
that the space in which Hill's work unfolds "cannot be grasped by bodily
organs at all." (27). In Heideggerian
language we are certainly thrown, but in a manner also beyond enframing
or gestell. or the primal truth that allegedly beckons beyond. Rather
we are in the universe described in Cecilia Vicuña's long poem of
"autobiography in debris" Quipoem -- "The precarious was transformation/prayer
is change/'the dangerous instant of transmutation.'" (28).
Hill's treatment or virtualization of self may seem like an exemplary exploration of Guattari's call for a new artistic means, but his profoundly ambiguous and often entropic relationship with language complicates this as well. For Guattari was always primarily motivated by his social and political project. He relentlessly persisted in different forms asking the same question -- "why have the immense processual potentials brought forth by the revolutions in information processing, telematics, robotics, office automation, biotechnology and so on up to now led only to a monstrous reinforcement of earlier systems of alienation, an oppressive mass-mediated culture and an infantilizing politics of consensus?" (29).
even processes of subjectivization had no guarantee; Guattari pointed to
the Iranian revolution as an authentic process of subjectivization with
quasi-fascist results. "The machinic production of subjectivity," Guattari
wrote, "can be for the better or for the worse" (30).
Hill's value from such a perspective may be the more distancing, reflexive,
dialogic aspects of his work, but these aspects take on a distinctly secondary
role in the extraordinary complicity and wedding with alien technology demanded
of the participant in works like Dervish and Reflex Chamber.
Even keeping in mind Holderlin's lines from "Patmos" that were so dear to
Heidegger -- "But where danger is, grows/The saving power also..." -- it
remains to be seen whether a Heideggerian-based criticism can better rise
to the occasion.
Gary Hill is only one among a number of artists where we see dramatic nonlinear ruptures and a certain chaos theory meeting a philosophy of virtuality, an opening out onto a multiplicity of being and beings rather than Being. There is the architecture of Greg Lynn, Peter Eisenman and Toyo Ito among many others which is impossible without advanced nonlinear computer modeling; the liquid, dematerializing imagic canvases of Lydia
Dona that she has compared to the universe of Alice in Wonderland that is shrinking and expanding at the same time; Woody Vasulka's robotic sensing machines made from Los Alamos scrapyards; Nancy Lorenz' mixed media paintings of macroscopic/miscroscopic fractal transformations; Joseph Nechvatal's overloaded, mesmerizing visual archive eaten away by computer viruses, portrayed and transferred onto large canvases via robotic arms. A question which remains is no matter how comprehensible new aesthetic practices may be according to Deleuze and Guattari's models, such art's entropic qualities may in turn question their frequent advocacy and prediction of a "new people" and "new earth" (31), what Arkady Plotnitsky has characterized as their "immense theoretical and political utopias" (32), at least if understood in the old modernist utopic senses. Hill's own allegiance appears to be that model of ecological survival value he culled from Bateson's Steps to an Ecology of Mind, where like in the ecosystem of the forest some thoughts, and by implication artistic movements live, and other thoughts die (33).
Paper presented May 12, 1999,