Friday, 8 April 2011

Susan Hiller – Tate Britain

If you have a Punch and Judy phobia, I would advise you not to go to the Barbara Hiller exhibition at the Tate. In fact, if you LOVE Punch and Judy I would advise you to at least stay away from the video it may ruin your beloved childhood memories.

The huge video screens playing repeated, distorted images of the seaside puppets, accompanied with disturbing phrases, are the parts of Hiller’s exhibition that stick in my mind. There is however some slightly less obscure pieces to enjoy (such as the work above).

Hiller’s obsession with identity, language, history and documentation is apparent throughout her work. On reaching one room you’re greeted by another – slightly less disturbing but no less striking– sound/video installation, playing clips from the world’s lost languages. This was such an intriguing installation, conveying lost identity, words, languages and dreams.


The second installation displaying Hiller’s wordy cleverness is mesmerising. My friend and I could have spent hours walking around each speaker in, Witness (above). The glittering cables hang down in a blue-lit room, with speakers playing an array of languages. Walking round till your ears pick up a familiar tone is intriguing and engaging.

Hiller continually questions, what happens after? After you are gone? After the language has disappeared? The questions add a poignancy to her work, displayed clearly in Monument (below). The cross shaped work has blown up photographs of epitaphs saying phrases like: Henry James Bristow, aged eight, who "saved his little sister's life by tearing off her flaming clothes but caught fire himself".


If you can get past the Punch and Judy, Hiller’s – age 70 – retrospective is an engaging insight into poignant imaginings of an experienced master.

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